4 Pearson airport taxi and limousine drivers have died of COVID-19, drivers' union says

At least four taxi and limousine drivers who work at Toronto Pearson International Airport have died of COVID-19, according to an industry union which is now calling for heightened safety measures inside vehicles.

GTAA extends 'deepest sympathies,' says it will help drivers secure protective equipment

The union representing airport taxi drivers says Pearson must introduce more thorough passenger screening and supply safety equipment for vehicles. (Toronto Pearson Airport)

At least four taxi and limousine drivers who work at Toronto's Pearson International Airport have died of COVID-19, according to an industry union which is now calling for heightened safety measures inside vehicles.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which operates Pearson, acknowledged the deaths in a statement, but did not confirm how many drivers have died during the coronavirus outbreak. 

While it is not clear if the drivers contracted the novel coronavirus while on the job, the union representing drivers says its members are increasingly concerned about their safety when picking up passengers from the airport.

"Our members out there are very scared," said Rajinder Aujla, president of the Airport Taxi Association, who said as many as 15 drivers have tested positive for the virus.

"It's very hard to make six feet of distance in the car and they're putting their lives at risk."

Aujla says two taxi drivers and two limousine drivers died of COVID-19 from late March to early April. Another driver is believed to have passed on the virus to his father, who later died, Aujla added.

Limousine driver Kamal Dhami, 50, died of COVID-19 on March 26, his family confirmed to CBC News. 

Dhami worked for Airline Limousine.The family says he was the first driver to die of the disease.

Kamal Dhami, 50, is among the four airport drivers to have died of COVID-19. (Dhami family/Submitted)

Aujla says two more taxi drivers have died since mid-April, though the union has not yet confirmed their deaths were the result of COVID-19.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the drivers who have passed away," said GTAA spokesperson Tori Gass in an email.

Calls for more PPE, enhanced passenger screening

The Airport Taxi Association represents about 360 drivers, but Aujla says only 10 to 15 vehicles are still on the road due to the dramatic decline in air travel during the pandemic.

The GTAA has introduced several safety measures for the limousines still serving the airport, including disinfection of vehicles before each trip, the distribution of 6,000 disposable gloves to drivers and increased cleaning of high-traffic areas.

Drivers, however, say the enhancements are inadequate, and they are calling for stronger safety measures, including the installation of shields between drivers and passengers, and the distribution of more personal protective equipment.

The union is also calling on Pearson to thoroughly screen all passengers for COVID-19 symptoms before they are allowed to enter vehicles.

The airport's existing screening protocols have been questioned by other airport workers.

Aujla says the GTAA or its partners in the federal government should spearhead safety changes, since his taxi and limousine drivers are being relied upon to provide an essential service to returning travellers.

"Drivers are still in danger," added Navyug Gill, the son of a retired airport taxi driver. "Bringing attention to this now could hopefully result in some change happening so more drivers aren't getting sick and passing."

Other taxi concerns

Earlier this month, Toronto released updated guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in taxis and ride-share vehicles.

Mayor John Tory revealed the new measures after reports that some public health workers advised potential COVID-19 patients to take taxis to get tested for the novel coronavirus.

Residents are now asked to inform the taxi company of their medical situation, and to practise "respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene" during the trips.

In its statement, the GTAA added that it has been working closely with the industry group Consultative Committee on Taxis and Limos, which is ultimately responsible for the health and safety of drivers.

The GTAA said it is also willing to help drivers "source additional personal protective equipment, should they require assistance."