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Airport travel demand keeps Halifax startup busy

Heading home for Thanksgiving? There are more ways to catch a flight than calling a taxi

4 min read
caption Matt Walters drives students to and from the Halifax Airport. Photo by Caora McKenna
Caora McKenna

Driver Dave’s airport shuttle service is gearing up for one of its busiest weekends of the year.

Matt Walters has worked for Driver Dave’s for three years and says it will be “madness,” with increased traffic as students head home for Thanksgiving weekend.

The service will add five more drivers to its regular team of 10 to handle the rush.

With a large out-of-province student population, transportation to and from Halifax Stanfield International Airport is always in demand. Knowing the options and weighing the pros and cons can save passengers time and money.

Walters bought his SUV from Wolpin. Its leather interior and size allow it to be a limousine licensed vehicle. Photo by Caora McKenna.
caption Matt Walters bought his SUV from Wolpin. Its leather interior and size allow it to be licensed as a limousine.
Caora McKenna

In 2008 Dave Wolpin was a Dalhousie student who saw opportunity in the huge demand. He began with an ad on Kijiji and his car, and says the “evolution” of his idea “has been like the underdogs.”

Wolpin says Driver Dave’s now drives about 30,000 people, mostly students, to and from the airport every year. The most they have driven in one day is on the Sunday after Christmas holidays, before classes resume, when Walters says they “broke 500.”

The numbers have been steadily increasing since 2008, with little more than the power word of mouth to attract new customers.

In 2012 Halifax Transit began offering bus service from downtown Halifax to the airport and back for $3.50, ($1 for students with a metro pass). Ridership has also been rising, up to 604 on average a day this past year, according to Halifax Transit’s most recent report.

That’s around 220,000 people a year.

Tiffany Chase, a spokesperson for the city, says the route is “still gaining ridership momentum.”

Despite the competition for fares, Hassan Burhan, who drives for Yellow Cab, says he hasn’t noticed any change in demand for taxis to the airport. “There are always people looking for a pick up or drop off.”

Douglas and Christine Seull came to Halifax from Inverness, Scotland. They heard about the bus from their hotel’s website. Photograph by Caora McKenna
caption Douglas and Christine Seull came to Halifax from Inverness, Scotland. They heard about the airport bus on their hotel’s website.
Caora McKenna

Time is money

The airport bus has rigid departure times, and often involves a transfer. It also takes 55 minutes from downtown Halifax to the airport. A taxi or shuttle service could get you from the first bus stop to the airport in 27 minutes.

For students looking for a bit more convenience, and to avoid the flat-rate taxi fare of $63, Driver Dave’s and personal ads on Kijiji offer to pick people up and drop them off at their door for $25 to $35. Hotel and Maritime Bus shuttles are also available.

Ariel Greenblat, a student at the University of King’s College, almost always takes the bus.

“Unless, I know my flight is getting in late, then I call Driver Dave’s,” she says.

Driver Dave’s 24-hour service makes a big difference, says Walters. One of the best parts of his job, he says, is “hearing from parents that they know that their kid has a reliable way to get home.”

When Steven Lee arrived in Halifax a month ago, he had the same idea as Wolpin.

Uber, which doesn’t operate in Halifax, inspired him to ask himself: “Why not just give people a ride to the airport?” He put an ad up on Kijiji and so far has had three customers.

He has another ride scheduled for this week, and is looking into formalizing his service.

Matt Walters' taxi and Limousine lisence allows him to drive for Driver Dave's. Photo by Caora McKenna
caption Matt Walters’ taxi and limousine licence allows him to drive for Driver Dave’s.
Caora McKenna

Wolpin says he was “scared into legitimacy” after his first two years of connecting with passengers on Kijiji. As of November 2015 all his vehicles are independently owned, commercially insured and licensed by the municipality.

With a steady demand, people are thinking like Wolpin did and new ads advertising unofficial transfers are posted often.

For driver Matt Walters, its the idea of helping a small business to grow that keeps him working.

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