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Driver Dave hits speed bump

Dave Wolpin is fighting for his cab licence. (Chris Parent photo)
Dave Wolpin is fighting for his cab licence. (Chris Parent photo)

with files from Calum Agnew

A shuttle service run by a University of King’s College grad is in danger of being shut down.

Dave Wolpin’s airport shuttle service—Driver Dave’s— went before the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board on Tuesday. The hearing decision will determine whether his application for a Motor Carrier Licence will be granted. Wolpin expects to get the results in several weeks.

If successful, the licence would allow Wolpin to legally operate a 14-passenger van within the Halifax Regional Municipality. Currently, Wolpin’s two cars are only licenced to transport people between cities.

But taxi and limousine companies are opposing Wolpin’s application. Wolpin believes it’s because he poses too much competition.

“How are these laws so monopolistic that I’m not allowed to enjoy the free market that we live in? It’s not so free,” he says.

Any business that already holds a Motor Carrier Licence can object to the granting of a licence to a competitor. Since limousines can seat more than nine people, they can object to Wolpin’s application.

An independent group of taxi owners/operators, and two companies – Coach Atlantic Group, V.I.P Limousine and Taxi Services, and Prestige Limousine and Taxi—are opposing Wolpin’s licence.

In letters addressed to the Utility and Review Board, the opponents argued that there is insufficient demand for the service and that Wolpin is attempting to circumvent the regulations.

“With the downturn in the economy, the market will not support another vehicle of this type,” reads a letter from Steve Pace of V.I.P. Limousine and Taxi Services.

A letter from a group of taxi owners/operators reads, “we feel the public is adequately serviced.”

There are approximately 1,000 taxis within the HRM and 204 of those are licensed to pickup and drop-off at the airport.

But Wolpin says the demand for his service is there.

Since he started Driver Dave’s in early 2010, Wolpin’s team has driven more than 7,000 customers and logged more than 40,000 rides. He’s even compiled a petition of more than 1,000 signatures in support of his service.

“None of them [the other taxis] are operating 14-passenger vans. No one takes a stretch limo from Howe Hall to the airport. These limo drivers are opposing me because they also own taxis.”

Tim Auld, a taxi owner-operator, says the opponents hope to prove in the hearing that Wolpin’s business is illegal.

“He’s trying to sneak in the back door as an unlicensed individual. He’s doing taxi business and he’s not a taxi,” says Auld.

Wolpin was issued a Commercial Van Licence, which allowed him to pick up and exit the municipality, or pick up and enter the municipality. He found out a year later he couldn’t pick up and drop off within the municipality.

“I built a business under a false pretense,” says Wolpin. “I am young and inexperienced, and I did not know the laws.”

For example, he can drive a student from Howe Hall to Acadia, but can’t drive from Howe Hall to the airport, because the airport is still part of the HRM.

Auld says Wolpin’s business raises issues of passenger safety and doesn’t follow established rules in the transportation industry. Taxi drivers undergo criminal record checks every year. Wolpin’s drivers don’t.

But Wolpin points to a different form of passenger safety: more than 1,000,000 kilometres driven and not a single accident.

 

Competitive Industry

Auld says students have misconceptions about cab pricing to and from the airport.

“We want to get the word out that we can do it every bit as cheap as he can.”

For example, for a group of five people Driver Dave’s charges $20 per head. Auld says for a group of five people in his minivan, it’s $63 and another $7 for the minivan charge. It’s a saving of approximately $6 per person.

But for individuals looking for a lift, Driver Dave’s is the cheaper option at $30 a seat, compared to around $63 for a cab.

Carly Barrington, a third-year Dal student, thinks $63 is too much to pay for a ride to the airport.

“I think $40 is more reasonable. It’s unfortunate the airport is so far away though.”

Cody Lockett, a fourth-year Dal student, thinks cab fares are reasonable.

“They’re all right. $55 is a lot better than they could be,” he says.

Auld says Driver Dave’s threatens the competitiveness of taxi drivers who also rely on students, especially during rush periods when school is back in session.

“It’s a huge bump for three or four days, and it shows on our bottom line.”

“I don’t think he’s a long-term player because of the prices. When you take someone out to the airport in a Surburban, it’s going to cost $12 to $15 in gas, $4.30 for the airport fee, if you hire a driver, how much you’re paying him.”

“The Airporter and all of its predecessors, none of them have ever made a go at it,” he says.

The Airporter, a shuttle service popular with students, shut down in October 2012. In May, Metro Transit introduced a bus route between Halifax and the airport—another option for students who don’t want to pay cab fares.

But Kyle Stewart, one of Driver Dave’s employees, says Wolpin isn’t in the business for the money.

“The thing about Dave is, he doesn’t make any money from Driver Dave’s,” says Stewart. “Any money that goes towards him goes back into the company.”

“For him to fight for this company so much when his bread and butter is back in New Brunswick just says something about his character,” says Stewart. “He’s not willing to just lie down.”

Wolpin employs 12 people, many of whom are current or former university students. Stewart says Wolpin has been supportive of his staff through the licensing process.

“That helps with the frustration of not knowing what’s going to happen. I know Dave’s there to help me if I need to look into something else.”

Wolpin’s two vehicles are off the road as he waits for the results of the hearing.

He is not optimistic about the outcome.

“I was set up,” he says. “I was issued the wrong licence. I failed to inform myself—I trusted those in a place of authority to know what their jobs are, and to do their jobs properly.”

Wolpin says he’s looking for drivers—but they’ll have to get themselves properly licenced.

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