'It was a no-brainer': TTC Wheel-Trans drivers volunteer to help COVID-19 patients get tested
Drivers have received new training, will wear personal protective equipment during runs
When John Begg got a call to join the front lines in Toronto's battle against COVID-19, he didn't hesitate.
"As soon as they said they needed help, to me it was a no-brainer," said Begg, a TTC Wheel-Trans driver for the last nine years.
"If this is a way to help decrease it, I'm in."
Begg is one of 18 Wheel-Trans drivers who have volunteered to bring potential COVID-19 patients to assessment centres around Toronto during the pandemic.
The TTC is offering the service to its regular Wheel-Trans customers, who rely on the service due to mobility issues and disabilities that prevent them from using other forms of public transit.
The drivers who volunteered to help have undergone new training by emergency responders and will wear personal protective equipment during the runs. Two drivers will be on duty each day to respond to calls.
Watch TTC Wheel-Trans driver John Begg talk about joining the battle against COVID-19:
"Once we got the word out, we had 18 volunteers right away," said Dwayne Geddes, the department head for Wheel-Trans and a former streetcar operator.
"It just goes to show you how important these employees are and how much they care about the city of Toronto."
Wheel-Trans customers booking a trip to a hospital or COVID-19 testing facility are asked to call the service's dedicated reservations line at 416-393-4222. The TTC is also advising customers to only book essential trips.
Toronto's Office of Emergency Management, which is overseeing the city's response to the crisis, asked the transit agency to assist transporting the potential patients.
Drivers bring 'a special touch' for vulnerable residents
The TTC says its Wheel-Trans drivers are especially well-equipped to assist the city's most vulnerable residents, since they are the same people they already serve every day.
"They have a special touch with our customers," Geddes said of his drivers. "They know that they're vulnerable, they know there's really no other way for them to get around in most situations."
But in normal circumstances, the job of a Wheel-Trans driver does not include the risk of exposure to a contagious disease, which as of April 1 had infected 818 residents, causing at least 19 deaths.
Six TTC employees have tested positive so far.
Begg acknowledges that the risk of contracting COVID-19 weighs on his mind, but the concern isn't enough to deter him from offering his help.
"In a way, I think about it once in a while, the risk I'm putting myself into and possibly my family, but if I follow all the training I've gotten from EMS, I feel 100 per cent fine and protected," he said.
"Toronto's a unique city," he added. "We all try to look after each other and try to get rid of this virus as fast as possible."