When Sharon Flinn sends her drivers out on the road, she knows there is always an element of risk.
Flinn, co-owner of Lockerby Taxi in Sudbury, is doing what she can to protect her employees and her customers amid in the time of COVID-19. But with a job requires close contact, she knows total safety is impossible to guarantee.
“They’re exposed to so many people during the day. You know they do somewhere between 20 to 25 trips during the day. So that’s 25 different people that they’re encountering each day.”
While people heed instructions to stay home and keep apart from other, there are still people who rely on taxis for essential outings. Companies have made big adjustments, in an effort to keep cars on the road, while minimizing risks.
Lockerby Taxi has seen about an 80 per cent drop in revenue since physical distancing measures were put in place last month, Flinn said, and the company is not alone.
Based out of Thunder Bay, Uride has hundreds of rideshare drivers throughout Northern Ontario. While many are still on the roads, owner Cody Ruberto said ridership has dropped more than 70 per cent. Those still booking cars are doing so for “essential rides.”
“We’re driving people to work. If someone has to go grocery shopping in these communities, we still want to be there for our passengers,” Ruberto said.
The company also piloted a grocery delivery service in Thunder Bay, which Ruberto said he hopes to roll out in other communities as well.
Ruberto said the company has provided passengers with masks and gloves, and there’s an emphasis on frequent disinfecting of handles, seatbelts and other surfaces.
Drivers are also limiting the number of passengers in a car, Ruberto said, with no one allowed in the front passenger seat.
Enforcing new rules
Lockerby Taxi, as well as Aaron Taxi in Sudbury have both also put limits on the number of passengers in their cars.
Aaron Taxi owner, Mike Sanders, said drivers are “definitely nervous.” While they’ve been instructed to refuse drives to people with symptoms, “you can’t always discern that from the curb.”
Flinn with Lockerby Taxi agrees there can be challenges for drivers who are on the front lines, as the enforcers of the new rules.
“The other day one of the drivers had somebody coughing and sneezing in the car and he had to politely pull over and say ‘I’m not going to be able to continue this trip, you know, you really shouldn’t be out if you’re coughing and sneezing like that,'” Flinn said.
All three company owners said they’ve had a number of drivers who have opted to stop driving for the time being — often due to their own medical conditions, or vulnerable family members.
They say keeping at least some cars on the road is an essential service — and drivers deserve thanks.
“There’s lots of people who can’t, even if its free, can’t use public transit,” said Sanders.
“You know that last mile is too tough for them to manage, especially with a number of groceries.”