A free shuttle bus service between the Busselton Margaret River Airport and the Busselton city centre has been launched, following community outrage over tourists being left to trek it with their suitcases.
Busselton residents were enraged this week over several stories of visitors being unable to catch public transport around town, just weeks after a new direct flight path between Busselton and Melbourne was launched.
Resident Christina Lisson said she was disappointed to hear about a couple who were walking in the gravel on the side of a road in Busselton, with two bags of luggage, on their way to the airport.
The couple allegedly rang taxis, and were told there were none available on the ANZAC day public holiday.
"I thought, that's just insane. We can't be spending millions of dollars subsidising flights to get tourists here and then abandoning them," Ms Lisson said.
Ms Lisson shared her frustrations in a post to a local Facebook group, which was quickly met with hundreds of comments as other residents aired similar concerns about transport.
"The community want this to work, they want tourists to be happy and to keep returning and to tell their friends to come and visit us too," Ms Lisson said.
"To think that we are subsidising money for the arts complex, and the people that are benefitting from it are having negative experiences, we see it as a waste."
While a coach shuttle service has been available to take tourists into town from the airport since the airport opened, Ms Lissson said it was not enough to combat the transport issue.
"Whether or not the tourists know about it or whether they're actually operating effectively is questionable. If people are walking to the airport with their bags, I'd say our transport services are not working effectively," she said.
Speaking to 6PR on April 26, Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said he hoped the recent accounts of tourists trekking it through Busselton with suitcases were rare anomalies, caused by the lack of taxis available on the public holiday.
Taxis in Busselton stopped operating on Sundays in 2020 due difficulties finding drivers, with the pay rate not increased since 2014.
Mayor Henley said to 6PR, during it's worst period, the now sole taxi operator at one stage had a fleet of 21 taxis and only seven drivers.
"They've made the operational decision now not to operate on Sundays and public holidays, which does leave us short," he said.
Over the ANZAC Day long weekend Busselton saw an extra 7,000 people attend the Out of the Woods music festival.
Leading up to the introduction of the new flightpath, Mayor Henley said on 6PR that the City and local tourism industry had predicted there would be transport needs.
"We always envisioned that the majority of people not meeting friends and relatives would be hiring a car to tour the region," Mayor Henley said.
Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said she has raised concerns about the lack of transport options in Busselton with the minister for transport, and in Parliament.
"The McGowan government have known about these issues for a number of years and it is disappointing that they have not listened to regional taxi companies who warned this would occur," she said.
"This reduction in taxi services is a direct result of the McGowan government's on-demand transport reforms which removed the requirement and incentive for regional taxi owners to provide this valuable 24/7 service without replacing it with any public transport alternative."
Free coach shuttles
On Tuesday April 26, South West Coach Lines in consultation with the City of Busselton, launched free shuttle buses between the airport and the Busselton city centre, which are in addition to the paid-for shuttle buses that will continue to take tourists from the airport to popular hotels.
The free shuttles will run 20 minutes after every flight arrival, every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, on a trial basis for the next three months.
Buses will depart from the Busselton City Centre (39 Albert Street) at 10.45am for an approximate arrival at the airport at 11am, with no bookings required.
South West Coaches operations manager Dale Louis said offering the free service was important to make a great first impression on east coast visitors.
"We're trying to provide a service that allows, very much like in capital cities, the ability to get yourself into town if you haven't got prearranged transportation with a rental car or friends or family."
"We didn't want anyone being stranded out at the airport."