Onanole resident Nikita Shaurette used to wonder why there was no local bus service.
Lots of people were always headed to and fro in and around Riding Mountain National Park. Those leaving local bars often got behind the wheel — even when they shouldn’t.
It was when a friend was injured in a car accident in 2010 that Shaurette, then 21, decided it was time to start a business.
Her first Shuttle Bug hit the road that summer, a second-hand handi-van her father helped procure, urging his daughter to use it as a test run.
“I was talking to my dad about it and he just said to me, ‘start with donations and see how it works out,’ which we did for one year,” she said.
Five years later, Shaurette’s Shuttle Bug company is now a three-vehicle fleet of two 21-passenger buses and a 13-passenger handi-van, transporting hundreds of paying customers annually to, from and throughout the Riding Mountain National Park area.
This month she’s adding a fourth vehicle to the fleet — another 21-passenger bus — and she now has four on her payroll, plus a volunteer driver. It’s a home-based business. But she’s seldom home.
“I’m still behind the wheel,” says Shaurette, whose main target market as a passenger vehicle service is now the thousands of tourists in the RMNP seeking an alternative to using private vehicles to get around.
“I went to a lot of tourism conferences and I’ve just got into that aspect of business,” she said. “There are a lot of opportunities up here.”
Now birdwatcher groups, and other tour groups visiting Manitoba to catch a glimpse of big fauna like bear, moose, elk book the Shuttle Bug. She makes regular treks to sites such as the Lake Audy’s Bison Enclosure. And when events such as Dauphin’s Countryfest and Kelwood’s Harvest Sun Musical Festival take place, Shuttle Bugs get them there.
She regularly transports golfers to their courses; corporate groups are frequent clients too, and there are many wedding parties looking for ways to transport groups.
“There are lots of weddings out here, at least two or three every weekend,” she said.
When winter comes, things slow down somewhat so she turns her attention to transporting hockey groups. She hopes to start offering day excursion trips for local residents. She’s approved by the province, as an operator of a passenger-carrying public service vehicle, to take riders to and from Winnipeg as well as points west and north of the park. Riders book the Shuttle Bug through her website shuttlebugclearlake.com.
All in all, it’s a fast-paced business but it is doing well because she tries to be responsive to what customers need, says Shaurette. When people call and tell her who needs to go where and when, she’ll make it happen.
“I just figure out how to make it work for them,” she said. “This is a niche market that nobody really tried to work on.”
Her business smarts come from an entrepreneurial family in the tourism business, too. Her parents own the recently opened Honeycomb Bed and Breakfast, which is the former Clear Lake Lodge now relocated to its new site just south of the park on Highway 10.
She clearly loves the job she created for herself. Spotting a moose or bear, or seeing northern lights overhead on a late-night run is still just as thrilling to her as it is to her passengers in the back seeing it for the first time.
“I have a very, very good clientele and it is a very fun business,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be my own boss and work for myself, and I love the outdoors. So this is something great I could just step into.”