Hop on! A ticket to ride the Sidmouth Hopper Bus
- Credit: Archant
Sidmouth’s Hopper Bus has helped to ferry thousands of visitors around the town’s shops, scenic spots and accommodation for the past 14 years.
The free service was the brainchild of Councillor Tony Reed and Tom Cox, who wanted to help reduce parking pressures and boost business and tourism in the Sid Valley.
Since its inception, it has gone from strength to strength. When it was first launched, it was helping to transport between 2,000 and 3,000 people a year, whereas in its last season it carried more than 20,000 visitors.
When it was launched, the bus could carry up to 16 people and helped to transport people from the car park in Manor Road to the Sidmouth Triangle in town.
But after feedback from visitors asking for other stops, it was decided to slowly expand the route, eventually including the top of Peak and Salcombe Hills, the Donkey Sanctuary and three caravan parks.
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The service grew so popular it began to have to leave people behind because so many people were using it. So last year, in a bid to cater for growing demands, Sidmouth Town Council commissioned a bigger bus, through Hatch Green, which can carry up to 32 people.
Town council vice-chairman Cllr John Dyson, who has been responsible for the service for the last decade, will this year hand over the reins to Cllr Kelvin Dent.
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He said the bus was the envy of many other towns whose representatives had contacted him to ask how and why they ran the service.
He added it was thanks to the some 40 businesses; the Sid Vale Association, which has again supported it from its Keith Owen Fund; East Devon’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; the two local councils; and donations from visitors.
“It is unusual to have people wanting to go in both directions, to and from the countryside, which is why it has enough visitors to keep it going,” said Cllr Dyson.
“We get a lot of enquires from towns and other places as to how and why we do it. We do it to help the town.
“It first began when Tom and Tony wanted to create a way of moving people from the long stay car park on Manor Road to town, because it was a long way to walk and it put people off parking there.
“In the second year they decided to get two buses, making it more frequent and popular.
“The driver then mentioned that people wanted to be dropped at Connaught Gardens so they started going there.
“Soon they found that people wanted to go to the top of the hill, and after a year, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) representative said if they took the bus to the top of the hill they would support the bus.
“In the third year, which is when I got involved, they had financial support from Sidmouth Town Council and East Devon District Council as well as AONB, so they decided to go to the top of both hills, to the east and west of the town.
“This allowed people to walk down the coastal paths and see the view from the top. We also picked up people who had walked up the hill and wanted to come back down. That became quite popular.
“Over a number of years, we tried a few different ideas and gradually increased the route.”
The service cost £30,128 last year to run with donations from Sidmouth Town Council, businesses, Sid Vale Association’s (SVA) Keith Owen Fund and passenger donations.
Cllr Dyson said in the next few years donations would become more important as the SVA will stop funding the service from next year.
He said: “The SVA has been helping us get off the ground for the last six years and we are very grateful for its contribution.
“We have got to the stage that we have to stand on our own two feet.”
As well as sponsorship, there is also a donation box for any passengers who want to support The Hopper Bus, which will run until September 30, excluding Sidmouth FolkWeek.
The route stretches from Mutter’s Moor and Peak Hill to the Donkey Sanctuary, taking in Connaught Gardens, Manor Road car park, the Esplanade and Bedford Lawn car park, the Three Cornered Plot, Salcombe Hill and the Norman Lockyer Observatory. n