The threatened Hop, Skip and Jump community bus service will continue running after Northern Beaches councillors voted to retain it at their 28 June Council meeting, following a motion to review its financial feasibility.
The motion, originally introduced at the 24 May Council meeting but withdrawn and postponed due to the absence of three councillors, was put forward by Councillor Jose Menano-Pires.
Cr Menano-Pires proposed the small bus operate on a cost-neutral basis or be phased out by September 2022, which he predicted would save Council over $850,000 in running costs that he suggested could be better spent on maintenance to roads and the construction of new footpaths.
Cr Menano-Pires, a former Independent Liberal councillor and Deputy Mayor on the now-amalgamated Warringah Council, was re-elected to Frenchs Forest ward as part of the Your Northern Beaches Independent Team in December 2021.
“The current Hop, Skip and Jump bus service is an expense that only benefits a limited geographic area and population of our LGA [Local Government Area],” Cr Menano-Pires declared in his original 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.”
Cr Menano-Pires’ proposal echoed the words of Cr Alex McTaggart, who, in a 15 June 2021 Council meeting, criticised the Hop, Skip and Jump bus as an unnecessary facility ‘subsidised’ by other LGAs.
“Are we in the business of running a bus service? I appreciate this came out of the previous Manly Council. I also appreciate that the service was increased under the Administrator…
“It’s a gold coin donation but nobody is making the donation. The issue is equity and should this Council be running a bus service? That’s what it comes down to. I don’t believe that this Council should run a bus service.
“I’m prepared to accept if you can make the service revenue neutral then I don’t have an issue with that, but I don’t see why the rest of the LGA should be subsidising the Manly residents $1.8m for buses that run parallel to government buses. It doesn’t pass any conceivable, rational test…”
However, Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham disagreed. “The service does not mirror a government service, which is why it’s needed. The routes that it takes are not serviced by any government bus. It’s also important to mention that a lot of Councils run community buses. They are run for a reason.
“One of the reasons why this one was introduced, which has been forgotten, is that it was a condition of the DA for Manly Boy Charlton pool. They were not able to provide enough parking there. An enormous number of people use the Hop, Skip and Jump bus from various parts of Manly to get to and from the Boy Charlton pool…
“The other thing is that it supports a very large disadvantaged group who live in the Manly area. The majority of people live in apartments, they don’t have cars or places to park, so this service is very valuable to them. Also it supports pensioners and grandparents with grandchildren.
“A needs and benefits analysis must be done. You can’t just cancel a service because of cost without actually looking at what needs it is fulfilling.”
In statement released on 13 June 2022, Cr Bingham reiterated, “This service must be kept, too many people rely on it. Rather than scrapping it, let’s look at ways to make it more cost-effective.
“What makes Manly different from other Wards within the Northern Beaches Council area, is its density. Ninety percent of people live in apartments, many of which have no garage, there is a large elderly population as well as 400 people who live in social housing. This service keeps cars off the road and provides a means of transport for those who are unable to drive.”
Manly MP James Griffin also weighed-in with a media statement on 24 May. “The Hop Skip and 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 and 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 and 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 previously launched a petition to save the Hop, Skip and Jump bus service, attracting over 1,200 signatures.
What is the Hop, Skip and Jump Bus?
According to Northern Beaches Council’s website, “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.”
The reason all routes interchange at the shopping mall is because it was originally a service sponsored by Stockland to enable customers, particularly the elderly, those with mobility problems or without transport, to commute to the Balgowlah retail zone from neighbouring suburbs and streets and return home later.
Stockland Balgowlah opened in June 2009, replacing the 1959-built Totem Centre, which was demolished in 2007, although, according to Sydney Point, “locals still refer to the new centre as Totem.”
Manly Council, prior to amalgamation into Northern Beaches Council in May 2016, took over running the bus service shortly after the Balgowlah mall finished construction, and retained it due to its popularity.
Hop Skip and Jump bus routes run on a ‘gold coin donation’. However, because the coronavirus pandemic of 2020-21 led to a decrease in people carrying cash to limit transmission of the virus, passengers got in the habit of travelling for free.
Good for Manly, Cr Bingham’s team, claim “At its peak in 2019, the service moved about 400,000 passengers per annum. Since COVID the numbers have dropped to around 200,000 pa but this is expected to increase again, particularly with the recent publicity about the service.”
In a June 2022 public survey, Good For Manly found 92% of 752 respondents were “extremely satisfied” with the bus service, with the remaining 8% “somewhat satisfied”. There were no objectors.
In the wake of Council’s 28 June vote to keep the service operational, Councillor Georgia Ryburn, elated with the outcome of the Council vote, posted on social media shortly after the late-night ballot was concluded.
“HOP SKIP AND JUMP BUS REMAINS 🚌 🚌 🚌
“Tonight, Council resolved to look at the benefits, operation and ways this valued community bus can become more cost neutral (voted on at 11:30pm no less, for those watching at home 👊🥵).
“What does this mean for you? For now, there are no changes to the bus, it’s routes or our friendly drivers 😀. More is expected to come out by the end of this year w options on how the bus might recoup some of its costs. As always, I’ll keep you informed on the matter here.
“A huge thank you to the community who wrote in or spoke with me directly about this. I will always listen to your views and experiences with the aim to fight for the best services for you on Council.”
In a Facebook post, Cr Bingham also praised those who supported retaining the bus. “Our popular Hop, Skip and Jump community bus service is to continue operating following a council meeting last night where it was resolved to explore ways to make the service cost neutral. My personal thanks to all those hundreds of users who emailed the councillors & completed our survey.”
Cr Bingham told Manly Observer, “I was delighted that the Hop Skip and Jump community bus was given a reprieve at last night’s council meeting. This will enable Council to undertake a proper review of this important service and to look at ways to make it more cost-effective.
“I know that the thousands of passengers who rely on the ‘community of wheels’ bus will heave a great sigh of relief when they hear the news.”
Hop, Skip and Jump 2022 bus timetable