THE future of a bus route between Witney and Oxford has been thrown into further doubt after a community transport group pulled out of running the service.

West Oxfordshire Community Transport (WOCT) was in discussions to take over the Stagecoach number 11 service, which is set to be cancelled on May 27.

But the charity said running the route would not be financially viable after Oxfordshire County Council revealed it could not fully reimburse tickets for bus pass holders, as it currently does.

This has drawn criticism from independent district councillor Merilyn Davies, who said the council was 'penalising' rural villages.

Read again: Villages could be 'cut off' when bus service is scrapped

WOCT wanted to run the 11 between Witney and Eynsham and add more villages to the route, but director Margaret Burden revealed it would cost too much.

She said: “While we’re not for profit I always say we’re not for deficit either.

“We can’t run something that’s not financially viable, we haven’t got a money tree.

“To run the service you need to pay the driver, pay for fuel and you need another bus.”

WOCT runs a service between Witney and Chipping Norton on weekdays and a Witney town route from Monday to Saturday.

The organisation was approached by residents concerned at the loss of the 11, which serves North Leigh, Freeland, Long Hanborough and Eynsham but has an average of just 35 passengers each day.

In February, Stagecoach announced the service would be scrapped on April 29, but the council pushed the deadline back to seek a solution.

Read again: Deadline extended to seek solution for 11 service

WOCT was going to add Sutton, Stanton Harcourt, New Yatt and Northmoor to the route, which would finish at Eynsham due to the constraints of a section 22 community bus permit.

Operators are reimbursed for concessionary tickets under Department for Transport guidelines, with WOCT claiming 100 per cent reimbursement under the 2018/19 scheme.

But the charity was told a new bus service would receive nearer the 40 to 60 per cent reimbursement given to commercial providers to prevent WOCT being 'overly advantaged'.

Ms Davies, who represents Hanborough and Freeland, said: “This is just another example of villages being penalised for their rural setting. While the county council fixes roads in Oxford and ensures bus services run at all times of the day, we are left with crumbling streets and cancelled buses.

Read again: Stagecoach increases some bus fares by 20p

“It’s no longer good enough to say ‘it’s the county’s responsibility,’ because it is clear they have no intention of honouring this, so it’s time for West Oxfordshire District Council to step up and sort out this mess if the County Council can’t.”

Liam Walker, county councillor for Hanborough and Minster Lovell, added: “A key part of the solution is getting bums on seats. Until people start using buses more I can’t see a solution.”

County council spokesperson, Martin Crabtree, revealed reimbursing concessionary fares was one of several schemes to support community operators.

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He said: "The county council support community transport initiatives as a solution to fill the gaps left in public transport. Some other local authorities do not reimburse community transport operators at all."

He added: "Even with 100 per cent reimbursement we believe it would be difficult to make the bus service viable."

A West Oxfordshire District Council spokesperson said: "West Oxfordshire District Council has been working with Oxfordshire County Council’s transport team and have managed to extend the service.

"However, as currently stands, passenger numbers are too low to sustain the service."