Edmonton taxi drivers shocked by insurance charges during pandemic
Drivers fear move by company will force them back to work to cover expenses despite health risks
When Alberta health officials urged people to stay home at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, taxi driver Abdul Qureshi was more than happy to comply if it meant potentially saving lives.
"I don't want to work and spread germs all over," he said. "That's why I thought this is a better way — isolating myself to protect my family and other people."
Qureshi has been driving in Edmonton for the past 25 years, most recently with Alberta Co-op Taxi Line.
The 48-year-old stopped driving six weeks ago, acknowledging the difficulty in maintaining physical-distancing protocol inside the confines of his cab.
He's been taking care of his four teenage children at home ever since.
"My car is in the garage, my plate is back to the office," he said. "The government is paying to support me to isolate from COVID-19."
Qureshi says the typical process for taxi drivers who aren't working is to turn the vehicle's license plate into the company, which will then pause insurance payments that could total hundreds of dollars monthly.
Not having those insurance payments has been a relief during this difficult time, he said.
Making ends meet
Money has been tight but he's managed to make ends meet with the help of Canada Emergency Response Benefit cheques.
Then he got a letter from Co-op Taxi he never expected, he said.
"I've been driving for 25 years and it never, ever happened like this before," he recalled.
The undated letter from general manager Uday Kumar informed owner-drivers like Qureshi that due to 85 per cent of its fleet being grounded by the pandemic, management was finding it difficult to balance operational costs.
According to the letter, as of May 1, Co-op Taxi would no longer be offering drivers insurance discounts for parking their taxis.
Qureshi said instead of the roughly $50 a month he currently pays to park his cab, he's now responsible for paying the full insurance cost of about $540.
'That scared me'
"When I got that letter it shocked me and I said, 'Oh my God.' I mean, that scared me," he said.
"I'm not working; my car is in the garage; why am I going to pay that insurance for nothing?"
CBC spoke with several other drivers who echoed similar complaints but were fearful of being fired for speaking out.
Qureshi said paying the full cost of the insurance would eat up a quarter of his family's monthly budget right now.
"$2000 I'm getting from the government. How am I going to survive with my family — four kids, no one working? Who's going to survive on that?" he asked.
After contacting Co-op Taxi, Qureshi said he was given two options — pay the amount or take his plates out of the Co-op taxi business. He settled on the latter, he said.
In that respect, he's more fortunate than some because he owns his vehicle, he said.
The downside, he said, is it means starting all over again, losing seniority and having to pay hundreds of dollars in new fees to drive elsewhere.
Co-op reduces premium
In an interview Monday, Kumar told CBC News that he reached out to the insurance company in mid-March and only heard back last week — after the letter was sent to drivers.
Intact Insurance, Kumar said, will charge only $124 a month per licence for insurance. The revised premium is based on the number of vehicles on the road, Kumar added.
Of 557 Co-op Taxi vehicles or licences, 427 are parked and the company can't afford to pay insurance for all of the parked vehicles, Kumar said.
"We are obligated to pay this commercial insurance because it's a fleet insurance," he said.