Fares may have to be introduced to keep Sidmouth Hopper Bus running

Sidmouth's new Hopper Bus took to the streets this week. Ref shs 21-16SH 6503. Picture: Simon Horn.

Sidmouth's new Hopper Bus took to the streets this week. Ref shs 21-16SH 6503. Picture: Simon Horn. - Credit: Archant

Sidmouth’s Hopper Bus will likely have to start charging passengers to help make ends meet.

Up until now, the service has been free to users and funded by grants, sponsorships and voluntary donations.

But Councillor Kelvin Dent, who handles the running of the service on behalf of Sidmouth Town Council, said there had been a ‘huge’ increase to the operating costs by more than 50 per cent.

It was initially allocated £8,000 in the authority’s 2018/19 budget.

Cllr Dent said: “There’s going to be no way we can run the Hopper on that budget.

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“If we do, it will mean dipping into the reserve this year.”

Due to a number of reasons, Hatch Green Coaches, which has provided the much-loved service for a number of years, has had to raise its rates.

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Cllr Dent said the council was in the process of looking at quotes from different providers and a final decision will made at its meeting on February 5.

He added: “If the Hopper Bus continues this year, it is very likely we will have to take away the donations box and introduce a nominal £1 fair to help make ends meet.”

The Herald reported in October that the number of people using the bus had fallen for the first time, although donations were up by almost 20 per cent to more than £6,500.

Passengers donated an average of 30 pence, so if numbers remain the same, the income could increase threefold.

But Cllr Jeff Turner told Monday’s budget meeting passengers may be deterred from using it if it is no longer free.

He said the council was ‘changing our assumptions about the Hopper Bus completely’, as members had previously been charging would make it an official bus route.

Town clerk Christopher Holland said none of the operators wanted to run a donation-only service any more.

Councillors voted to adjust their 2018/19 budget so half of the £20,000 allocation budget for the regeneration of Port Royal – as the legal bill this year is set to be smaller than originally anticipated – was added to the £8,000 allocation for the Hopper Bus.

Mr Holland said the move would mean the over would not change and would ‘hopefully’ allow the council to run the Hopper Bus this year.

The council has an earmarked reserve for the service of £7,856.

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