A Margaret River father has launched an innovative program aimed at solving a problem faced by many locals in our community.
Faced with the reality that he must rely on others for transport, Stephen Bebbington is working hard to implement a multipurpose taxi program for community members living with disability.
Mr Bebbington said there was no current taxi service available to locals and tourists that offered wheelchair access, which made life extremely complicated.
"Imagine you are suddenly unable to drive," he said.
"You are forced to rely on others every time you leave your home.
"To go to the shops, attend an appointment, drop off the kids, or just meet a friend, you need to ask your partner, family member, friend or neighbour. How would you get to work? Imagine what this would do to your livelihood, freedom and independence.
"Yet this is currently the reality for every person in Margaret River who has a disability that make it difficult to travel independently."
Mr Bebbington is a wheelchair user after suffering a spinal cord injury over fourteen years ago. He is married with three children and has been an active member of the community for over seven years.
He is now seeking input from community members with disability to better understand their needs, so that he can develop a thorough business model to attract prospective business partners.
"As an active member of the community, I find it frustrating that I am unable to leave my home without the help of others," he said.
"I would dearly love the independence of taking my children to soccer training or the beach, meeting my friends for a drink, or attending an appointment, without being reliant upon others.
"I am one of the lucky ones. I do have a large support network and an accessible vehicle, so am able to remain active and engaged. But the frustration remains."
Mr Bebbington is aiming to get a multipurpose taxi (MPT) up and running as quickly as possible, with the support of the wider disability community and the Shire's Community Access and Inclusion Reference Group (CAIRG).
An MPT is a specialised vehicle with a lift at the back that can seat up to two wheelchairs and seven additional passengers.
Many with severe mobility, vision, or cognitive disability will be entitled to a Taxi User Subsidy Scheme (TUSS) in which participants can receive up to 75 percent off eligible taxi fares up to an amount of $40.
Taz's Taxis owner operator Robert Simons welcomed the concept and said visitors to the region would appreciate the option.
"I think it's a great idea, I definitely support it," he told the Mail.
"To get a multipurpose vehicle on the road is a costly task and then there is insurance to factor in on top. My Hiace costs $9000 a year just in insurance, and then there's maintenance and costs. It's not something that is viable for us but I fully support the idea."
South West disability advocate Ben Aldridge said current options in the region were "few and far between".
"The lack of a reliable and safe options not only impacts the residents of this region but also the local economy," Mr Aldridge said.
"Due to the introduction of the NDIS the disability community have become force multipliers in the local economy, creating jobs and injecting cash into a local economy that has been ravaged by COVID-19.
"A lack of transport options in this region has lead to people making the move to regions that can better support them, taking their economic impact with them.
"As for visitors, accessible tourism was worth $8 billion nationally in 2018 and without transport options it is yet another part of the economy the region is missing out on."
Mr Aldridge said while there were gaps in the available services, there were signs of progress in the region.
"Great strides have been made around the accessibility of facilities and resources in the Cape to Cape region," he said.
"AMR Shire have been instrumental in this and I applaud their continued commitment to the inclusion of community.
"Transport is a missing piece of the puzzle and should this be solved it will make the region equal to others in regional WA.
"I fully support Stephen's initiative, having known him for many years I feel that he will be able to create a system that will be viable."
Mr Bebbington is calling for all members of the disability community to help build a business case for the project by completing a short survey before August 30.
"Margaret River desperately needs a specialised, professional, reliable taxi service. A simple service where the client, or their carer, rings the driver directly knowing they will get the lift they need when they need it. This is what I intend to do," he said.
"With all of your help we can get the service up and running, allowing us all to claim back our independence!"
You can complete the survey by visitinghttps://bit.ly/3ecwR1x
Those interested in becoming an owner driver can contact Stephen on 0402 038 991 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.