A motion for Northern Beaches Council to review the viability of the popular Hop Skip Jump bus, which takes residents in the more remote and hilly back streets of the Manly area into hubs at Manly Corso, Stocklands shopping centre in Balgowlah and the Andrew Boy Charlton Swimming Pool, has been withdrawn at the last moment.
The motion was only withdrawn, however, because a number of councillors were absent at the meeting of council this evening, 24 May 2022, and it was considered by the motion ‘s instigator to be “important enough to be discussed by the full Council, so I hereby withdraw this motion.”
The motion is therefore expected to reappear at the next Council meeting on 28 June.
The ‘Manly Hop Skip Jump Bus issue’ was first flagged last year by former Councillor Alex McTaggart, who accused Manly residents of ‘bludging’ by using the fee-free but donation-optional community bus service when other wards go without.
It was again brought before Council tonight, Tuesday 24 May 2022, when newly elected Your Northern Beaches (YNB) Councillor Jose Menano-Pires put forward a (now withdrawn) Notice of Motion for Council to review the bus service so that it either operates on a cost neutral basis or is phased out as soon as September 2022.
Cr Menano-Pires’s motion said the resulting savings of more than $850,000 per year could instead be used to address road maintenance and footpaths across the full local government area.
“The current Hop, Skip and Jump bus service is an expense that only benefits a limited geographic area and population of our LGA,” Cr Menano-Pires stated in his proposal.
“Furthermore, a bus / transport service is not a service that is traditionally allocated to Local Government, to such an extent that Council is even precluded from charging fees to its users.
“Transport NSW, and some private organisations (including non-profit) are much better positioned to offer this kind of service across the entire Northern Beaches.”
What is the Hop Skip Jump Bus?
Council runs the Hop, Skip and Jump community bus service through the suburbs of Manly, Fairlight, Balgowlah, Balgowlah Heights, Clontarf and Seaforth. Four routes operate Monday to Friday and three routes on weekends. The bus routes interchange at Stockland Shopping Centre in Condamine Street, Balgowlah.
It began 16 years ago and was developed and expanded as part of Development conditions for the Stocklands shopping centre development in Balgowlah and later, we understand, the Andrew Boy Charlton swimming pool.
It is used by more than 300,000 locals yearly to access the area’s major hubs.
While the service does not exist in other Council wards, areas further North are serviced by a privatised ‘on demand’ service from Keolis Downer, which transports people to the B-line bus stops.
Council and community response
The proposal was met with fierce resistance from Manly Ward councillors Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham, Cr Sarah Grattan and newly elected councillor Georgia Ryburn who recognised the community bus as an essential avenue for accessibility for local seniors, those living with a disability and parents with young children in parts of Manly not serviced by State transport options.
Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham warned via her social channels earlier today that the service was “under threat”. “A motion is before Council that it be scrapped unless it is cost-neutral by September. Obviously, an impossible task. Your Ward councillors are fighting this asking for a proper cost/benefit analysis be done.”
When Manly Observer shared this news, there was a strong reaction from the community defending the service. Our Facebook post alone was viewed by 13,000 people and received 2,000 engagements within eight hours of posting.
Community plans to fight back
Speaking in defence of the service at this evening’s Council meeting – before the motion was withdrawn a few hours later – resident Ellen Collier said that “in the very least Council should be exploring all the options available for retaining this service in some form, and even expanding it to other areas. There should be consultation with those affected.To my knowledge, residents are unaware that this service is threatened. They need to participate in this discussion. I only found out last night .”
“To my knowledge, residents are unaware that this service is threatened. They need to participate in this discussion. I only found out last night .”
Another resident, Richard Payne, spoke on behalf of his elderly neighbours on Laurence Street in Fairlight, who “rely on the service, they are less mobile and getting up the hill with their shopping bags is just not possible for them. The bus service provides them with some independence to do their own shopping and manner and to get home safely,” he said via a written statement. “If the Council cancels this service, how will Council support our elderly and vulnerable members of the community to get in and out of Manly?”
The proposal also attracted State attention, with Manly MP James Griffin issuing a media statement on Tuesday afternoon.
“The Hop Skip Jump bus service is a lifeline to many in our community. Manly does the heavy lifting when it comes to driving the Northern Beaches economy, more than offsetting the cost of the Hop Skip Jump service. Removing this service would be a huge blow to our less mobile residents who use the bus to stay engaged in the community. The Hop Skip Jump bus has become an integral part of our community that is relied upon by so many”.
“The Hop Skip Jump bus is small enough to go where larger State funded buses cannot go and provides an important link for many in our community,” Mr Griffin said.
We have a ate query with Mr Griffin’s office asking whether he would consider seeking State funding should Council no longer support its continuation.
Manly Ward YNB Cr Sarah Grattan agreed the community bus was relied upon by the most vulnerable in the community.
“Manly residents not only patronise this service – but they love it and trust it. Trust it to carry their children to school and activities; to take them and their shopping back home again; to enable people to live car free where car parking is impossible and to access services that are out of reach when relying on TfNSW buses”.
“Manly residents not only patronise this service – but they love it and trust it. Trust it to carry their children to school and activities; to take them and their shopping back home again.”
Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham added: “This service has become the heart of the community and is not just a community bus, but a community on wheels. Of course, we need to review the operational costs of the service but the benefits to the community always must be a priority”.
Residents can check whether this issue is revisited at next meeting of Council by looking at the agenda, generally available the week before via the Northern Beaches Council Website user Council Meetings > Agenda.
The author would like to acknowledge their bias in writing this article as a former frequent user of the service, and long-time observer of its importance in the Manly community.