By Andrew Macdonald

Because The Macdonald Notebook is read by the owners of Casino Taxi & Yellow Cab, here’s some interesting news on Uber.

Prominent Atlantic Canada pollster Don Mills informs The Macdonald Notebook that he will be releasing data from a new opinion poll on Uber—a popular ride-sharing service in cities around the globe.

But, so far, Uber is not doing business in Nova Scotia.

The Mills opinion poll will be released Tuesday and, of course, we will follow that poll very closely.

Uber was recently in The Notebook news the other month when Valley politician John Lohr, a candidate for the Nova Scotia PC leadership, touted the Uber concept for this province.

Uber is controversial in Halifax and Nova Scotia where provincial government regulations have prevented it from operating.
Lohr says if he becomes PC leader and later premier, he will allow friendly regulations to foster Uber service in Halifax and across rural Nova Scotia.

“New ideas and approaches constantly come along that disrupt the old way of doing things. And when they do, you can count on bureaucrats and special interests to fight against change every step of the way,” Lohr previously told The Macdonald Notebook.

“As a Conservative, I want to see government cut red tape for all businesses. I want to see companies competing in the free market,” he stated. “It creates competition and benefits consumers with lower prices and better service.
“Uber is a great example.”

Ride-sharing is becoming increasingly popular around the world, he said, and “It’s time that we allow it in Nova Scotia.”

Lohr says “it first takes a modest change to the rules at the provincial level. After that, rideshare companies and local governments can decide if it’s right for them.”

I spoke to Lohr about his policy statement, and he says he has heard from rank and file party members in Halifax and province who see Uber as a good idea.

He says an Ontario small town partnered with Uber and is offering a sort of public service where traditional cabbies do not operate.
Lohr tells The Macdonald Notebook that creating regulations to foster Uber service in this province would take a little policy over the liability issues of car-sharing.

“What is holding them up in Nova Scotia is that there needs to be a change in the way the province treats liability insurance.

“When you are a Uber driver, the moment you drive for Uber you are covered by their liability insurance, and the moment you are not, you’re back on your own. The flexibility of liability insurance needs to be allowed by the province,” he says.

“I will take the steps to create the environment provincially so it can go forward,” and then he said it would be up to each municipal government on whether those individual governments would then allow Uber, he adds.

“We would create the regulations and create the environment allowing them to operate,” he tells The Macdonald Notebook.

He says rural Nova Scotians would likely benefit from passenger travel being offered in towns too small to host traditional taxi services.

“I was on the South Shore of Nova Scotia recently, and people there are very interested in having Uber service or another similar provider,” he tells me. “There is great interest around Halifax and around the province, actually.”

In Halifax, there is new competition between Brian Herman’s family-owned Casino Taxi and the George Ghosn family who took over ownership of Yellow Cab two years ago.

Herman has previously stated he plans to ensure Casino remains the number one cab company in the city. Casino holds 36 per cent of taxi business market share in metro Halifax.

George Ghosn’s son Justin has stated that in the next five years he’d like to take over the top spot. Yellow Cab has 200 cars and Casino has 400 cabbies. At both firms, cabbies are self-employed contractors, and each company charges rent of about $140 per week for the use of their dispatch systems.

Herman is the third generation co-owner at Casino, and serves as president and operations manager, with his sister Paula George as comptroller. His wife, Angie is also an exec at Casino.

He says he won’t allow Yellow Cab to outgrow Casino but says the new owner could help improve the entire industry.

“I think having a healthy competition, and us pulling up our own socks and them pulling up their socks is better as a whole for the industry,” Herman tells The Macdonald Notebook.

Casino’s office is located in a strip plaza on Novalea Drive and owns the property, with other tenants. Eighty-five per cent of its revenues is from taxi weekly rental fees.

The company has 30 staffers at its headquarters, including six dispatchers on duty each day of the week.

On any given day, Casino does about 5,000 passenger trips, but weather can have a major effect. During the 24-hour storm White Juan II, which dumped 60 cm in Halifax a decade ago, only six to eight drivers were available and they took 1,000 calls.

“We do about two million rides a year,” Herman tells The Macdonald Notebook, adding the company relies on a generator at its headquarters so is not affected by power outages, which worked well during the four-day blackout following Hurricane Juan in 2004.

“Typically for us, our busiest period in the year is Halloween if it falls on a weekend,” says Herman. “One recent Halloween, we did 19,000 trips in a 24-hour period, and 20,000 more trips over a two-day period.”

One change in recent years is that New Year’s Eve is no longer the busiest day of the year for Casino. More folk are opting to stay home to ring in the New Year and there is a shift away from bars.

Weekends do tend to be busy, but in the last five years, Herman has noticed a decline in business in the downtown bar scene, as more people turn to online dating, rather than visit bars to meet potential dates.

Summers are less busy, as the bulk of the 30,000 university students in Halifax are at home with their parents.

“We have a pretty broad client base,” he says, including downtown office workers and business folk.

Forty per cent of transactions are handled via debit and credit cards, and some companies, including news media, use a chit system.
I read once that a good cabbie in Halifax can earn $40,000 to $60,000, but Herman did not offer an opinion on this. He says 50 per cent of cabbie revenue goes back to car maintenance, fuel costs, and HRM’s taxi licensing fees.

In 1950, Herman’s grandfather, Warren Spicer, and a partner bought Casino, which was founded in the 1920s by the Benjamin family. The partner was bought out in 1967.

Herman’s mother, Karen Spicer, worked with Casino from the 1970s through to 2010. Herman, now 36, took over in 2001 after graduating from commerce at Dalhousie University, and his sister Paula joined in 2013.

When I need to hail a Halifax cabbie, I call Gerry Horner, a Casino driver, who was until recently perched at Guido Kerpel’s hotel, the Nova Scotian Westin on Hollis Street.

I am working on a tip from another cabbie that the Westin Nova Scotian has just given the boot to Casino cars, citing an agreement that Yellow Cab has exclusive dibs on the hotel property because of a non-compete agreement with Via Rail.

I hope to have more on this tip in future editions of The Notebook.

While I call Gerry for rides, when he is not available and because Yellow Cab also subscribes to me, they get the call when Gerry is busy.
Yellow Cab has a driver who is a remarkable doppelgänger of stockbroker and musician Dennis Ryan. That Yellow Cab driver even has a beard that is greying which makes him an exact lookalike for man about town, Ryan.

In my view, Gerry is Halifax’s Best Cabbie.

Gerry has carted me around town since 2011, often charging me only a flat rate of $5, no matter the cost of the given trip. Gerry is also the preferred cabbie for my band of buddies.

Gerry also has a limo which he deploys when he drives passengers to Halifax Stanfield Airport.

Now in his early 60s, Gerry grew up in Halifax and has a rich heritage. He is related to famed Cape Breton fiddle player Little Jack MacDonald, who made a life in the Boston States where many Nova Scotians once moved, even up until the 1960s.

Gerry is literally a walking miracle. Several years ago he survived surgery for a brain aneurysm.

I get a lot of news from Gerry, so recently I was intrigued when he informed me that the Tim Hortons outlet on Barrington Street near Atlantic Superstore has been sold.

Like most things Gerry tells me, it is correct. There is a new owner of the Timmy’s.

Gus Ghosn, a Lebanese property developer, plunked down a cool $5 million to buy the South End property.
Top broker Tom Gerard of KW Williams’ commercial brokerage unit, had the prime property listing.

The Macdonald Notebook spoke recently to Gerard about that listing and we talked about the future of the Brent Stratton-owned Tim Hortons outlet, which is a renting tenant.

The property was sold by a numbered company that has two partners, Glen Clarke and Lori Baker.

“Tim Hortons has a lease and there are renewal options in the lease clause,” Gerard tells The Macdonald Notebook.
“They are not going to develop that property anytime soon,” adds Gerard, who says Tim Hortons most likely will continue to operate at that location for the next 10 years.

Ghosn has land-banked the property, adjacent the successful Southport apartment and condo complex, built by Killam Apartment REIT.

In the last decade, Tony Maskine also built an apartment building on the former site of the Lighthouse Tavern, that was in 1970s Halifax, a leading a country bar before it became a strip bar.

As for Casino cabbie Gerry Horner, given my positive experiences in his cab since I first met him in 2011, I am rolling out the rarely used Macdonald Notebook Seal of Approval for him.

He is the father of two adults, including a son who is an officer with the Royal Canadian Navy, prompting Gerry to offer a military rate, in addition to his discount airport rate.

If you want to hail Gerry, give him a call. He’s a great conversationalist and has a down-home folksy persona.

Originally, Gerry would pick me up during frequent booze runs, but now that I am sober that is the only place he now refuses to take me to. No problem, I now take my sobriety seriously.

Once though, as I was headed to Loblaws grocery store (they subscribe to me, so I shop there), at 10 a.m., when my cell rang, and it was Gerry on the other end pleading with me not to go to the NSLC. He was very relieved when I said I was getting groceries only.

Gerry should be on salary as The Notebook’s subscription department, as he goes about often selling the virtues of my journalism company to his business and political customers!