An essential shuttle service taking people from Levin to Palmerston North Hospital for appointments each day is running dry of volunteer drivers.

The Horowhenua Health Shuttle currently has a pool of 30 male and female drivers. While that might sound like a lot - it simply isn't - and stocks are getting low.

The shuttle service takes people back and forth to Palmerston North Hospital five times each day, leaving Levin at 6.30am, 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm.

The shortage was highlighted by the Covid-19 lockdown period, which also brought to light the fact that many of the shuttle's volunteers are aged in the 60s and 70s - and some in their 80s.

Advertisement

While it was the nature of the beast - retired or semi-retired people tended to be more giving of their time - the fact was they now also needed some "younger" drivers to join their ranks too.

Drivers generally work in pairs - one drives up and one drives back - so they could need as many as 10 drivers in one day, although there was an opening for support people to pair up and assist a driver and not be required to take the wheel.

Horowhenua Health Shuttle drivers Sheryl Bowling and Colin Lawrie.
Horowhenua Health Shuttle drivers Sheryl Bowling and Colin Lawrie.

Horowhenua Community Health Shuttle secretary Marta Buchanan said the shuttle managed to keep operating during the lockdown period, but was retricted to emergency hospital visits only.

Those trips proved vital to kidney dialysis patients and those need urgent medical attention, who couldn't drive or arrange transport for themselves.

Buchanan said the service could be extremely rewarding for those who volunteered as drivers.

"You get to know people and it is very rewarding. People are grateful," she said.

Some drivers, like Ian Nightindale and Colin Lawrie, had been driving for 12 years and were among the first intake of drivers when the shuttle first began.

Horowhenua Health Shuttle driver Ian Nightingale.
Horowhenua Health Shuttle driver Ian Nightingale.

Horowhenua Health Shuttle co-ordinator Raewyn Woolrich said the shuttle operates through a booking system that checks appointments are valid to make sure all passengers occupying a seat on the shuttle to Palmerston North are genuine.

Advertisement

Woolrich, who is part of a team that takes bookings, said when drivers join the service they tended to stick at it, as they found it so rewarding.

Meanwhile, the shuttle only survived through funding and sponsorship that covered operational costs.

That sponsorpship support had allowed an old shuttle to be replaced with a brand new shuttle last week that seated 10 people, and was fitted with a wheelchair hoist at the back.

Horizons regional council and MidCentral Health subsidised passengers while local businesses like New World Levin and Levin Cossie Club regularly donated significant sums of money through sponsorship each year.

There was a steel box on entry to the shuttle and passengers were encouraged to make donations that also helped fund costs associated with the service.

Sheryl Bowling and Colin Lawrie.
Sheryl Bowling and Colin Lawrie.

"But only what they can afford," she said.

Advertisement

The service is used by thousands of people each year and originally began in 2008, initiated by then deputy mayor of Horowhenua Dave Colling, who along with the late Alan Dunsmore put an advertisment in the Horowhenua Chronicle calling for drivers.