Note: The original pilot scheme ended December 2022. The Katch On-Demand bus route re-commenced April 2023 through an initiative by East Suffolk Council and East Suffolk Community Partnerships. This story will remain as part of this website’s archive.
Katch, the electric on-demand taxi bus connecting Wickham Market rail station with Framlingham and Snape, will end its current service 23 December. Negotiations have begun with potential operators to see if it can be re-launched in 2023, possibly as a modified service.
Katch was launched by Suffolk County Council as a 12-month pilot scheme in May 2021. In November of that year the service route was expanded to Snape. In May 2022 the pilot was extended for an additional 6 months to encourage passenger usage and for the council to be able to establish a truer picture of demand as bus services recovered following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. At the same time service was extended to Blaxhall.
The innovative scheme utilised two Renault ZE electric minibuses powered by electricity from renewable sources. Katch was funded largely by Suffolk County Council with support from East Suffolk Council and the East Suffolk Lines Community Rail Partnership.
Electric charging points were installed at Wickham Market station where the service is based. The charging points were part-funded by the East Suffolk Lines Community Rail Partnership and Community Rail Network’s Designated Community Rail Fund which it administers on behalf of the Department for Transport.
Katch ran a fixed route with dedicated stops flagged with the Katch logo. Platform signage with the same logo was installed at Wickham Market station.
Passengers could book with service via a mobile app or telephone and use contactless cards or cash for payment when boarding.
Councillor Alexander Nicoll, Suffolk County Council Deputy Cabinet Member for Transport Strategy, said despite launching at the height of the pandemic, usage rose from 29 in the first week to an average of 100 journeys, peaking at 185 per week in June 2022.
“Unfortunately, the numbers have not risen to the point that the service can operate without financial support and the seed funding has now been exhausted,” he said.
“Likewise, despite regular calls to the industry at large to provide buses or alternative services on Sundays and later in the evening, usage at those times simply did not materialise during the pilot, so regrettably the service must end.
“On behalf of Suffolk County Council, I would like to thank Cabs Smart, East Suffolk Council, The East Suffolk Lines Community Rail Partnership, Greater Anglia, Snape Maltings and Framlingham Town Council for their assistance with the pilot.”
Councillor Steve Gallant, the leader of East Suffolk Council, said: “Through East Suffolk Council’s Community Partnership programme we were delighted to provide funding for the Katch scheme.
“Community Partnerships were created to help address local issues, and rural public transport issues for isolated locations remains a priority topic which we will continue to seek a sustainable solution for.”
A full analysis of the pilot would be published in 2023, with lessons learned being used to help develop future rural transport across Suffolk, he added.
After 23 December, Katch users will be encouraged to book journeys through the Connecting Communities rural transport service via the Suffolk On Board website.