Margaret River Beach Bus slated for return as three-year plan gets under way with Augusta-Margaret River Shire

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Melissa d'Ath and friends with the coastal beach bus running residents to Gnarabup this summer.
Camera IconMelissa d'Ath and friends with the coastal beach bus running residents to Gnarabup this summer. Credit: Supplied

The powerhouse behind this summer’s popular crowdfunded beach bus has ambitions to continue and expand the service.

Business owner and former Margaret River Business Network president Melissa d’Ath turned to GoFundMe after a plea for funding support fell on deaf ears. South West Taxis getting behind the coastal bus is seen as crucial to help youngsters and families reach the region’s increasingly crowded beaches during the peak holiday period.

The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River belatedly got on board this week with a $5000 contribution to the service, adding to the $14,400 raised for the January service bolstered by seed funding from the Margaret River Lions.

However, WA’s Transport Minister Rita Saffioti didn’t respond to Ms d’Ath’s call for help and the businesswoman told the Times this week she would work with the Shire on a more comprehensive three-year plan.

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“I plan to work with the Shire to put together a three-year plan for the service and funding,” she said.

“I believe they need to spearhead the grant applications and lobbying for State or Federal support to make this a permanent offering for the Margaret River region.”

The bus was currently funded until January 31.

The Shire tipped in the extra money this week as part of its latest community development and events grants which dished out $77,000 in total to other projects including $10,000 each for the Edible Gardens and Bunuru festivals.

Shire sustainable economy and communities director Nick Byrne told the Times the Shire recognised Ms d’Ath as a community leader who had stepped forward in service to the region.

“Mel’s application demonstrated that the beach bus aligns with the purpose of the grants which is to support innovative solutions responding to local issues, and to strengthen community connection and wellbeing by promoting participation and access and inclusion,” he said.

“We hope by contributing to funding the pilot, we will be able to establish insights around the community demands for a beach bus service which can inform decision-making about next steps.”

Public transport has been a long vexed issue for Margaret River, with transport identified as a community need in Shire consultation, but in years past the feasibility of any regular service was too seasonal to support.

Ms d’Ath said population growth and increased visitation — as well as the inaccessibility of some coastal spots due to maxed-out parking — meant it was time Margaret River had a regular bus service akin to the Busselton route to Dunsborough.

“An Augusta, Witchcliffe, Margaret River and Cowaramup route linking all the hamlets and beaches in our region would be the ideal,” she said.

That would require a Public Transport Authority tender as a result of pressure from higher up, Ms d’Ath said.

The environmental and social benefits of the program were clear, she said.

“The numbers on the bus have been increasing daily as the news of the service spreads,” Ms d’Ath said.

“With proper lead times and teaming up with the Shire and the Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association to advertise the service, I can see it becoming a very popular addition to Margaret River.”

The bus was slated to return next year now the model had been tested, and summer holidays as well as Easter school holidays were eyed as regular fixtures if supported.

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