NEW Oxford Bus Company PickMeUp driver Sue Jones has swapped her school minibus for the keys to one of the country’s most innovative transport solutions.

Mrs Jones is one of four new recruits for the fast-growing bus service which relies on passengers using an app to book journeys.

After working as a teaching assistant at St Nicholas Primary School in Marston for 17 years the foster carer decided to become a full-time professional bus driver.

“I fancied doing something different,” she said.

“I was looking for jobs for my daughter and saw an advert for PickMeUp drivers and thought I could do it. I’ve not looked back since. It’s been a brilliant experience and I love my new job.”

Mrs Jones used to drive the school minibus regularly to take her pupils on field trips.

She added: “I thought if I could drive a school minibus I could drive a PickMeUp bus – but I didn’t realise I’d have to learn how to drive a big bus in my training first.

“It was daunting to have to drive a 13-tonne bus but the Oxford Bus Company was very supportive and guided me through it. I did my training at the depot in Cowley, completed four training modules and started working the service about two months ago.”

PickMeUp enables passengers in eastern Oxford to summon minibuses to pick them up on a street corner of their choice, to go to a bespoke destination.

The service, labelled as ‘uber for buses’ when it launched, allows customers to use an app to request a pick up at a number of selected roadside stops, although it only travels the east side of the city and does not visit people’s homes.

The service has now completed 60,000 journeys since its launch in June.

Journeys are matched with others wishing to make similar trips to enable ride sharing.

The service is the largest scheme of its kind to be launched by a UK bus company.

In October, due to increasing demand, operating times were extended on a Saturday and Sunday, while the firm also ordered two new coaches and recruited seven new members of staff.

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Mrs Jones, of Marston, Oxford, added: “I’ve been a foster carer for 22 years and a teaching assistant for 17, so I’ve done a lot for the community and it’s really helped me prepare to be a bus driver.

“A big part of the job is customer service and I enjoy meeting people and having a chat. The job is really varied, as each day I’m driving different routes and getting to see our beautiful city.”

She added: “The three other recruits I trained with had all been bus drivers of big buses and they’ve said they’re enjoying the variety of driving different routes.

“The customers love PickMeUp and we’re still picking up new customers every day in addition to our regulars.

“Customers like the journeys too, because they’re seeing streets they’ve not seen before, even though they’ve lived in the area for years.

“A lot of people say it’s a ‘magical mystery tour’ and really enjoy it. It’s great being part of something that’s new and making a difference.”

The service covers the Eastern Arc of Oxford, covering the railway station, Thornhill and Redbridge park-and-ride sites, the science park, Oxford Business Park, the John Radcliffe, Churchill and NOC hospitals, University Science Area and Oxford Brookes University.

It operates between 6am and 11pm Monday to Friday and between 7am and midnight Saturday and 9am to 9pm on Sundays, with an average response time of 10 to 15 minutes.

The bus company initially invested £850,000 in six 17-seat ultra-low emission Euro 6 minibuses, with Wi-Fi, USB charging points and wheelchair access.

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