CAT on a hot tin roof

At Politics in the Pub at The Local Hotel in South Fremantle on Tuesday night, a big topic of discussion was the future of the CAT Bus service in Fremantle. This followed the recent decision of the Council of the City of Fremantle to suspend its withdrawal of current funding for the service until the end of September and the establishment of a CEO reference group to advocate with the State Government for its longer term retention. Gina Blakemore, the co-Convenor of the South Fremantle Precinct, spoke to the topic. Here’s what she said.

Good evening.

Gina Blakemore, second from right, addressing Politics in the Pub Tuesday night

I am here to advocate for keeping the CAT Bus.

The Freo CAT was introduced in 2000 and extended to South Freo in 2005. Our beloved 23 year old CAT buses are an institution.

The CAT Buses are unique, like our Fremantle community. People plan the CAT into their trips to visit Fremantle from all over the world.

The Freo CAT was designed to link key destinations, and for tourists to hop on and off, in our beautiful city. We need a tourist drawcard that brings money to our city, for our businesses, and our economy.

Yes, we could change the CAT into a regular hourly bus service, like any other suburb, adding a couple more routes on main roads, but why would we want to do that, when in this city we have an existing bus service that connects tourists, businesses and local community?

The decision about the CAT Bus should not be based on budget alone. The funding has been a problem, but we were never told it would just stop.

Even now, with a three month funding reprieve from the Freo City Council, there is a very real chance that all CAT services will be gone by the end of September this year. We need to look at it from the people’s angle, lives, needs, and reliance. The CATS are a big part of our community.

Will the three months be enough time to do the job? If a solution in not found soon, and with City Council going into caretaker mode prior to the October local elections, the answer is, possibly not. Public energy can positively be used to motivate the two groups, to come to a solution. As both the Fremantle Council and the State Government are currently saying, it is the other groups problem.

A resolution will come if the two groups talk, and a new funding model is decided.

We should stick to what we have. Use it or lose it. A great win for Fremantle would be, if the State picks up a larger percentage of the CAT system costs. We could then look to expand CATS, to link other Fremantle areas in the future. Perth has done this with its five CAT Bus routes.

Ideally, we needed Freo’s CAT services locked in for acouple of years while the city sorts out funding with the State and PTA. We now have three months to come to a solution.

Otherwise, there will be a service vacuum in the tourism season. Spare buses are all booked to cover Armadale train line construction, over the next two years.

A survey for the CAT Bus was done during the Covid lockdown period when people were not using public transport, and the borders were closed.

The Red CAT Bus was ceased in 2020 with 48 hours notice. The Blue CAT service was decreased from every 10 to every 20 minutes. This has affected it’s use and reliability.

Most buses come down through Hampton Road and South Street. South of South Street is devoid of buses to South Fremantle as the 532 is once per hour off-peak, weekends and public holidays, and comes from Cockburn.

The hills from Hampton Road are too steep for the elderly and people with disabilities to walk up. Hampton Road’s intersection crossing times are too short and people speed in the bus lane. An elderly gentleman was killed there last year.

The CAT Bus fills a lot of people’s lives. Many people moved onto the routes, as they thought they all had their transport bases covered.

We would not all be here in this room if the CAT was just for visitors and tourists. Many catch the CAT to their amenities. Many are on the bus with walking frames and sticks. The CAT keeps people connected with their community.

Older people can feel isolated with changes in their mobility. The CAT Bus is a small cost for a large benefit, of retaining positive aging goals. People spend time in a shared space, and this reduces isolation. Strangers strike up conversations, a moment of connection is provided. Locals often help tourists find their way around.

Many residents on the Red CAT route, now use Ubers to amenities, as there is no bus. This puts a lot more cars on the road. Our youth use the CAT Bus too.

Some South Fremantle businesses started from food trucks in the Sunset Markets, producing a thriving venue destination. If the Blue CAT is cut, the venues in South Freo will be isolated from the venues in the city, and the Freo train station, which staff use to get to work.

The current South Beach Place Plan mentions the CAT bus, the tourist circuit, and how much money tourism brings into Fremantle. Tourists will have to walk to all our marketed destinations hat are not on a CAT Bus route.

Parking will become even more difficult, as we have lost and are losing carparks. This is supposed to be a green city that cares about our environment, by reducing the need forvehicles on the road. Public transport should not be removed from our city’s budget. Our population will increase, and our tourism will grow.

The CAT bus was originally funded by paid parking in the City on Sundays. For 20 years, the City of Freo have paid 60% of the operating costs, and the PTA funded 40%. The State Government could help, by increasing their share of the costs. The Joondalup CAT service is shared equally between Joondalup, the PTA and ECU. Perth CAT services are funded from the Perth parking levy.

The State government must be approached again to restructure funding arrangements, especially with a new Premier. Our local member Simone McGurk has said the state is not withdrawing funding. Fremantle City council does support a higher percentage of CAT costs, than Perth and Joondalup with a much smaller rate payer base.

If Ministers Simone McGurk and Rita Saffioti are currently working together on a solution, we hope Fremantle Council, public consultation and local knowledge can be included.

During the next three months, we hope to maintain the service we have. We encourage the City to approach the educational institutions, private and state organisations, Freo residents and businesses, to see if they can chip in. Paid parking on Marine Terrace and Ord Street could also be consideredtowards costs. There must be a way.

To be a ‘Green City’, we need effective public transport.

I would like to acknowledge Ian Ker’s work on this campaign. Ian and I will be invited to join the CEO Reference Group.

The AGM Meeting of Electors is on this Tuesday, 6 June at 6pm. Questions and motions are required to be submitted in writing prior to 9am on Tuesday 6 June (the day of the meeting). So you can ask the Mayor questions about the CAT. Hoping to see you there!

* By Gina Blakemore

** In case you missed our recent articles on the Blue CAT controversy, here they are again.


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