Oxford traffic filters arriving in 2024 – what you need to know

Update - 15 July 2024: Network Rail has now said it cannot re-open Botley Road in October as planned. This means the traffic filters will not be introduced in November. Network Rail has not yet given a new completion date; as soon as this is available, a revised timetable for the traffic filters will be provided.

New traffic filters will be appearing around Oxford’s roads by the end of 2024.

These are the latest stage in the County Council’s wider plan to relieve congestion and improve air quality in and around the city by encouraging more people to walk, cycle or use public transport.

The Council expects the filters to make bus journeys quicker and more reliable, and walking and cycling safer and more pleasant. This is a trial, and the changes will be made permanent only if there’s clear evidence that they are working well and delivering the expected reduction in congestion. There will be an opportunity to provide the Council with feedback on how the filters are working and their effect on your commute.

In this article we summarise what these changes will mean in practice and how they could affect different groups.

The rollout of the filters will not start until after Network Rail has finished its work on the railway bridge and Botley Road has reopened. This is currently scheduled to happen in October 2024.

The Travel team within Estates Services will provide more information on the new system as it becomes available. In the meantime, the best place to find up-to-date information about the filters is the County Council’s website.

What is happening?

During the trial, six new traffic filters will be installed on key roads around the city. Four of them will operate from 7am to 7pm every day:

  • Hythe Bridge Street
  • Thames Street
  • St Cross Road
  • St Clement’s

The last two will operate at peak times only – from 7am to 9am and 3pm to 6pm, Monday to Saturday:

  • Marston Ferry Road
  • Hollow Way, in Cowley

You can see an online map of the exact locations. The Council thinks these sites will have the maximum positive impact on congestion around Oxford.

The times above mean travelling around the city between 7pm and 7am will be completely unaffected by the changes.

How will the filters work?

There won’t be physical barriers – the filters will be clearly signed points in the road, enforced by automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras.

The details of vehicles passing through the filters will be checked against a database to see if they are automatically exempt or have a valid permit.

Cars that aren’t exempt (or resident permit holders who have used up all their day passes) will receive a fine of £70 (reduced to £35 if paid within 21 days) if driven through the filters.

It’s important to understand that you will still be able to get everywhere in the city by car, at any time of day, without passing through any filters. However, this may mean taking a less direct route than previously and possibly using the ring road.

Who can go through the filters does not depend on vehicle emissions, and electric vehicles are not automatically exempt. This is a separate initiative from the Zero Emissions Zone, which is also being trialled at present by the County Council and involves vehicles being charged to enter a comparatively small area of Oxford city centre if they produce emissions above a certain level.

Impact on staff and students

University and college employees who live in the Oxford permit area will be able to apply for a permit that provides 100 day passes per car per calendar year. At maximum this applies to one car per person (who must be the registered keeper) and three cars per household. The same is true of students who are eligible to keep a car in Oxford.

Those living in the wider Oxfordshire permit area will be able to apply for a permit that provides 25 days passes per car per calendar year. At maximum this applies to one car per person (who must be the registered keeper) and two cars per household.

The County Council has published a detailed map of the two permit areas. If you often need to drive into or around Oxford, please consult their website to find out more about how this will affect you.

What exemptions will there be?

Certain kinds of vehicle will automatically be exempt, including vans and HGVs – so most goods deliveries to University sites, and most staff members like gardeners and maintenance personnel who need to drive around town on University business, should be unaffected. Minibuses and coaches are also exempt, as are motorbikes and mopeds.

Many groups of drivers will also be able to apply for a permit allowing them to travel through the filters even though their vehicles are not automatically exempt. You can see them all on the Council’s website, but the list includes carers (paid and unpaid), patients who need regular hospital treatments, and several other groups to which significant numbers of staff and students belong.

For example, those who need to travel by car because they are disabled should be able to keep doing so, since blue badge holders and those driving disabled-class vehicles can apply for a permit. The same is true for those with caring responsibilities which make driving essential.

Drivers of private cars that are used for business purposes, for example as goods vehicles, will also be able to apply for a permit. So staff who often transport things around town by car on behalf of their department or college should also be able to carry on. (See below for information on vehicle fleets operated by departments or colleges themselves.)

What should I do if I’m not eligible for an exemption?

Staff and students who don’t fall into any of the exempt groups may need to adjust their travel routine – go to the Council’s website for guidance.

The University Travel team provides helpful information about alternative ways of getting around town, with discounts available on bus and train travel alongside lots of advice and assistance to make it easier to switch to cycling. This includes free training, discounted cycle safety and security equipment and a salary sacrifice scheme to help with the cost of a new bike.

How will this affect departments and colleges with their own vehicles?

The Council plans to set up an online portal for businesses to manage their operational vehicle fleets.

The details are still being finalised, but it is likely that each department and college will have its own account on this portal, with permission to apply for permits for multiple qualifying cars. They will use the website to record and update the details of their fleet.

Because vans and similar vehicles will be allowed through the filters by default, the impact on most parts of the University is expected to be limited.

More information

The Travel team will provide more information as soon as it is available. In the meantime, they will be happy to advise any colleagues in departments or colleges who are concerned about the impact of the filters on their operations – please contact them on travel@admin.ox.ac.uk.