Katch all-electric taxi-bus pilot draws to a close

Katch, the pilot all-electric taxi-bus service run by Suffolk County Council, is to conclude at Christmas.

The demand-responsive service, which ran in east Suffolk, will formally cease operation on its scheduled end-date of 23 December.

However, negotiations with other potential operators have begun to see if a version can continue in 2023. 

Katch started running in May 2021 and was extended by six months to December 2022 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.

It was funded largely by Suffolk County Council, but with support from East Suffolk Council and East Suffolk Line Community Rail Partnership.

It operated as an on-demand service, with users able to book via a mobile phone app or a phone-line.

Katch used two Renault ZE electric minibuses on a fixed-route link between Framlingham, Wickham Market and Wickham Market railway station (at Campsea Ashe).

The six-month extension saw the route expanded to Snape and Blaxhall. 

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 CabsSmart, East Suffolk Council, The East Suffolk Lines Community Rail Partnership, Greater Anglia Railways, 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.

Katch users will still be able to access journeys through the Connecting Communities Coastal service, operated in east Suffolk by Coastal Accessible Transport Services, and contactable via the Connecting Communities website.