For people in the Willowbrook area looking to enjoy a night out without having to worry about who is going to drive, crowded taxis are no longer the only option.
It has been three years since Walt Zanek started his shuttle service business to deter drunken driving. Even though the business has not necessarily been profitable, Manager John Steeland said making money was not the top priority.
"We're trying to save lives," he said. "So many people get killed from drunken driving, and it's just not worth getting behind the wheel."
At a rate of $15 per person for the night, and with discounts for couples and groups, Steeland said the shuttle takes groups of up to 16 people anywhere they want to go within the shuttle's coverage area—about a four-mile radius. Another shuttle runs in The Woodlands.
Business varies from week to week and can be hit or miss, Steeland said. Because of the commitment to low prices, it is not financially profitable overall. Zanek makes up some of the costs of operation by selling advertising to area bars and restaurants on the shuttle's windows.
The business staffs four part-time drivers in addition to Steeland. Steeland said his passengers have expressed gratitude for the service, and many of them enjoy the ride, often turning the shuttle into a party bus. Passengers come from all different backgrounds, including doctors, teachers and lawyers.
"The good thing about our shuttle is we can respond to calls within our area quickly," Steeland said. "You give us a call and we will be there in five or 10 minutes. If you want to go into a bar to just check out the scene, we can wait for you, then take you to your next stop."
Steeland said he is also very mindful when it comes to putting different groups or parties on the same shuttle.
"We do not mix groups, except on rare occasions where the groups are small enough," Steeland said. "I've been doing this long enough to have an idea of when groups should and shouldn't be mixed. We won't put a woman by herself on a shuttle with a bunch of rowdy guys."
The business tries to maintain a good relationship with local bar owners as well, and it encourages bar owners to call Walt if they notice an intoxicated patron is getting ready to drive home.
"We're not going to stop drunken driving, but we're going to do everything we can to help prevent it," Steeland said.
The business was designed to stay within a certain area to ensure speedy pick-up times. However, it can extend coverage to other areas for an additional cost, depending on how far away the request is. The shuttle service runs on Fridays and Saturdays, but it can cater to special requests during the week as well. For example, it will be running on New Year's Eve this year. The shuttle service caters to customers by picking them up and dropping them off directly at their residences.
"We can extend our coverage for events like the rodeo downtown or if a group wants a ride on a Wednesday and gives us advance notice," Steeland said.
Walt Inc. Shuttle Service charges individuals $15 for shuttle service throughout the night—from 7 p.m.–3 a.m. However, discounted prices are available as follows.
- Couples: $25 for the night
- Groups of four or more: $10 per person for the night (provided the group stays together).
- Shuttle rental: $300 to rent the shuttle for the night for private use.
Walt Inc. Shuttle Service