Future of Sidmouth’s beloved Hopper Bus uncertain

Sidmouth Town Councillor Kelvin Dent. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 7921-29-13AW

Sidmouth Town Councillor Kelvin Dent. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 7921-29-13AW - Credit: Archant

The future of Sidmouth’s beloved Hopper Bus has been thrown into question after a ‘loss-making’ summer season this year.

The seasonal hail-and-ride service, which was free up until this year, is one of the jewels in Sidmouth’s crown, envied by other towns and is very popular with tourists.

The service’s season normally runs from the May Bank Holiday weekend until the end of September. But this year, organisers decided to cut it short, by a month, to help reduce costs.

And there are now fears that it may not continue, unless more money can be raised – according to the Hopper Bus’ co-ordinator Councillor Kelvin Dent.

The Herald understands that thousands of extra pounds will be needed, rather than hundreds, to ensure its future, although no exact figures have been released and money is still being counted.

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Sidmouth Town Council (STC), which commissions the service, will be carrying out a review of financial figures next month. It will be looking at the exact number of passengers and finances collected.

The Hopper Bus was first launched in 2003 to help reduce parking pressures and boost business and tourism in the valley.

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It started out transporting around 2,500 people a year and in 2017 it carried more than 20,000 visitors.

In 2018 the service’s running costs increased by more than 50 per cent, after a rise in bus operator charges.

As a result, fares were introduced for the first time, charging £1 for a single adult fare and 50 pence for children and dogs.

The bus route runs between Muttersmoor, the Triangle around the Three-Cornered Plot, the Donkey Sanctuary and the caravan parks beyond Salcombe Hill.

Cllr Dent said: “Before the season began we agreed to have a review at the end of the year to decide if we can continue. We do not know one way or the other what will happen.”

When asked about the service finishing early, Cllr Dent said: “That was because of the finances. Every day it was running at a loss. So we could afford it, we planned to cut the season short, to September 2. I would like to appeal to the town’s business community to sponsor it. It is the businesses that benefit from the tourism.

“The Hopper Bus is very popular. It is something special for Sidmouth. I hope it can continue. It sets Sidmouth apart.

“It is a use it or lose it situation; as far as businesses are concerned, they need to sponsor it or we will lose it.”

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