'From Peggys Cove to the Eastern Shore': Uber expands across Halifax municipality

Uber has expanded its service throughout the Halifax municipality. (David Horemans/CBC - image credit)
Uber has expanded its service throughout the Halifax municipality. (David Horemans/CBC - image credit)

The popular ride-hailing app Uber is expanding across the entire Halifax municipality, bringing excitement from rural business owners — but also questions on when rides will be available and what drivers are earning.

Uber launched in Halifax in December 2020, but since then drivers have only been active in the urban core and some suburban areas. In a release Wednesday, Uber announced it expanded to all areas within the Halifax municipality — "from Peggys Cove to the Eastern Shore."

"When we got the news, we were really excited," said Jill Boutilier, general manager at Shining Waters Marina on St. Margarets Bay in Tantallon.

She asked Uber this winter about the possibility of expanding the service because the marina is home to a new taproom that holds music events. Boutilier said it didn't feel responsible to invite people to watch a show but not have any way to get home, as there are few local taxis and no mass transit to their location.

Although Uber didn't offer a lot of details as to why the expansion made sense now, Boutilier said they told her it was "reasonable" due to population growth.

Shining Waters Marina in Tantallon.
Shining Waters Marina in Tantallon.

The manager of Shining Waters Marina in Tantallon says having Uber as an option for marina and taproom guests is an exciting change. (Tim L'Esperance)

Having another transportation option will also benefit locals in the area when they want to have a drink at a friend's house, Boutilier added, as well as people who dock their boats at the marina and need to get groceries.

Before now, Boutilier said she'd often rely on her mother across the street to give marina guests a lift.

"And that's just lovely, but also not sustainable," Boutilier said.

She's hopeful the expansion means more tourists exploring the St. Margarets Bay area and seeking out hidden gems, because there's plenty to do besides nearby Peggys Cove.

"I think it's going to help everyone's bottom line at the end of the day. But mostly it's just going to create this situation where people are going to have so much more to do and see, and they'll probably come back because of it," Boutilier said.

It could also help rural employees without cars get to work, she said, and provide income for locals who want to become drivers.

Although it remains to be seen how rates and wait times change, as of Friday, a seven-minute drive from the Shining Waters Marina to the closest Atlantic Superstore in Tantallon ran about $20 mid-afternoon. That's much higher than a similar drive on the Halifax peninsula, where an eight-minute drive from the Armdale rotary to Robie Street runs $10.

Uber says wait times will be long at first

In the release, Uber asked for patience as the expansion rolls out and more drivers sign up, and people should "expect wait times to be a bit longer than in the core city."

Coun. David Hendsbee, who represents Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore, said it's unlikely Uber will be an affordable option for most rural residents, and has questions about how much of the fee is actually going to drivers.

There have been protests by Uber drivers in cities like Toronto and Vancouver and around the United States, raising concerns over a lack of labour protections. A report by Ridefair Toronto and the Rideshare Drivers Association of Ontario found that people were making below minimum wage for Ontario, which was disputed by Uber.

"That would be interesting to know what Uber would be paying drivers," said Hendsbee. "Would it be a fair wage or not?"

CBC News asked Uber how much drivers make per hour in Halifax, but did not receive a response.

Coun. Pam Lovelace of Hammonds Plains-St. Margarets said "there's always controversy" when it comes to transit, taxis or ride-hailing apps. She said Uber won't be for everyone, but the reality is multiple options are badly needed.

Important step to move 'car access forward'

"There's many, many layers to this onion, but the most important thing is that we keep moving bus and car access forward," Lovelace said.

"It's one step and many, many long, long journeys towards having full access to transportation."

She added that one option to keep rides affordable might be exploring frequent-user Uber rates for employees in rural areas.

Uber Eats also expanded into new areas of the province this week. The release said people in Sydney, Truro, New Glasgow, and Wolfville can now order delivery from various restaurants and grocery stores.