A ride-along with Driver Dave’s | Education | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

A ride-along with Driver Dave’s

From student start-up to word-of-mouth success, David Wolpin's ride-sharing taxicab alternative is Halifax's homemade answer to Uber.

click to enlarge A ride-along with Driver Dave’s
Driver Dave Wolpin's business has really taken off.

“Hi, this is Singh from Driver Dave’s,” reads the introductory text. “I'm planning to pick you up at 7:10pm.

Singh has an office job but his boss is unaware of his moonlighting, so we've agreed to withhold his last name. He used to drive a taxi, but for the last two-and-a-half years Singh’s been behind the wheel at Halifax's famous airport cab alternative—shuttling swarms of migrating university students and other HRM residents to Enfield and back.

It's a good gig.

“You don't feel like you're driving a cab,” he says. “It feels like a family.”

In the last seven years, Driver Dave’s has gone from student start-up to word-of-mouth success, employing 18 drivers in its stable who ferry pre-booked riders from the Halifax Stanfield International Airport to their front doors.

Company president David Wolpin wouldn't disclose ridership numbers, but a Utility and Review Board decision from 2013—more on that in a minute—pegged his customer base at somewhere between 2,500 and 3,333 rides per month. Wolpin estimates up to 80 percent of those trips are students.

“I didn't do any advertising,” the company’s founder says over the phone. “All this business came to me. I didn't steal it.”

Growing up in New Brunswick on his parent's farm, Wolpin never thought of himself as an entrepreneur. Those were the people who had business cards and websites “but didn't really do anything.”

It was while studying at the University of King’s College that he started driving people to the airport. First, his roommates. Then, his classmates. Then his classmates’ roommates. It snowballed from there.

In 2010, Driver Dave’s became a real business—albeit one operating illegally. Wolpin’s commercial vehicle license only allowed him to deliver customers to destinations outside the municipality. The airport, being within HRM limits, was out.

Wolpin says he only became aware of the regulation after 18 months in operation. By then the company had itself a substantial following of customers. So Wolpin fought back, at the UARB and in the press. When that was unsuccessful, he found a workaround. Licensed limousine drivers like Singh, all of whom own their own vehicles, are now employed as subcontractors for Driver Dave’s booking service.

The change hasn't impacted business. Driver Dave’s popularity is obvious—its only competition is an imperfect airport bus route servicing a single downtown location, limited on-season shuttle services and expensive cab rides. A taxi from the airport to downtown is going to cost $60. Driver Dave’s is $35 for individuals; $20 per person if you arrange a group of three or more. Cash only.

“I'm not saying that the taxi industry is crooked, but I am saying that there is a significant—no, take that word out—there is a noteworthy contingency of Halifax taxi drivers that find ways to charge significantly more than the legally posted rate,” Wolpin says. “Now, if you quote me on saying that, I also want you to include that while it is wrong for them to do so, the economics of the industry make it perfectly understandable.”

Hacks deadhead between the city and airport all day long without bodies in their seats, Wolpin says. It’s empty freight. He estimates three-quarters of Haligonians couldn't care less if they share a vehicle with strangers. Some even prefer it.

"I've definitely come out of Driver Dave’s cars with people's numbers before," says Brooke, the King’s student Singh is bringing to the airport.

After helping his passenger with his bags, Singh climbs back into the driver’s seat to text his next customers; thumbing through a colour-coded spreadsheet on his phone to find their numbers. All of the arrangements are handled for him by dispatch. Singh just submits the hours he wants to work and focuses on driving.

“That's one key reason I chose Dave,” he says. “He respects everyone...He's not forcing someone to be on the road.”

Although Driver Dave’s is his namesake, Wolpin’s “real identity” is a province over, tending to his 350-acre farm and the Kredl’s Corner Market he owns in Hampton, NB. That doesn't mean he's an absentee boss. Wolpin is still very much entrenched in growing Driver Dave’s success, even as the threat of other ride-sharing services like Uber, improved transit and even copycat entrepreneurs threaten to steal his market share. He pays them no mind.

“If you're worried about competition, you've already lost,” says Wolpin. “If you're worried about competition, then maybe you're doing something wrong with your business by not moving with the times.”

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