Beck Taxi says city shouldn't ask cabbies to transport people with probable or confirmed cases of COVID-19

A Toronto taxi company says the city should use its own vehicles to transport people with probable or confirmed cases of COVID-19 because relying on taxis puts drivers at risk.

Toronto Public Health says it asks taxi drivers to transport people after hours to isolation centre

Kristine Hubbard, operations manager of Beck Taxi Limited, says she is upset that the city is asking the company to pick up people who may be or are infected with the novel coronavirus. (CBC)

A Toronto taxi company says the city should use its own vehicles to transport people with probable or confirmed cases of COVID-19 because relying on cabs puts drivers at risk.

Kristine Hubbard, the operations manager for Beck Taxi Limited, said the company has received several calls from the city to pick up people who may be or who are infected with the novel coronavirus and take them to and from assessment centres, shelters and isolation centres. 

Hubbard said if the city wants taxi drivers to transport probable or positive COVID-19 patients, then it could hire those drivers, install plastic shields in their vehicles, dedicate them to that specific work to avoid picking up general fares, and cover them if they are forced to go into quarantine.

"Taxi drivers are vulnerable people as it is. They're doing their best to keep safe. But that's a risk they just shouldn't be asked to take and frankly they're just not willing to take," Hubbard told CBC Toronto on Tuesday.

"This is kind of a city issue. They have giant vehicles, whether it's TTC buses that aren't in operation, or Wheel-Trans buses. We know that Wheel-Trans is not being used at its full capacity," Hubbard said. 

"These are vehicles operated also by people who are hired by the city, vehicles that are larger and that provide them with more protection." .

Hubbard said she consulted with taxi drivers about the city's request and they have told her that they are not interested in providing the service.

A Beck Taxi is parked in downtown Toronto. Hubbard says Beck drivers have told her they don't want to take the risk of picking up passengers who have, or might have, COVID-19. (Katherine Holland/CBC)

"I got a resounding response of: 'Please don't.' They have families at home. And they are worried about their own health. And they are certainly worried about the health of the people who are taking our safe, reliable service right now."

Since the start of the pandemic, Beck Taxi has been approached by the city to transport probable and positive COVID-19 patients, she said. She said it would be "irresponsible" of her to suggest the company commit taxi drivers to providing such a service that would increase their risk.

Jafar Mirsalari, a taxi driver for Beck, said there are other vehicles available to transport people who may be infected with COVID-19.

"When people call 911 now, the ambulance people, they show up, fully equipped and fully covered," said Mirsalari, who has worked as a taxi driver in Toronto since 1988.

"Now I heard that the city wants us, knowingly, to take the risk without any protection. I don't know if they want us to do the essential work, but who wants to be responsibility for my loss —not only for my business, but for my health?" he said.

"It's not our job."

Mirsalari said he doesn't want to jeopardize the health of his wife and children.

Taxis asked to transport patients after hours, TPH says 

Sonya Bourgeois, associate director of strategy and preventive health for Toronto Public Health (TPH), said the public health unit has formed a partnership with the city's shelter, support and housing administration division to provide transportation for people who are going to the Toronto Voluntary Isolation Centre.

"Transportation is provided through the City's own fleet of vehicles and/or contracted providers and City staff," Bourgeois said in an email on Tuesday.

"During after hours, TPH has been working with taxi companies to provide transportation for individuals to access the Toronto Voluntary Isolation Centre. In these cases, TPH discloses that the individual may or may not have COVID-19, and the driver may opt out of providing transportation if they do not feel safe to do so," she said.

As for Beck Taxi drivers, the company says about 10 have tested positive for COVID-19 but it doesn't know if the drivers caught the virus from passengers.

With files from Natalie Nanowski