A motion to axe the Hop, Skip and Jump bus service has been sensationally withdrawn at last night’s Council meeting (Tuesday, 24 May).
The motion brought by Forest Ward Councillor Jose Menano-Pires (image below) sought to phase the bus service out by September 2022, unless it could be run on a cost neutral basis. The service currently costs Northern Beaches Council over $850k per year.
Asked why he had withdrawn the notice of motion, Cr Menano-Pires said with three Councillors absent from the chamber, it was not appropriate to proceed with a matter that should involve the whole Council.
“The Mayor [Regan] and Cr Walton have been involved in this before and I know they have got very strong opinions on this. Also Cr Sprott is not available, which is really 20 percent of our 15 Councillors not here.
“I thought it would be unfair to discuss it without their presence, because it is an important issue. It’s an issue that affects not only just a small community in Manly but the whole Northern Beaches, mainly to do with the expenditure that we currently support, which is very significant.
“Based on that, I thought we can wait another month, and we can bring it then for discussion when the full council is together. I think that’s fair for everybody,” explained Cr Menano-Pires.
Asked whether the matter would return at the next Council meeting on Tuesday 28 June, Cr Menano-Pires responded, “Definitely.”
Almost one year ago, the Hop, Skip and Jump bus service was challenged at a meeting of Northern Beaches Council. The service, which operates as an essentially free hop-on, hop-off series of local routes between Seaforth and Manly, has once again come under fire as a waste of ratepayers money.
Forest ward Councillor Jose Menano-Pires has called for the service to be scrapped, with savings reinvested into roads and footpaths. In the notice of motion to be reintroduced next month, Cr Menano-Pires estimated the cost of the bus service to be at least $850k per year but said with rising fuel costs, it may well be more.
When the matter was last raised at Council on 15 June 2021, the cost of the bus service was estimated to be ‘over $700k per year’, indicating costs have since risen by around 20 percent in just under a year.
All routes for Hop, Skip and Jump lead to the Stockland Shopping Centre at Condamine Street, Balgowlah, which is an artefact of the bus service having originally been introduced in 2006 when it was redeveloped.
Hop, Skip and Jump was subsequently taken over by Manly Council, with Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham pointing out last June the Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton Aquatic Centre development was contingent on the bus service as there was insufficient parking on-site.
Although the bus service operates on a gold coin cash donation, it largely operates for free for most travellers who chose not to pay. It was criticised by former Councillor Kylie Ferguson for competing with paid public transport options, and was cited as the reason an on-demand transport trial failed in Manly while a similar trial flourished in Pittwater.
Keolis Downer is operator of the Pittwater on-demand public transport service Keoride. The success of the Keoride on-demand service in Pittwater was cited as one reason that Keolis Downer was ultimately the successful bidder for public transport services across the Northern Beaches.
A spokesperson for Keolis Downer said although another operator ran the on-demand transport trial in Manly which was unsuccessful, a free service restricted the potential to expand on-demand public transport at Manly.
“As it is, it’s difficult to have an on-demand in parallel. It would take patronage out of a Keoride service. If it’s free, it would compete with an extension of Keoride in that area,” said the spokesperson.
Asked if Keoride could be extended should the Hop, Skip and Jump service be discontinued, the spokesperson for Keolis Downer said it was definitely possible to do, in consultation with Council and Transport for NSW.
“From an operational point of view, we could definitely look at extending Keoride. We did look at areas as options to extend Keoride in our bid but they weren’t exercised by Transport for NSW, so we remained with the existing service. We’re always looking at areas where we could expand and that would possibly be one that we could look at for sure,” said the spokesperson.
Manly Ward Councillors leapt to the defence of the Hop, Skip and Jump bus service, which is much-loved by the Manly community. Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham conceded costs must be looked at, but insisted no decision should be made to remove the service until a cost/benefit analysis had been conducted and the impact of any removal fully understood.
“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,” said Deputy Mayor Bingham.
Fellow Manly ward Councillors Sarah Grattan and Georgia Ryburn agreed. Cr Grattan said Hop, Skip and Jump provided a critical service to the most needy.
“The Hop, Skip and Jump bus is a service that is relied upon by many in our community, including the most vulnerable parts, our elderly, our children, our less able residents.
“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 Transport for NSW buses,” said Cr Grattan.
The threat to the Hop, Skip and Jump bus service also drew swift reaction from Member for Manly and NSW Environment Minister James Griffin. Mr Griffin said the bus service provided a much needed mobility service in the community that is unmet by larger public transport services.
“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. Council have a responsibility if they want to axe Hop, Skip and Jump, to start a discussion with Keolis Downer to discuss extending Keoride. That would satisfy at least some of the concerns that have been raised with me about the importance of this type of service,” said Minister Griffin.
Mr Griffin previously launched a petition to save the Hop, Skip and Jump bus service, which attracted over 1,200 signatures.
Hop, Skip and Jump buses service the suburbs of Manly, Fairlight, Balgowlah, Balgowlah Heights, Clontarf and Seaforth, with four routes Monday to Friday and three on weekends. Timetable details available here.
Images: Northern Beaches Advocate