A nun, a cowgirl and Superman get into a van and go to KFC.
No, it’s not the set-up of a joke. It’s the Halloween experience of Linda Agyen, the WSU student and owner of Reliance Transport, a local transportation business offering charter, shuttle and van-for-hire services.
Agyen, 34 and a senior chemistry major originally from the West African country of Ghana, has operated her business since the beginning of the school year.
Agyen said her business idea occurred after the Wheatland Express stopped its shuttle service between Moscow and Pullman in 2011. Although Agyen originally intended on having a taxi service, she saw a van for sale and decided to expand her idea.
The shuttle runs six times every weekday between Moscow and Pullman and can seat up to 14 people per ride.
Separate charter services only are available by appointment, running to Lewiston, Moscow, Spokane and elsewhere, including early morning or late evening charter runs to the airport. On weekends, Agyen gives by-appointment rides for football fans or party people.
“Most of them are very nice,” said Agyen, sitting inside the crimson-colored interior of her white Dodge van as it idled in a parking spot outside the Lighty Student Services building. “They’re not at a point where you can’t control them. You hear a lot of funny stories, though. People are willing to divulge a lot when they’re drunk.”
Agyen moved to the U.S. with her family at age 13, settling in Maryland. After living in Washington D.C. for a few years and attending the University of Maryland, she transferred to WSU in 2010.
She said moving to Pullman “was a shock.”
“I’ve never seen anything as rural as this,” she said. “Even growing up in Ghana, I grew up in a city. So this is probably the most rural (place) I’ve been.”
Agyen has grown used to the area, she said, and sees it as a place she can stay after graduation, operating her business and raising her 2-year-old son.
In addition to her business, classes and child-rearing, Agyen has a second job working for LMK Inc., a privately-owned local business helping mentally-disabled adults. Most nights, she said she only gets an hour or two of sleep.
“I have a lot on my plate, but I will get there,” she said with a laugh.
Although Agyen’s charter service is going well, her Moscow-Pullman shuttle business is anything but booming.
“Very, very bad,” she said. “(It’s) just been a killer. If things don’t pick up, I don’t know if I can run it past next semester.”
On the afternoon of the interview, Agyen had just two riders total. The majority of passengers come at 9 a.m., 4 p.m. and her last run of the day, 5:15 p.m., she said.
Agyen said she gets bored without riders, often listening to reggae music while driving or waiting. If the shuttle service doesn’t work out, she joked that, with marajuana’s impending statewide legalization, she might turn her van into a party bus.
Currently, Agyen estimates spending about $40 a day on gas. Most days she does not have enough riders to make a profit. Her other job, along with profits from her charters, are currently keeping the shuttle service going, she said. If business doesn’t pick up, she will likely not keep the shuttle going, but will continue the charter services
“I’m just so out of resources that I can’t even run an ad right now,” she said. “It’s very stressful, but I feel like it will get there. So I’m willing to stick it out for a year and see how it goes.”
Agyen has tried to contact WSU’s Parking and Transportation Services about putting a link to her business on their website, but has made little progress despite repeated phone calls.
“It’s been very frustrating for me,” she said. “This is a business that I feel is going to benefit not only me, but also students who commute…between Moscow and (Pullman). And I just feel like they have not been helpful at all.”
Agyen had better luck with the University of Idaho’s transportation department.
She said they put a link on their website and set out a box of fliers for students. Agyen was also able to speak before the Moscow Transportation Commission about whether the city could help promote or fund her shuttle service.
If things turn around, Agyen is hoping to purchase a minivan for shuttling groups of seven people or less, and have two vans running simultaneously between Moscow and Pullman, she said.
Next semester, Agygen said she will lower student prices to $6 round-trip, down from the current $8 fare. Students must show student I.D. to receive the discount.
Despite her struggles, Agyen said she has return customers and charges less than taxis.
Overall, she is optimistic.
“It’s been tough,” she said. “But it will work out. I just feel, like, it’s new. When you start something new, it takes time.”