Voluntary donations ‘will help keep Sidmouth Hopper Bus on the road’

PUBLISHED: 16:29 23 May 2016

The Sidmouth Hopper bus. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 2997-21-13AW

The Sidmouth Hopper bus. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 2997-21-13AW

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Popular transport link launches on Thursday with double the capacity to meet growing demand

Sidmouth’s Hopper Bus returns to the road next week and - for the first time - passengers will be asked for contributions to help cover increased costs.

Now in its 13th year, the popular transport link launches on Thursday with double the capacity to meet ever-growing demand and improved access for disabled people.

The service has broken passenger records for six successive seasons, but struggled to cope with its own success, resulting in delays and some people being left behind due to a lack of space.

It is hoped a new 23-seat vehicle with standing room for nine passengers will alleviate the problem, but the benefits to users come at a substantial increase in costs – up to £32,000 from the previous £22,000.

The bus - a valuable resource in showcasing the Sid Valley - is jointly funded by Sidmouth Town Council, businesses and the Sid Vale Association’s Keith Owen Fund.

Town councillor John Dyson leads the initiative and explained that, rather than hit small businesses with the additional spend, he is hoping passengers will make a voluntary contribution of £1 per journey.

Cllr Dyson said: “The reason it is so successful is because it does serve genuine needs - it allows more people to come into the town without bringing a car in and keeps parking spaces free.

“I do not intend to increase charges for those businesses that have generously supported us.

“I’m proposing to ask passengers to donate towards the operation of the bus.

“It would be an entirely voluntary contribution of about £1 per trip.

“It has always been free, but the cost now is such that the free ride is not sustainable. People do appreciate the service, there is no question about it.”

Operators want to refrain from introducing a fare-based service as this would have to be registered with traffic commissioners, adding further cost and limiting the driver’s flexibility.

Cllr Dyson hopes passengers will be happy to contribute so the Hopper can continue to be a viable service.

The route is also being altered slightly, to include calls to Salcombe Regis and Kings Down Tail Caravan Park, with the bus returning directly to the Three Cornered Plot via All Saints Road.

The service operates from May 26 until September 30, excluding FolkWeek.

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