A NEW bus route linking Henley with Reading and High Wycombe has been launched.
Carousel, which is part of the same group as Thames Travel, rolled out its X80 Regatta service last week.
It offers three journeys an hour between 6.19am and 7.28pm during the week and runs via Lower Shiplake and Caversham in one direction and Medmenham and Marlow in the other.
There is also a Saturday service between 7.28am and 7.10pm.
The route is served by three new £180,000, 45-seater buses which comply with the latest European standards on vehicle emissions, meaning they emit 90 per cent fewer pollutants than those made before 2013.
They also offer free wi-fi and use “micro-hybrid” technology in which energy generated while braking is used to power the vehicle’s electronics, thereby reducing fuel consumption.
The buses are painted red and sport a regatta-themed branding with two oars crossed over a pair of laurels. The silhouette of a coxed four crew is displayed on both sides. Carousel decided to launch the service after rival operator Arriva reduced the frequency of its 800/850 buses, which follow a similar route, from three an hour to two last year.
It operates on a purely commercial basis as Oxfordshire County Council no longer subsidises bus routes.
Managing director Phil Southall said: “We felt there was scope for a more frequent service and we wanted to offer the extra benefits like free wi-fi as well.
“It is a high-quality service as these buses are the best you can buy. Other operators in this area are using significantly older fleets which do not meet the same stringent emissions standards.
“We want to test the market and see if there’s potential for further growth in what is a very important transport corridor. It has only been running for a couple of weeks but we’ve had some very positive feedback and want to give it a full year to see what demand is like.
“This is a very quiet time of year but we expect an increase when the schools return and over Christmas, when people are doing their shopping.”
The levels of nitrogen dioxide in Henley have been well above the recommended safe limit for more than a decade.
Town, district and county councillor David Nimmo Smith said: “Anything which improves the situation is to be welcomed. These vehicles are state-of-the-art and we hope other operators will follow suit in adopting them.”
Henley Mayor Julian Brookes said: “This is only one small step but it’s a step in the right direction.”