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Thursday, 20 May 2021

How To Drop A Simple Katch!

 Just over two years ago I published the paragraph below, regarding Framlingham, Wickham Marker, and the lack of a bus link to Wickham Market (Campsea Ashe) station. I was a tad frustrated.


So you'd have thought an operator like, say, First would be thinking "hey, there's close on 2,000 people there without a decent bus service - let's go get them" This is where market research comes in. Liase with the local council and community groups to survey the residents to see when and where they want to go. If a community feels consulted and valued it will respond, as it has in Beccles. My guess is a decent link to Wickham Market station would be high on the list, and that's where you link up with Greater Anglia to encourage use - anything from a free coffee at the station to 50% of your bus fare off the rail fare, the possibilities are endless. Hell, Wickham Market hasn't got a bus to Wickham Market station, and it's a 3 mile walk down a busy road with no pavements! Connect with the 64 and bingo. But no, too much like hard work doing the research and unlike any other industry Heaven forbid they actually employ anyone to do the market research.

So you can imagine my delight when I heard that a new, Covid delayed service was starting up linking Framlingham, Wickham Market and Wickham Market station, operating 7 days a week with bunny hugging friendly electric minibuses. Just what we need, I thought. Now all we need is the service tailored to local needs, promotions with Greater Anglia etc and we are onto something. I should have heard alarm bells when I saw the name - Katch. Anyone who thinks Katch is a, well, catchy name is not going to have thought things through. Sadly my instincts have been proved correct. Let me introduce you to Katch.


The initial impression isn't great - that doesn't look much like Framlingham Castle, and as a former resident of Wickham Market I can say with certainty the church is not shaped like that! However, let's not judge a book by it's cover and carry on. What is Katch all about? Well it's this..


And here are the electric vehicles in question, leased from Citroen




Apologies for the poor quality of the above pic, a monumental thunderstorm had just announced its presence and I forgot to wipe the lens before taking the pic!

Here is the map of the area served.


These are screenshots taken from the website, and they aren't great, so if you need to stop squinting you can visit the Katch website by clicking here. Of course there are times and fares, and here they are. 


So, on the face of it a new service linking a small town and large village with the nearest station, using electric vehicles, operating 7 days a week. Marvelous. Now let's put some flesh on the bones. It is just over 6 miles from Framlingham to WM station and 3 miles from WM to the station. I assume the idea is to encourage non drivers to use the bus as well as hoping drivers will leave cars at home and use the electric bus instead, thus cutting emissions. So here is scenario one.

Grandma and Grandpa who live in Wickham Market want to take their 3 grandchildren out for the day by train. The conversation goes like this:

GM: Tell you what, love, let's not drive to the station but take that new electric bus
GP:  Nice idea, it says it's a taxibus so it will pick us up from home, won't it?
GM: Erm no, we have to walk up to the bus stop, it only serves bus stops.
GP:  Oh that's not very convenient with my knee but I'll manage - at least we can use our bus passes.
GM  Erm no, because it's a bookable service they don't accept bus passes.
GP:  So we've got to walk and pay - must be cheap then.
GM: Erm well for the 5 of us it will be £23 
GP:  HOW MUCH? You do know parking at the station is £2.50 all day and it will cost less than a quid          in petrol? Does it connect with the last train from Ipswich?
GM: Erm no........

Scenario Two

Mrs Blyth works in Ipswich. She has been driving in as the normal bus service finishes too early to get her home, so the thought of taking it easy on the train is a good one, and she'll save on her £20 a week parking and £25 a week petrol. That is until she finds out that a weekly season from Wickham Market Station to Ipswich is £33.20, and since the electric bus doesn't do anything other than day tickets 5 days to the station and back will cost her £35. So the luxury of taking the train after walking to and from her nearest bus stop will cost her £68.20, an increase of £23.20 a week, or £1,206 a year. 

Just who is this service aimed at? The first consideration of anyone contemplating a new service or initiative has to be "who is my market and where do they want to go". The next consideration is "how do I get them onto the bus". None of this has been thought of. I've said it time and again that if a bus service is to be successful it has to be convenient and financially attractive. Katch is neither. It has the drawbacks of the bus, ie only serving bus stops, but none of the advantages, ie accepting bus passes or doing group/period tickets. But they aren't the only drawbacks with Katch. If you look at the map you'll see the route passes through Hatcheston and Parham. There are bus stops in both those locations. But Katch doesn't serve them. It seems the reason for that is although the vehicles are electric the doors and step aren't, so the driver has to get out and operate them manually, and they don't want drivers doing that on a busy road. Understandable except both stops are in a 30mph limit and the road isn't that busy.

So Scenario 3

Two friends, one living in Framlingham, the other down the road in Parham decide to go out for the day. Shall we get the new bus to the station? Well I can get it but you can't as it won't stop in Parham because they didn't get a bus with an electric door.....I'll pick you up in the car as normal.

There are two minibuses. When I made enquiries today it transpired that between them there were 4 bookings. All day, and two of those were the same people. But maybe that's a good thing as if it does get busy Katch is going to have problems. You see a round trip from Framlingham is around 12 miles. The minibuses have a range of between 65 - 75 miles, so after 5 trips they'll need recharging, which will take 6 - 8 hours. Thus if both minibuses are used to their max from 6.30am, by 9.30 they'll need recharging and won't be back till late afternoon - you really couldn't make it up.

Other value for money features are you can go one stop or the full distance and it will cost the same. They don't serve Thomas Mills school so anyone running late due to doctors eg, or staying after school can't use Katch as an alternative for getting to/from home. They don't connect with the first train M-F or last train any day. Here is my favourite stat I discovered - in theory if there were enough hours in the day you could commute by bus from Southwold - Peterborough for £29.20 a week. 5 days Wickham Market - Wickham Market station on Katch is £35. 

I would dearly love to know who Suffolk CC were aiming at when they came up with Katch. Certainly not commuters with no season tickets. Certainly not families with no group tickets, Certainly not the elderly, not accepting bus passes. Certainly not the young, not serving the major school in the area. Certainly not the disabled, only serving bus stops. Certainly not the poor, charging the earth before train fares are added on top. In fact I've managed to come up with just two types of people who might benefit from Katch. Firstly anyone living near a bus stop served by Katch who gets a taxi to the station every day. They would save money. Secondly people wanting to visit Framlingham for the day, to pay their respects to Ed Sheeran etc might be attracted by the bus from the station. That's not going to help locals though.

The question I couldn't get out of my head after today's research was "what is the incentive for people to start using the service?" and you know I couldn't find one. Why is there no promotion with Greater Anglia, for example, knocking 50% of the bus fare off your rail ticket? Why doesn't it connect with the last train from Ipswich? Currently that means if you go to London for the day you have to be on the 1930 out of Liverpool St to connect with the last Katch. Why is there no promotion with other bus operators to encourage modal shift? Why has there been no consultation with the local community? Yet again someone paid to come up with bright ideas has assumed just because a new bus is launched people will use it. Well they won't, and just like just about every DRT scheme up and down the country Katch is doomed to failure too, purely because not enough thought or vision was put into it. Yet another opportunity missed. And these are the people we're hoping to create partnerships to embrace the Bus Back Better scheme. Laurel and Hardy put more thought into getting that darned piano down those stairs.

16 comments:

  1. Just tried to look at website and got...

    "We are currently experiencing technical difficulties with this website.
    Please try again shortly."
    Oh dear!

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    1. Why does everything need its own app/ IT is a complex mess at present and getting worse.

      Most people as well want a turn up and go type service not something you have to book in advance

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  2. Look at the likely usage of the service and look at the cost of operating two bus and having to have office staff and this service is dead in the water

    It may get the odd commuter am & pm but in-between it will be running around empty as it will late evening and Saturdays and Sundays

    Why as it is a point to point service is it not a normal bus service. No thought at all has gone into it


    Still the Railways are having a big shake up . The white paper can be found here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/great-british-railways-williams-shapps-plan-for-rail

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  3. Better Bus England

    The current approach to bus services is in my view a disorganised and dysfunctional and does not serve passengers well if at all

    Should we have a similar approach to bus services as they are bring to rail. WE also need to integrate bus and train services. Far to many rail stations have no bus service

    Local councils have about zero interest in bus services which is another problem

    Perhaps a Better Bus England bus company somewhat like TfL Below this 9 Regions

    Each region responsible for contracting bus services in its region in cooperation with local councils and local bus users

    To improve the current dire bus services some level of support will be needed

    Should consideration be given to charging a small fare say 25% of the normal fare or perhaps making an annual charge for the pass. Pensioners that pay no income tax being except from the charge

    WE should have integrated ticketing between bus and train. It does exist in a limited way at present but it is not well advertised and is complex

    Should local councils be required to spend a certain percentage on bus services ?

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    Replies
    1. Completely agree. It's surprising that Suffolk CC does not impose integrated ticketing at least with other sponsored services. On the ticketing front really they should also require sponsored operators to submit full accounts of ticket sales from each location then publish the the data free of charge to help private operators with market research. Also a unified brand for sponsored services would also make sense (eg. Suffolk on board livery). It wouldn't be too much effort however, given they wouldn't even put timetables on bus stops anymore, can't imagine they can be bothered!

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  4. Another Tory blinder! Sorry blunder!

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  5. Our new buses on BACT have electric doors because us drivers asked for them. And we miss the 532 which Suffolk didn't want to fund anymore.

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  6. Se up "GREAT BRITISH Buses" - Problem solved!

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  7. GREAT BRITISH RAILWAYS White Paper

    I have had a quick read of the white paper the aims of which seem sensible. Almost all rail infrastructure in England, Wales and Scotland will become the responsibility of GBR. All trains and infrastructure will be GBR branded although it also talks of Regional branding so could be say GBR East of England

    It also talks o transferring budgets to the Regions. It does bot define how GBR will be revitalized. I assume this will only apply to England

    All station management and operation will transfer to GBR it is unclear as to whether this will apply in Scotland and Wales

    GBR will be responsible for ticketing and fares and take the revenue risk although later on it talks about sharing the revenue risk with TOC's later on

    Note there are some exception such as TfL and Local Metros


    Integration of Bus & Rail

    It talks of Rail stations become transports hubs with bus and rail and presumably taxis and cycles

    It talks of integrated rail and bus ticketing quite how this will be achieved I do not know. The technology exists but it would probably be to slow to do on the buses and most bus drivers have little of no knowledge of the more unusual tickets their on bus company offers so I think it would have to be done on the Internet or using an app. Apps themselves though have become a problem with each bus and rail company having its own app so that will need to change

    In the document it also talks or revolutionizing bus services outside of London
    and a £3B budget for it. Who will do this though? Local councils in my view have no competence with public transport and even at present they waste huge amounts of money on useless services

    Should there be a charge for concessionary bus passes which should be ring fenced to improve local bus services. Maybe say 25% of the normal fare. Another option would be an annual charge for a pass. Pensioners say in receipt of pension credit being exempt

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  8. I see the service is currently restricted to 3 people due to COVID restrictions. Seems this is unlike to be a problem!

    Another point of interest; the service is being operated as a Taxibus, by a taxi company in Ipswich. Was there no local taxi company in Fram , Saxmundahm or Woodbridge who could have run it?

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  9. A must watch! GREAT BRITISH Railways - https://fb.watch/5DFjaC7wWL/

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  10. SCC dont have a good track record with bus service and reading between the lines of below I am not optimistic. Why do they need to spend even more money on Park and Ride?

    WE will have to wait for the consultation in June/July to see what their plans are. I suspect the consultation though will be one of this what we are going to do type

    Using School buses during the day makes sense but does not help Commuters. Other wording seem to be even more demand Responsive service rather than proper bus services

    The government white paper calls for transport hubs at rail station no mention of that. To reduce peak traffic their needs to be good local bus service that connect with the rail services with integrated bus and rail tickets. No sign of SCC doing that

    School transport costs SCC a fortune. They should look at staggering school hour so that betters use can be made of school buses and costs reduced

    Ambitions have been outlined for how an overhaul of Suffolk's bus services will work — with improved services set to be in place by April next year.

    The Government's £3billion Bus Back Better campaign aims to improve services nationwide, create more joined up ticketing and become more environmentally friendly.

    Suffolk County Council's passenger transport team has said that will involve a new set up called 'enhanced partnerships' - effectively a joint effort between the council and bus operators to improve routes and passenger experiences, and is aimed at offering flexibility to meet the needs of communities.

    While details of funding are yet to be finalised, £100,000 has already been confirmed for the county to uplift capacity and create a Bus Services Improvement Plan by the end of October this year, so that measures can be implemented in time for April 2022.

    It is hoped the new set-up will deliver more carbon-friendly buses, expanded Park & Ride schemes, simpler price structures with a daily cost cap, 'multi-modal' tickets which would mean passengers could use multiple services or multiple operators on a ticket, and services running into evenings and weekends.

    Ipswich Park and Ride bus

    Park and Ride services are among areas Suffolk County Council hopes will be boosted by Bus Back Better

    It could also mean debit card tap-and-go or Oyster-card style ticketing is more prevalent on buses, and passengers changing buses won't have to purchase new tickets.

    Tim Stephenson, head of passenger transport, said that "there seems to be a willingness from operators" and added: "It's an ambitious plan, and we are only limited by our own ambitions.


    "We have got a chance to try new things to attract people back into bus travel."

    The level of funding from government is likely to determine the extent to which some measures can be implemented, but transport chiefs said they hoped it would enhance services - including school transport routes between their morning and afternoon pick ups, and hoped it would reduce nationwide cutbacks in bus subsidies.

    Engagement with existing bus operators has already begun with a public consultation of around eight weeks likely to begin in June or July once more information has come from the Government.

    Those responses will then help inform the final Bus Service Improvement Plan to be published in October and implemented from April 2022.



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  11. Just wondering again. Any chance the current DRT fashion is another manifestation of the British Establishment closing ranks against the Uber infidels. Not for the first time.

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  12. Beestons

    Beestons have taken the axe again to there only bus route. The cut is pretty minor but there is not a lot of the 91 service left. They have axed the first service from Sudbury and cut it back to run between Hadleigh and Ipswich, They are also putting the fares up from October but have yet to say by how much

    Their fare are already uncompetative with other operators so it can only leave them with even fewer fare paying passengers. I wonder how long this route will last?

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  13. Katch being extended to Snape from the 31st October

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  14. Katch Operating hours reduced from 31st October

    Mon to Sat 8am to 8pm

    Sun 8am to 6pm

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