Hopper Bus back doing the rounds in Sid Valley

The Sidmouth Hopper Bus was launched this week for it's 2015 season. Ref shs 7564-21-15SH. Picture:

The Sidmouth Hopper Bus was launched this week for it's 2015 season. Ref shs 7564-21-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

A free bus service that showcases the Sid Valley, reduces pressure on parking and brings thousands of shoppers to the town is back in action, writes Stephen Sumner.

Now in its 12th year, the Hopper has become a popular feature of the summer - with some tourists booking their holidays around it.

The £22,000 cost is split equally between the town council, the Keith Owen Fund (KOF) and the Sid Valley business community, which all recognise its benefits.

Town councillor John Dyson, a driving force since the service’s creation, has secured its funding from across Sidmouth.

He said: “It’s totally funded within the town.

“We know it’s popular because hoteliers say everybody wants to know when it’s starting – they almost see it as a utility.”

Councillor Dyson estimated that the bus adds another 10 per cent to the parking capacity of the town centre - and that is why some 40 businesses lend their backing.

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The Hopper has consecutively beaten its record number of passengers every year for the last four summers.

More than 16,000 campers, motorists -who park out of town - and Sidmouth citizens stepped on board last year.

But the service did suffer a hiccup – the bus broke down while Cllr Dyson was away, briefly stranding its passengers, so he now has the support of colleague, Cllr Dawn Manley.

The Keith Owen Fund is managed by the Sid Vale Association.

Its chairman, Alan Darrant, said he knows an elderly lady at Abbeyfield Court who looks forward to the start of the Hopper bus every summer.

Her grinning face is one of the first that can be seen on board.

The Hopper started as a shuttle service to and from the Manor Road car park, but has since evolved to take passengers to Peak Hill and up to The Donkey Sanctuary.

Dawn Vincent, the charity’s head of communications, said: “We’re really delighted to support the Hopper bus.

“Last year we had 280,000 visitors – no doubt some of them were coming into Sidmouth.”

The Hopper’s total route around the Sid Valley takes 50 minutes.

The timetable (right) will be published in the Herald each week.