Coronavirus claims Freo’s bus service
FREMANTLE council has voted to temporarily axe one of its CAT bus routes and halve the frequency of the other.
Mayor Brad Pettitt told the Herald it “was not a pleasant decision” but was necessary because the Covid-19 pandemic had hammered the council’s revenue, while patronage of the buses had plunged.
The council will need Public Transport Authority approval, as it funds 40 per cent of the CAT buses, and Dr Pettitt acknowledges they don’t yet have a cast-iron guarantee the authority will agree to resume full services in the future.
But he says the informal signals coming from the department were promising.
The council is also looking at potentially changing the CAT bus model, as Dr Pettitt says the current 60/40 funding split with the PTA doesn’t align with services offered through other councils.
“We are also very keen to explore alternative funding arrangements to reduce the financial burden on our ratepayers and ensure the preferred service remains viable into the future,” he said.
The Red CAT is to be suspended for up to 12 months, as it was predominantly used by tourists visiting the WA Maritime Museum, Round House and Fremantle Arts Centre and only carried about 18 per cent of passengers.
The Blue CAT will still travel the same route, but will only come past every 20 minutes instead of the current 10.
Dr Pettitt acknowledges there is a danger the reduced frequency will deter patrons, as it’s one of the key components of a successful service. When Fremantle council introduced the CAT buses in 2000, they had a longer cycle which had to be increased when there was a slow uptake.
That proved the magic ingredient, and a report to this week’s council meeting showed that in 2016/17, the buses carried nearly 950,000 passengers.
Dr Pettitt is meeting with Notre Dame’s new vice chancellor Francis Campbell this week to discuss when students will be returning to classes, as they make up a large chunk of Blue CAT patrons.
But the mayor says ultimately the CAT bus services were set up to cater for tourists, and its popularity with students and CBD workers had been more by accident than by design.
Retired engineer and FotoFreo founder Bob Hewitt says he and his wife, former councillor Helen Hewitt, regularly use the CAT buses to head to the beach and do some shopping.
“I really think the CAT bus, full stop, was the best thing that [former mayor] Richard Utting and [former council CEO] Ray Glickman did,” the Nairn Street resident said.
He says the changes won’t affect them too much, though he’s concerned the reduced timetable will lead to the service become less reliable.
“We would need to be a bit more mindful of the time, that’s all, he said.
“Being retired, to wait an extra 10 minutes is no big deal, but if you were parking your car to get into the city for work, you might be more concerned.”
By STEVE GRANT