“ Transport National / Oxford Park and Ride bus service. „
~Great City - Scary Car Parking Charges~
Living in Northants we're a bit limited for local cities worth visiting. Northampton is rather a dump, Market Harborough is charming but tiny and places like Kettering and Corby are best avoided. If we want the excitement of a proper city, we generally go to Oxford. We tend to go four or five times a year and I sometimes use it as a place to meet up with friends who'd rather make the journey there than travel a little further to see us at home in Northamptonshire.
Oxford is a fabulous city but there's one thing that you really don't want to try to do and that's to park in the city centre. The car parks are ridiculously expensive with prices that really will make your eyes water especially if you're planning to park up whilst staying overnight. If you have the patience of a saint and are willing to walk a long way, you might be lucky enough to find some free on-road parking but don't count on it. Most of the city has residents' only parking or double yellow lines. It's a nightmare. Hotels in the centre charge shocking rates and often need pre-booking so I strongly recommend to use the Park and Ride system.
~All Roads Lead to a Park and Ride~
No matter from which direction you approach Oxford there will be signs for the Park and Ride car parks. To the north of the city you'll find Water Eaton and Pear Tree car parks which are easily accessed from the M40 at Junction 9. To the east of the city is the Thornhill car park, to the south is Redbridge and to the west is Seacourt. I've used all except Redbridge and Seacourt.
The system is simple and good value - especially if you are travelling alone when they represent a real bargain. I most often use Peartree but the system is the same at all of the car parks. You arrive, park up and head to the bus stop. Buy a ticket - a return if you are coming back the same day, a single if you'll be longer - and then get on the bus. An adult return last time I used the Park and Ride in April 2011 was £2.20 off peak (this includes weekends, bank holidays and after 9 am during the week) or £2.50 peak. If you are travelling as a couple, there's a slight discount and two off peak will cost you £4 - but remember you do have to travel together. A single costs £1.60 and weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual tickets are also available. You pay nothing to park your car.
~Is it Safe?~
I often go to events at my old college which require me to stay overnight. I used to be very nervous about leaving my car at Pear Tree until the driver of one of the buses told me that crime is now very rare at the car parks. I had previously heard about cars being stolen or damaged at the Thornhill site because it was the closest to London and gangs would come out from the city to rob cars or steal their contents but that seems to have now been stamped out. The buses run from a well-lit busy area in the town centre where you should have no concern for personal safety either. Peartree, Redbridge and Seacourt accept cars for up to 24 hours with the other two allowing you to stay for up to 3 days.
From Pear Tree it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to get into central Oxford. Most of the other sites have a similar journey time. The frequency of the buses varies during the day from as little as 8-10 minutes between departures at peak time and as long as 30 minutes during the evenings. The buses are all quite new, invariably clean and tidy and if you're excited by double deckers, you'll be glad to know that all the fleet are of this type. If you are one of the first to get on, head upstairs and grab the front seats for the best views.
I always enjoy the journey in from Pear Tree as it passes along the Woodstock Road where I lived for a year and I like to check out my old stamping ground. The bus deposits passengers on George Street close to the theatre and picks up from St Giles, just outside the Odeon Cinema, opposite the Martyrs Memorial.
~For short visits, it's not always cheaper~
We recently took my aunt and uncle from Australia on a quick visit to Oxford and did our research on the car parking in advance of our visit. Because the Park and Ride charges per person, and we only planned to be there for three or four hours, we worked out that the 1200 capacity Westgate multi-storey car park behind the Westgate Shopping Centre was actually cheaper than the park and ride. The break even point with four people is about 4 hours on a weekday or Sunday. Saturdays it's around 3 hours. Obviously with a smaller number of people it makes no sense.
My normal stay is an overnighter on my own - the cheapest of the central car parks would set me back ten times more than the Park and Ride. Unless your intended visit is very short and you have a car-full of people, I strongly recommend to use the Oxford Park and Ride service. The only exception to this recommendation would be if you are registered disabled and can park for free in the car parks. Even in that case you'll be at the mercy of the availability of spaces. Good luck and enjoy your visit.