CALLS have been made for highways bosses to create an additional set of bus-only zones to help cut congestion.

Last month the county council and city council launched Connecting Oxford, featuring a series of radical proposals to tackle hold-ups and reduce pollution in and around the city.

These included a series of new bus-only zones - or bus gates.

Consultation on the proposals, which also feature plans for a workplace parking levy, finished at the weekend and the councils are now considering the responses.

Oxford Mail:

One of the key organisations to respond is Bus Users UK's Oxford branch – a passengers' lobby group – and it has urged the councils to be bold with their approach in tackling the city's congestion woes.

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The county council already operates a number of camera-enforced bus gates in the city centre, including one in High Street, which allows access to buses, taxis and emergency vehicles only between 7.30am and 6.30pm.

According to Connecting Oxford plans, new bus gates would be added in Worcester Street, Oxpens Road/Thames Street, Marston Ferry Road, Hollow Way and South Parks Road/St Cross Road.

But Bus Users' Oxford said these were not enough and urged the council to consider even more bus gates at locations not flagged up in the proposals.

Oxford Mail:

Its spokesman Hugh Jaeger told the council: "Bus Users UK accepts the proposed sites for bus gates.

"However, we suggest the county council considers additional sites - Donnington Bridge Road to restrict traffic between Abingdon Road and Iffley Road, Eastchurch to create a bus link between Iffley and Rose Hill, and Hayfield Road to create a bus link between Walton Street and Frenchay Road."

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The lobby group said bus gate restrictions should be in force from 7am to 5pm from Monday to Saturday, and the same times on Sundays and Bank Holidays - at least in busy shopping periods such as the run-up to Christmas.

It added: "Oxford's congestion is off-peak as well as peak. Beaumont Street, Worcester Street, Hythe Bridge Street and Botley Road seem frequently congested off-peak.

Oxford Mail:

"To a lesser extent the same can apply to radial roads such as Abingdon Road and Banbury Road.

"Connecting Oxford should aim to achieve as much as possible as quickly as possible - not a bare minimum to make Oxford slightly less congested than it is now."

The bus users' group added that it welcomed 'the principle of a workplace parking levy'.

It said: "We recognise that a WPL will target only one type of peak-hour private car traffic and will miss others such as school runs and 'kiss and ride' trips to railway stations.

Oxford Mail:

"A congestion charge would be more comprehensive and might seem fairer but it would probably cost more and take longer to introduce."

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The councils are not pursuing any congestion charge proposals as part of the plan.

The councils said Connecting Oxford was designed to tackle congestion and the poor public transport connections into and across some parts of Oxford, particularly the city’s eastern arc, linking parts of north Oxford, Marston, Headington and Cowley.

The local authorities said the proposals would make a real improvement to journey times for commuters and quality of life for residents, including improved air quality, by reducing the number of cars travelling into and around the city.

Oxford Civic Society has welcomed the city and county councils working together on the proposals.

Ian Green, the society’s chairman, said: "We supports the councils’ ‘two-pronged approach’ that would use traffic restriction points to reduce peak-hour traffic and encourage a fall in overall traffic entering the city.

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"But it is concerned that such points may simply redirect traffic to already overburdened routes such as the ring road – a risk that does not appear to have been considered in plans shared to date.

"It is also concerned that the proposed Workplace Parking Levy may be less effective than a city-wide congestion charge, as a levy risks disadvantaging businesses while leaving other vehicles (peak-hour school runs, delivery trucks,

tourist buses, etc) unaffected.

Oxford Mail:

"The society would like to propose that revenue from such a levy, and any associated ‘exemption permit’ system, be used to support public transport systems to, and within, the eastern arc."

Oxford city councillor Colin Cook warned earlier that the proposed additional bus gates could lead to more drivers using the already overloaded A34.