Wi-fi hunters fill car bays

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

Backpackers drawn to free internet like moths to a flame are now clogging parking bays around the Margaret River CBD.

Although businesses don’t want to deter visitors, the Margaret River Wi-Fi project and Telstra Air hubs are luring backpackers parking in vehicles for hours at a time.

Business operators told the Times it was a new challenge to the main street’s perennial parking woes.

“The backpackers are sitting in their vans like it’s their lounge room soaking up all the free internet,” one businesswoman said, who asked not to be named for fear of travellers “nicking stuff” from her store in revenge.

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Riversmith Margaret River boss Karen Macdonald said the situation was “ridiculous”, but she lamented the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River was unlikely to see it as its problem.

“I’ve spoken to a few of them and the reason they are there is the Telstra Air hub,” Mrs Macdonald said.

“It’s driving me crazy.”

Some vans were camping overnight in town and leaving rubbish for businesses to clear away the next morning, though most business owners told the Times they just wanted the bays they paid for to remain free for customers.

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River ranger services co-ordinator Mike Molyneux said without timed parking, lawfully parked vehicles were within their rights.

“If a vehicle has been in the same place for 24 hours or more, rangers can begin the process to deal with the vehicle as an abandoned vehicle,” he said.

“However, this process takes some days and is not a quick fix.”

Margaret River Chamber of Commerce president Steve Castan said the problem was unlikely to be linked to the town’s free wi-fi because of one-hour limits on its use.

“It’s important to remember that the various users of the wi-fi are an important part of the local economy – from locals and students to backpackers and general tourists of all ages and economic backgrounds,” he said.

“If they are on and around the main street they will likely be spending money in our local shops on food, goods and services which is a good thing for the local economy.”

Mr Castan said many visitors were “pleasantly surprised” to find Margaret River had free parking and wireless internet.

“(These are) both services that make Margaret River a more attractive town to visit and a place to spend their hard-earned dollars.”

Like the Shire, Mr Castan noted local laws allowed people to park all day regardless of whether they were using the internet.

“Paid (or) timed parking has its pros and cons and these should be considered before changes are made,” he said.

Telstra did not respond to inquiries before deadline.

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