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Melbourne's West united at community forum calling for Better Buses

Community members from across Melbourne's West gathered last Thursday, alongside local and state government representatives to ask the question ‘Why is the West still waiting for Better Buses in 2024?’  

The event, organised by the Sustainable Cities collective at Friends of the Earth and the Point Cook Action Group, drew a large crowd.  Community members were anxious to share their experiences of the broken bus network and hear from political representatives including Labor MP for Melton, Steve McGhie and several upper house members including Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam about what they will do to solve this urgent issue. 

The conversation was lively and heated. Participants expressed their frustration at Labor’s lack of action on public transport and a feeling of being left behind and taken for granted due to Labor’s historical stronghold over seats in the region.

One of the event speakers Nasreen Mohamed, a local resident of the Mambourin estate shared her family's experience of migrating to Melbourne’s West from India saying that “when we move to a new place, we have to start from the basics… when we moved it was very hard for us to find access to reach the library, healthcare centres, and to work without any public transport options”. She also shared that she is spending hundreds of dollars a month on Ubers and taxis to get to and from the train station as there are no buses to get her, and others in her community, to the station safely. 

Other community members shared their frustration about how the bus network capacity was failing to catch up with the growth in the west. Melbourne's Western suburbs have some of the fastest growing populations in the country. The City of Wyndham has a population bigger than all of Geelong, or all of Wollongong. Yet the west has some of the worst Public Transport access in our City. Newer developments such as Mount Atkinson (Melton) and Mambourin Estate (Werribee) have no public transport at all. 

Steve McGhie, Member for Melton, represented the Labor party after Minister for Public and Active Transport, Gabrielle Williams pulled out of the event.  He said that complications in the bus routes, competing budget priorities and local MPs advocating for solutions in their individual electorates meant that there was no action on a transformative bus plan that would improve services across the west.

But as community advocates and other upper house MPs pointed out that a transformational redesign of the bus network could cost as little as $40 million, Leader of the Greens Samantha Ratnam responded by referring to the Labor government’s investments in major toll roads that will fund billions of dollars to Transurban, stating that this is “symptomatic of a really worrying trend... where the business interests of our community are getting to dictating public policy”. 

Despite the communities’ frustration, there was also a feeling of unity and goodwill amongst those in the room, with agreement on how important frequent, fast and reliable transport was to the Western suburbs community.  Most community members and MPs coalesced around the Melbourne University ‘Better Buses for the West’ plan, which outlines how routes can be changed to create a 10 minute frequency service across Melbourne’s Western suburbs to get people to work, uni or the shops faster.

In recent years the community voice in the West demanding Better Buses has become louder and louder, with community actions and forums such as this one, and local councils and LeadWest calling on the Victorian Labor Government to act on their bus plan.

“I'm a public transport user, I don't drive. I was fortunate to have retired just before covid came along and so I was very much isolated...” said one western suburbs resident. He then went on to describe the long journeys that he has had to take to try and engage in activities for seniors in the Wyndham area, as he tries to combat the social isolation that he experienced during the Covid-19 lockdowns. 

In June 2021, Labor released ‘Victoria's Bus Plan’, but over 1000 days later, communities across the west are still waiting to see any hint of bus reform to come. Currently there are no clear timing and funding commitments, and no indication as to whether or not Labor plans to prioritise the Western suburbs and other areas that need bus reform most urgently. 

With the delays to Melbourne Airport Rail, Cancellation of the Commonwealth Games, Two former Public Transport Ministers in the leading positions of state government, and a new Minister for Active and Public Transport, we are hopeful that 2024 will be the year that we finally see some funding for bus reform in the upcoming state budget.

Labor has been sitting on this plan for over 1000 days now. Now is the time for them to prove that they aren’t just ‘all talk, no action’.  

The campaign will be ramping up their efforts this year as we approach the 3 year anniversary of the release of Victoria’s Bus Plan. More events are planned across the West and residents of the West can expect to see pop-up community engagements occurring across the West more frequently over the coming months. 

If you missed our forum, you can watch the livestream on YouTube here:

(Please note: We had some issues with the initial set up and didn’t manage to record the amazing welcoming speech from local highschool student Sarina Tahajeeb. We also had issues with sound cutting in and out throughout the duration of the forum, we apologise for the inconvenience.) 

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