HALIFAX -- After years of speculation, Uber says it will finally launch its ride-sharing service in the Halifax Regional Municipality on Thursday.

In a news release, Uber Canada announced it will make its app available in the HRM beginning at 1 p.m.

The company says the decision to make the app available was made in an effort to help essential travel as the region experiences a second wave of COVID-19. 

“Where there is an essential need - like travel for frontline workers or the need to pick up a prescription - Haligonians will be able to request a safe, affordable ride through the Uber app,” said Uber in the release.

Uber says riders and drivers will have to wear masks and confirm they "have taken certain steps to help stop the spread of COVID-19." Drivers must use "mask selfie technology" to verify they are wearing a mask or face cover, as will passengers who have previously been flagged for not wearing a mask.

The company says it has already provided over 1.7 million units of personal protective equipment (PPE) to drivers across Canada.

Uber says it will also support contact tracing in response to COVID-19 outbreaks.

The company will be providing 2,000 free rides to frontline workers and families through a partnership with Partners for Care’s Helping Healthcare Heroes program and Ronald McDonald House Charities Atlantic.

“Uber, a company that moves people, is asking you not to move.” said Matthew Price, the general manager of Uber Canada. “If your travel is essential, our app will be available for you to request a ride. If not, in line with public health guidance, please stay home. Once restrictions ease, we look forward to supporting Halifax’s recovery and growth.”

In November, Nova Scotia changed its legislation to allow ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft to operate in the province.

“Our bylaw was changed on Nov. 1, which allowed any transportation networking companies to officially apply to the municipality to begin to operate,” Maggie-Jane Spray, a spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Municipality said last month.

Ride-sharing companies that want to hit Halifax streets will have to pay an annual fee ranging between $2,000 for up to 10 vehicles operating and $25,000 for 100 or more cars.

Drivers will have to have a minimum of three years' experience and pass a criminal and child abuse registry check.

In September, Nova Scotia introduced a "modernized" Class 4 licence that "no longer requires taxi or potential ride hail drivers to retake the road and knowledge tests,” and will save them the $68 testing fee.

But not everyone is applauding the arrival of Uber.

The president of the United Cab Drivers Association of Halifax says ridership is already down 60 per cent because of the pandemic.

Darshan Virk says because of the COVID-19 outbreak, many cab drivers are waiting one to two hours before they get a call.

He is worried Uber will saturate the market because there is already 1,600 approved taxis in the municipality.

"Nobody is going to make a living," Virk says. "Why would they hire part-time drivers to put the full-time drivers out of business? The taxi drivers who worked there for decades, they made the money, they were local, they pay the taxes to the municipality. Now the city council tried to put them out of business."