Freo looks for CAT partner

FREMANTLE council will lobby the big end of town to help fund its CAT buses, otherwise it’ll be up to ratepayers and users if the full routes are to be restored.

The future of the CAT buses, which were scaled back when Covid hit, were up for discussion at Wednesday’s full council meeting where special area rates, advertising, more paid parking and ticketing were on the agenda.

Freo shares the cost of the buses with the Public Transport Authority but wants to reduce its share from 60 per cent down to 33 per cent in line with other councils with CATs.

They generally have a third partner, and while the council’s strategic planning manager Phillida Rodic held back in her officer’s recommendation, a major reworking from councillors Rachel Pemberton and Andrew Sullivan put it front and centre.

“I heard loud and clear that you want me and the CEO to go out and engage with stakeholders and see if we can find that,” mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge said moments before the unanimous vote.

Ms Fitzhardinge said that didn’t have to be a single contributor, with Fremantle Ports, Notre Dame university and Fishing Boat Harbour flagged during the meeting. Ms Rodic’s report notes while all like the CATs, no one’s all that keen to contribute.

Alternative

“Should we also look at alternative funding mechanisms in case we do not land that third?

“Absolutely we should, so that’s why this does include a bunch of other options that we can now dig into a bit deeper to see if they’re feasible,” Ms Fitzhardinge said.

That could include a special area rate on properties near the bus routes, estimated in Ms Rodic’s report as being between $13-$27 a year for those near the Blue CAT and $5-$9 for those near the Red CAT, which would be likely to run less frequently.

However Ms Rodic didn’t support the special area rate given the relatively small proportion of funding it would raise and the high number of visitors using the service, as well “the administrative complexity and objections”.

Cr Jenny Archibald also flagged resistance to a special rate: “I think some of us do have concerns about that,” she said, though supporting its inclusion in the motion.

“I don’t see it as a problem to include it at this stage – just to have it as part of the discussion.”

Cr Pemberton said she’d been contacted by users happy to pay a fair.

“Ideally, they just don’t want to have to fumble around with change when they actually get on the bus,” she said, adding the council would need to look into finding a solution.

The council pushed the issue back to officers to “drill down” into the purpose of a CAT bus service and to finalise the routes, though there is a deadline as the PTA will soon be putting its own routes out to tender and has told Freo to get its act together if it wants its CATs included.

by STEVE GRANT

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