Airport shuttle service hits speed bump

Hearing to determine licensing issue for Driver Dave’s

This story has been updated since initially published.

Kyle Stewart, a driver with Driver Dave's, says the uncertainty of the company is nerve-wracking. (Photo: Clark Jang)
Kyle Stewart, a driver with Driver Dave’s, says the uncertainty of the company is nerve-wracking. (Photo: Clark Jang)

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

Dave Wolpin’s airport shuttle service — Driver Dave’s — will go before the Utility and Review Board on Tuesday.

The hearing is to determine whether or not Wolpin’s application for a Motor Carrier Licence will be granted.

If successful, the licence would allow Wolpin to legally operate a 14-passenger van within the Halifax Regional Municipality.

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 which holds a Motor Carrier Licence already is able to 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.

A group of taxi owners and operators, 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 there is insufficient demand and 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 owner/operators reads, “we feel the public is adequately serviced.”

There are approximately 1,000 taxis within the HRM and 204 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 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 and 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 currently holds a Commercial Van Licence, which allows him to pick up and exit the municipality, or pick up and enter the municipality.

“I asked [the Motor Carrier Board] what I needed to drive students to the airport and they gave me a CV licence.”

Wolpin found out a year later he couldn’t pick up and drop off within the municipality.

For example, he can drive a student from Dalhousie’s 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 do not.

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 six dollars 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 Dalhousie student, thinks cab fares are reasonable.

“They’re alright. $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-$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.

But 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 Kyle Stewart, one of Dave’s full-time drivers. “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.”

The fight isn’t just about Wolpin. It’s his team too.

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 has said he would happily step down from Driver Dave’s if someone could beat the service he provides. But he’s confident that’s not going to happen.

“It’s such a big mess, and someone who doesn’t have a commercial interest needs to fix it.”

“Right now, what exists is absolutely unacceptable,” he says.

Update: Jan. 22: An earlier version of this story said Wolpin had two 14-passenger vans. He has a Yukon and a Jetta, and the license would allow him to operate a 14-passenger van. The story has been changed to reflect this.