Raglan Shuttle is steering in a different direction after the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, with a new daily minibus circuit operating around town and out to the beaches in an effort to get locals on board.
Rides have been free since the minibus began operating last week and they’ll remain so through until the end of the month, says Neil McLeod, who with business partner Raymond Mudekuneye only took over the business in mid-March – just before the lockdown.
“We need people to support this new service, otherwise (even at $5 a ride from July) it’s not going to be sustainable,” Neil told the Chronicle.
He says they’ve had to think outside the square as stringent flight restrictions have put a huge dent in the regular airport runs on which the business thrived over the five years it was in the hands of longtime locals Phil and Emily Meek.
Surviving the lockdown has certainly been a challenge, Raymond admits. Neil says they kept things going – “kept sane” – by delivering groceries at the height of the crisis for Raglan Four Square supermarket, which is just across the road from their depot.
“It was more of a community service … it hardly covered the petrol costs,” says Neil, who was grateful nevertheless for the business and the chance to get to know many locals.
Now the pair are not only pushing the three-hourly, seven-day-a-week circuit – with a trailer for surfboards hooked up to the minibus – but also promoting a taxi service to get the likes of restaurant-goers and Yotty revellers safely to and fro at night.
“We need to be flexible (in what we do),” Neil says. But he adds they have to be conscious at the same time they need to be able to continue whatever they are now offering. Raglan Shuttle cannot simply abandon a service once some semblance of normal business resumes.
He acknowledges, however, it can be a juggle. As an example he was flat tack sending drivers to and from the Yotty last Saturday night while also ferrying partygoers home from a 21st birthday shindig. That meant abandoning the Bankart St office and being at the wheel himself from 10.30pm through to around 2am.
“We coped,” he says with some relief. “We got everybody to and from their venues.”
With their minibus completely taken up by the town circuit during the daytime, Neil and Raymond are thinking ahead and hope to be able to purchase another vehicle to complement their small fleet, which includes two cars and a 23-seater bus.
“Raglan’s only going to get busier and busier,” says Neil.
They’re talking – with clean and green in mind – about a hybrid five-seater they can use as a dedicated taxi. But with the business currently generating just 50-60 percent of the expected income, they concede that at this stage it’s “hard to justify another vehicle”.
Meantime the pair are preparing a survey that they hope will justify their new town-and-around daytime service.
Raglan ward councillor Lisa Thomson has suggested they then put forward a proposal to Waikato District Council, to see if subsidising the service is feasible.
Other ideas on the go include giving Raglan’s elderly the convenience of a weekly or monthly shopping shuttle to The Base in Te Rapa, or bringing residents from out-of-town rest homes here on sightseeing trips that take in the Bridal Veil Falls (Wairenga) and cafes.
Occasional day trips for Waikato University students to try out Raglan-based activities like surfing and rock-climbing are also on the cards, along with ski trips for locals down to the central North Island slopes.