My fellow trainees have done an excellent job of offering advice for living in Oxford, but there are a small number of trainees most years who take the opportunity of commuting into the city, rather than moving. There are lots of reasons to do this – prior commitments, domestic responsibilities, and most often saving money (Oxford rent is known for being steep). Regardless of your reasons, here’s a crib-sheet of ways to get in and out of the city on a daily basis, followed by a few tips for surviving a long commute.
There are lots of bus routes in and out of the city, and keeping track of them can be a little complicated when they come from different providers. Most of the major towns surrounding Oxford are well connected into the city via frequent buses, and lots of the villages have routes that serve them too (though this can be more infrequent, depending on location). Abingdon in the South, for example, is served by the X1 Connector, X2 Connector, X3 City, and 35 City, among others. In the other direction, Kidlington in the North has the 2, 2A, 7 gold, and s4 gold.
If you’re going to be looking at getting the bus every day, it’s worth investing in a bus pass. Prices will vary depending on the route you travel and the provider, but in most cases an annual bus pass (for a year-long position like the traineeship) will save you a lot of money if you can afford to pay the lump sum in advance. It’s also worth noting that Oxford University offers a 10% discount on bus passes for the Oxford Bus Company, Thames Travel, and Stagecoach (depending on your route and the duration of your bus pass). This university also offers an interest free-loan to help you afford the advance lump sum of an annual bus pass (even for those whose routes or travel providers are not covered by the bus pass scheme). The university pays up front, and the cost is deducted monthly from your salary.
The University makes some accommodations for those who wish to drive into work. Blue Badge holders are entitled to parking permits allowing them to use disabled parking spaces close to their workplace, and there are some electric car charging points available on the Old Road Campus. Beyond this, staff can apply for a parking permit for spaces within the university. Prices vary by zones and usage, but for full-time staff who regularly park on central sites, the cost amounts to “1.75% of salary per annum for fixed days (pro-rata) + £4.80 per day for uncovered days”. It’s worth noting that there is no guarantee that an application will be approved, and I’ve been told that this process can take a while. It’s also worth noting that colleges will have their own rules about on-site parking.
For those who need to travel by car but can’t get a parking permit (or who don’t want the fuss of figuring it out, or driving in city centre traffic), I’d recommend looking into Oxford Park and Ride. This is a simple service where you can park your car in a car park on the outskirts of the city, and then catch a frequent bus into the city centre. Park and Ride car parks for the city centre are available to the North (Pear Tree), South (Redbridge), East (Thornhill), and West (Seacourt). An annual parking permit will cost £300, and will allow you to park in any of the P&R car parks as much as you want. Bus passes are purchased separately, and are available through the buss pass scheme outlined above (£377 a year).
I’m going to throw in another (slightly out there!) option for drivers. If you need a car to get to the outskirts of the city, but don’t want to fork out the extra £377 for a bus pass (or if you fancy the extra exercise!) – have you considered parking and biking? The P&R Car Parks are all within reasonable cycling distance of the city centre and most contain bike racks and/or shelters. Also, the university offers a number of incentives for cyclists; including a loan scheme to buy a bicycle and associated equipment, and a bicycle repair scheme to keep your bike in good working order. This scheme is available to all cyclists, regardless of where they’re biking from.
For those slightly further afield, trains may be a preferable method for getting in to work. You can easily catch trains to Oxford from places like Banbury, Didcot, or Reading with providers such as Great Western Railway and CrossCountry. Much like the buss pass scheme, the university also offers a train pass scheme. To quote, this offers “a 5% discount for stations between Reading and Oxford (except for journeys starting at Reading and Didcot stations where an 8% discount is available) and a 5% discount for stations between Banbury and Oxford.” For staff members who don’t meet the criteria outlined above, there is still the interest-free loan available for trains as well as buses.
Oxford train station is within walking distance of most university and college libraries. If your route ends up taking you to Oxford Parkway instead, there are connecting buses that can take you into the city centre.
How to Survive Commuting
Despite the money that gets saved, it’s no secret that commuting can be tiresome, or that it can feel like a big chunk of your day is spent in a transport limbo. Here’s a few tips from current commuting trainees on how to get the best out of your daily travel.
- Make the commute your time, not work time: Obviously, this is time that you use to get to work, but there are ways that you can make this time your own. If you’re sitting on a bus or a train, use the time to read a book, sketch, play a video game, or whatever activity brings you a little bit of joy. It’s very easy to fill this time with doom-scrolling the news – try to keep it a little more pleasurable for yourself. Even if you’re driving a car, listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks can help you look forward to that time. I’d especially recommend singing along loudly and terribly to whatever music you’re currently obsessed with.
- For the drivers: Get to sleep in good time: For obvious reasons, you don’t want to be overtired while you’re driving (especially if you have to get up early). Get your sleep, and get your morning cup of tea/coffee if you find that helps!
- Be prepared for bad weather: This is especially applicable for cyclists, but keeping a spare set of clothes to change into when you arrive at work will be a big help. If you’re driving before you change over to a bus/bike, keeping a variety of coats and scarves in your boot can prove a saving grace if the weather changes suddenly.
- Take care of your transport: Keep your bike safe and in good working order – you can find some tips on how to do this and some support services through the Bike Doctor. It’s also worth carrying a spare tyre pump and bike lock key just in case! The same goes for cars – MOTs and servicing are a legal requirement, but it’s also worth remembering to perform monthly checks on your tyre pressure and oil level, as well as keeping that washer fluid topped-up. Car problems will make your commute very difficult, so it’s worth keeping things in line for your own peace of mind.
- Make your social life work with you: Obviously, a big appeal of the trainee program is the cohort: a group of like-minded folks who you’ll inevitably want to spend time with outside of work. Where possible, make time to spend with them (or anyone else in the city!) around your work day – go out for drinks/dinner after work some nights, spend your breaks together drinking coffee and eating doughnuts, or even meet up for lunch. There are ways that you can build your social life around your pre-existing presence in the city, to save you adding extra travel time into your weekends/evenings.
- And finally, give yourself an out: This may sound like a strange one, but I think it’s worth saying. Your commute doesn’t have to be a permanent commitment. The graduate trainee posts are one year posts (usually) and bus passes or parking permits are purchased (at most) on an annual basis. You can look at that year as a trial period. If you decide after the year that you want to keep working in Oxford, then you have a good chance to re-evaluate your options in terms of your commute. Are you happy doing that commute in the long term? If you’re not, can you consider moving closer to the city? Or changing your method of commuting? If the answer to all these questions is no, what librarianship opportunities can you find closer to home? Keeping your options open can help you to avoid getting stuck in a bad routine.