When Mirek Hladik and June Ray first decided to go into business together, neither of them knew that the journey would lead to transportation.
However, the co-owners of Queen City Transportation Shuttle and Charters couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out.
The Nelson-based company has been steadily growing since the duo bought it back in 2010.
“At that point, Queen City was just the three vans and they were running the airport shuttle to Castlegar,” explained Hladik.
“They (Queen City) also did a few charters,” said Ray as well as handling FedEx deliveries.
But under new management, the local business has flourished.
In just three years Hladik and Ray have grown the company into a fleet of 10 vehicles and has expanded its service into motor coach tour buses.
“There was basically no tour bus company in this area for about 15 years,” said Hladik, and there was never one in Nelson. The closest one used to be run out of Trail and was not focused on the needs of Nelson.
Queen City now offers year-round transportation services for anywhere from two people to 200.
The company works closely with travel agents and also provides transportation services for most of the sports groups in this area including hockey teams and soccer squads.
“We are the exclusive carriers for the Nelson Leafs, Kootenay Ice, and (not exclusive for) Kootenay Wildcats and more groups are taking advantage of the benefit of a local transporter,” said Hladik.
They also do a lot of work for the Selkirk College.
Any kind of large group, corporate events, school groups or even musical events have used Queen City’s services.
“We are basically people movers,” said Ray.
But how did the former owners of Nelson’s indoor climbing gym end up running a charter bus service?
“It’s a long story,” said Ray with a laugh.
Because they owned Gravity Unlimited Adventures LTD, Hladik and Ray used to take groups outside for climbing excursions. But in order to transport climbers, they had to acquire a passenger transportation licence.
“Then we needed a vehicle,” said Ray.
At the time there was a company called First Chair Ski Shuttle which owned the shuttle licence between Nelson and Whitewater.
“What we did is we purchased First Chair and that passenger transportation license. All of a sudden, were in the business of running the ski shuttle,” she explained.
While not a planned move, it turned out to be the right one.
“As the years went on we could see that the transportation business could be quite good, so we expanded to the charter bookings and bringing in people from Spokane,” she added.
Eventually they decide to merge the shuttle business with their existing Gravity Unlimited Adventures LTD. It become one company that did climbing, guiding, indoor climbing, mountain bike tours plus charter transportation, all at the same time.
It stayed that way for almost a decade when suddenly the duo had to adapt again.
In November 2011, the partner’s landlord decided to sell the building which housed the indoor climbing gym, putting a huge damper on their overall business plan.
“We thought oh no, now what are we going to do,” said Ray.
But Hladik had an idea.
Because they had been having such success with transportation Hladik decided to approach the owners of Queen City Shuttle to see if they wanted to sell their small company.
The timing was perfect — the current owners were looking to sell.
“All of a sudden we were faced with just being in transportation and Mirek saw a niche with the coaches and we acquired a contract that allowed us to bring in one coach.”
Within a year and a half they had three coaches.
“Being in the coach business was definitely not what either one of us expected to be doing at all, but life is like that,” said Ray.
But it wasn’t as simple as buying an existing business, there was plenty of work to be done.
“We had to build a 60-foot shop that could fit a 45-foot long highway coach and get a maintenance program to comply with all regulations,” said Hladik.
They also had to acquire a US interstate licence in order to operate in the US.
“There was zero couch time, that’s for sure. I haven’t had a chance to sit down,” joked Hladik.
In order to make the business a success, Hladik said he had to hire the right people. Both he and Ray have lived in Nelson for more than 20 years and they decided to keep the employment opportunities local.
The company now has 13 employees — including drivers, mechanics and office workers — all from Nelson and the surrounding area.
“We didn’t want to look elsewhere. We are a local business, employing local people and offering a local service,” said Hladik.
Now, Queen City is busy, all year round, but business does peak in the winter thanks to skiers and an increase of shuttles to Spokane.
Ray said the business can be broken down into three specific categories.
1. The Nelson to Castlegar airport shuttle, which runs three times a day, 364 days of year (they are closed on Christmas).
2. The Spokane airport shuttle
3. Small and large charter groups.
“Anybody that has huge amounts of people and luggage to move will discover there is a significant benefit to going by motor coach rather than driving. Anyone who wants to travel together will use this service,” said Ray.
And the size of the group doesn’t matter. Queen City Transportation has three 56 passenger coaches, a 22 passenger mini-coach, several nine-seat vans — including one corporate limousine-style van — and several mini-vans for smaller runs.
While they are enjoying their success, Hladik and Ray continue to look forward.
“Our goal in the future is to get an electric powered shuttle to Castlegar… We would really like to have an electric van and make Nelson the first small town with that kind of infrastructure,” said Hladik, adding it would be nice to take the $18,000 a year spent on fuel costs, just for the airport shuttle, and spend it with Nelson Hydro.
If you need to move a large group of people, or just need to get a small group from one place to the other, check out all the services Queen City Transportation has to offer.
For more information on this local company, call 250-352-9829 or visit the website at kootenayshuttle.com.