The annual station usage statistics were published on 1 December by the Office of Rail and Road (the railway regulator). It won’t come to as a huge surprise to regular users but, with 1,311,214 customers last year representing a 217 % increase (an extra 900,000 users) over 2015-16, Bicester Village station has now overtaken Bicester North in terms of popularity. The figures include a complete year of the service through to London Marylebone from Oxford Parkway and Bicester but less than 4 months of trains running through to Oxford.
Bicester North meanwhile showed a drop of 500,000 or 35%. Of course the Bicester Village Outlet shopping centre remains hugely popular. According to Value Retail, around one in every ten visitors to the Village now arrive by train. This represents around 6-700,000 visitors annually. Taken as a whole, the two Bicester stations together still showed an increase of 400,000, or 22% year-on-year growth.
Meanwhile Oxford Parkway with 809,812 users also showed an increase of almost 200% (up by over 500,000). Bicester North (923,400) has seen some abstraction of custom to both Oxford Parkway and Bicester Village. Islip also increased to 19,600 from 10,482 last year (up by 9,000 or 87%). However, some caution is needed here as in 2012-13 (i.e. the last full year before the line closed for re-building) Islip had 26,530 users, down 26% in 4 years. In reality it will have lost custom to nearby Oxford Parkway where all trains stop. Islip has a worse service (8 trains each way) since re-opening but has gained through trains to London.
Tickets to London Marylebone are valid from either Bicester station. However, Chiltern Railways has encouraged season ticket holders to use the facilities at Bicester North where there is a larger car park. If coming from Marylebone, the service very much favours going to Bicester Village. The two trains per hour off-peak to Bicester North typically leave within three minutes of each other from London. And the train to Bicester Village and Oxford leaves a few minutes ahead of the train to Bicester North, Banbury and Birmingham; with a slow train to Bicester and Banbury just behind. Since May 2017, monthly or longer season ticket holders can use the shuttle bus between the two Bicester stations at no extra cost.
Parking at Oxford Parkway is cheaper being at the same level as the Park & Ride and not set by Chiltern Railways. The station more convenient for some users, particularly those north of Oxford who previously used to drive to Bicester North to catch the train. Some customers, who would have previously used GWR services from stations on the North Cotswolds line to Hanborough and Oxford itself, will have transferred to using Chiltern from Oxford Parkway. But usage figures on that line have generally held up well. It suggests the growth at Oxford Parkway is largely new users.
Chiltern Railways will now doubt be very pleased with the statistics. If there has been a decline in commuting out from Oxford to London then it has likely been more than masked by new commuters into Oxford, particularly those coming from Bicester. Next year I expect to see further strong growth in users at Bicester Village with a full year of the service running through to Oxford.
Station 2016-17 Entries 2015-16 Entries Change Bicester North [BCS] 923,400 1,416,600 –493,200 [-34.8%] Bicester Village [BIT] 1,311,238 413,432 +897,806 [217%] Islip [ISP] 19,600 10,482 +9,118 [87.0%] Oxford Parkway [OXP] 809,812 274,696 +535,116 [195%] Oxford [OXF] 6,631,498 6,564,678 +66,820 [1.02%] Bicester stations [BCS + BIT] 2,234,638 1,830,032 +404,606 [22.1%] Bicester stations + Oxford Parkway [BCS + BIT + OXP] 3,044,450 2,104,728 +939,422 [44.6%]
Annual Estimates of Station Usage
[Data from orr.gov.uk]
Elsewhere, Hanborough was down by 12% or 32,916 at 238,580 compared with 271,496 in 2015-16. Yet it was still up 38% in 4 years (172,689 in 2012-13). Similarly Charlbury (294,758) was down 10% compared with 2015-16 (327,518) but also up 8% since 2012-13 (271,738).
Finstock, despite an increase of 66, is now Oxfordshire’s quietest station with just 1,836 users. It has been overtaken by Combe with a 37.5% surge to 2,008 users, an increase of 548 from 1,460 last year!