San Juan taxi driver Gary Edwards picks up passengers according to the public health regulations on Charlotte Street and Independence Square, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

Members of the Route Two Maxi Taxi Association and the North-South Taxi Drivers Association are asking the government to consider increasing the passenger transport capacity from 50 per cent.

The restriction came into effect from Monday in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus which as of yesterday had infected a total of 629 people in the country.

The 50 per cent capacity was first implemented by the government in March when the country began recording its first cases.

In a telephone interview with Guardian Media yesterday, Linus Phillip, president of the Route Two Maxi Taxi Association said drivers have been strictly enforcing the COVID-19 protocols including no mask no ride policy, and social distancing.

The drivers, however, are asking the government to consider increasing the capacity to 65 per cent.

“We can operate at 65 per cent and still maintain social distancing in our vehicles. This will mean one passenger per seat. At 50 per cent, two seats are empty. We could carry four more passengers. We are running at a loss.”

He said they were having difficulty with the police who refuse to use their discretion. For instance, he said if they were carrying 13 passengers in a 25 seater, the police would stop them.

He said the drivers have not raised their fare to burden the travelling public, but they are unable to meet their financial commitments running at 50 per cent.

Phillip said they were open to any dialogue with the authorities to resolve this issue. Curtis Patterson, treasurer of the North-South Taxi Drivers Association, said his members are asking that the capacity be increased to 75 per cent.

“At 50 per cent we cannot pay our bills,” lamented Patterson. He extended an invitation to officials to inspect the seven and eight-seater taxis to examine the space capacity in those vehicles. He said at 75 per cent capacity, the passengers would be about two feet apart.

“Right now at 50 per cent, it is really hard for us, it is a total loss for us.” He reiterated that the association’s recent fare increase from $17 to $22 was not due to the COVID restrictions, but because they had not raised the fare in five years.

He gave the assurance that the association had no intention of raising the fare due to the half-capacity restriction. Patterson said the drivers were adhering to and ensuring that their passengers also heed the COVID-19 protocols.

They have also been sanitizing their vehicles after every trip. Patterson complained that none of the drivers benefited from the fuel grant which was announced by the government during the first set of restrictions.

President of the Trinidad and Tobago Taxi Drivers’ Network Adrian Acosta declined to comment at this time because he had not yet spoken to his members about this issue.

He plans to address the matter via a news conference later this week.