DRIVERS stuck in some of the worst city centre queues for years have been urged to ditch their cars altogether as a month-long repair job to one of Oxford's main routes goes on.

Gridlock gripped the city yesterday as Oxfordshire County Council continued repair work at the Grade-II listed Folly Bridge, with temporary lights taking Abingdon Road down to one lane.

The route is one of the busiest in the city, and regularly sees about some 15,000 vehicles crossing it each day.

As rush hour began yesterday morning, 'severe' delays saw traffic backed up all the way to the ring road and beyond, with other problems reported throughout the city.

And as the roads authority, the county council is now urging commuters to consider their options.

Spokesman Martin Crabtree said: "We expect the first few days to be difficult, as with any roadworks scheme, while people get used to the restrictions being in place.

"We would ask drivers to plan their journeys and allow extra time as well as considering other routes or modes if they are travelling into the city.

"Work on the bridge is under way as expected with the team installing temporary steelwork under the bridge to support the arch during the repairs."

There were problems reported across the city as the lane closure appeared to have a knock-on effect, with the A34 slow southbound from the Hinksey Interchange all the way back to the M40.

Botley Road was also backed up with motorists reporting 30-minute delays to get from Cumnor to the Seacourt Park and Ride.

On the second day of the works this morning, traffic was noticeably lighter on the route, with drivers seemingly heeding the warning.

There were reports of buses being busier than usual, and other routes, including Botley Road, took the strain.

Oxford cycling group Cyclox has called for a fresh debate on introducing a 'congestion charge' for motorists, in a bid to combat a 'crisis' facing the road network.

Chairman Simon Hunt called for a 'radical solution' with the introduction of a scheme similar to the one seen in London.

He said: "A habit is a hard thing to change. It is only at times of crisis like this that something will perhaps encourage people to change.

"It doesn't need all that many people to change their minds and to make a big difference. We need about one in five people to change their minds and the city would flow absolutely freely."

While he praised Oxford's public transport network and encouraged more people to use it, Mr Hunt questioned how effective the Redbridge Park and Ride was given the lack of a bus lane along most of Abingdon Road.

A county-wide ‘walk to school’ campaign was launched by the county council in July urging parents to walk with their children at least once a week rather than use a car.

However, only four schools have signed up so far – North Hinksey Primary School, St Mary’s Primary School, Banbury, Southwold Primary School, Bicester and Christopher Rawlins Primary, Adderbury.

Commuters vented their frustration yesterday morning, with cars at a standstill at Folly Bridge and as far back as the eye could see..

One driver, Stuart Lang, said it was the worst queues he had seen on that stretch in some years.

He said: "I am losing the will, it has just been gridlock. Stop start all the way back from the ring road. I have to get to work and it is just a nightmare waiting here."

Meanwhile, businesses could be hit as shop owner Abdul Rouf of Folly Bridge Stores, at the north end of the bridge, said it had been 'a struggle' and warned it may even force him to close.

The 65-year old, who has run the store for 23 years, said: "It will be a real problem and I also will not be able to have deliveries, I won't be able to get my supplies because of the works.

"I may have to close up if I can't get my supplies for the whole month."

Work started on the bridge on September 4 and temporary traffic lights will be in place 24 hours a day. Disruption will last until October 20, ahead of the Westgate shopping centre’s official opening four days later.

Work on the bridge, which was built in 1820, can only take place during certain parts of the year because of bats which live underneath it and move away twice a year.

They have been temporarily roosted at a site further down the city’s stretch of the River Thames.

Work to repair the west side of the bridge is pencilled in for next spring.