Concept and aims:
The population of the Suffolk town of Framlingham has increased more than 20% since 2011 due to new housing developments. In 2019, Suffolk County Council met with the East Suffolk Lines Community Rail Partnership to discuss the viability of providing a demand responsive local taxi-bus service, as there was no public transport link between Framlingham, the village of Wickham Market, and Wickham Market Station, situated six-and-a-half miles away in Campsea Ashe.
The aim was to connect people who had no access to transport of their own with the railway station, as well as reducing the number of cars making the journey. Alongside serving local commuters, the route could also cater for leisure travellers wanting to access Framlingham Castle, a major Suffolk tourist attraction, and visitors to Wickham Market’s outdoor markets.
Suffolk County Council has a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030, twenty years sooner than the UK government. The service therefore needed to use electric vehicles and energy produced by renewable sources.
Suffolk County Council leased two eight-seat electric vehicles for the service, and the name ‘Katch’ was chosen based on feedback from the public. The community rail partnership sourced funding to install two charging points at the station, thus saving the vehicles an extra 8,760 miles a year in non-revenue service.
The partnership worked with local designers and train operator Greater Anglia to install a Katch running-in board on the station platform, promoting it as an integrated transport hub. Bus flags were also placed at the station and at all designated stops to make the service easily identifiable. A mobile app was commissioned for online bookings, which could also be made via phone.
Suffolk County Council hired a local film company to create a promotional video for the new service, and the partnership helped create posters to be displayed at stations across East Suffolk.
After a delay due to lockdown, Katch was launched in May 2021, operating from 6.30 to 22.30 Monday to Saturday, and 9.00 to 19.00 on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Given ongoing travel restrictions, passenger numbers were initially limited to three per vehicle.
As restrictions eased from July 2021, all partners were able to actively promote the service and weekly passengers immediately increased by almost 50%. Katch drivers also reported that people were using the buses on a regular basis, giving a solid passenger base from which to develop the project in the future.