With fewer people using public transport as schools are closed and workplaces shut down, taxi and maxi-taxi drivers across the country have been hard hit by measures put in place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
In an interview with Guardian Media, President of the Route 2 Maxi Taxi Association, Linus Phillip says even with the loss of income, the drivers are doing all they can to keep themselves and their passengers safe without shutting down their service.
“The slow down is affecting everyone, including maxi taxi drivers, we got hard hit but like everyone else we have to try to cope, everyone has bills, but whatever the government puts in place we have to try to make do,” Phillips said.
“Drivers are taking about six hours to get a trip, yesterday I spoke to one driver who said he came into City Gate at 8.30 am and left with a trip at 2.45 pm. According to how early drivers go out, they are getting one and a half or maybe two trips for the day.”
He said he is hopeful that drivers do not have to stop their services altogether as those who still need public transport depend on them.
“The travelling public is relying on us to get to and from work- we don’t want things to get in a position where drivers have to stop working, I don’t know how the ministry will deal with that if they decide to implement social distancing but for someone to come out with a big maxi to carry 12 people, it’s best you stay home.”
In the meantime, he said in addition to not using air condition during their trips, Route 2 maxi taxi drivers have been sanitising their buses after every trip.
“We are trying to adhere to the requests of the ministry, we also sent out a call to maxi taxis to limit the number of persons they carry in the front seat and to leave the seat directly behind the driver empty to limit the possibility of the driver becoming infected and as our own social distancing measure,” he said.
He said drivers are limited with what they can do because of financial and physical constraints.
“We don’t have facilities for people to wash their hands before they enter the maxi taxi and drivers may not be able to provide hand sanitiser, it might be not financially viable given the cost of sanitiser right now,” he said.
He said he has been in contact with Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan and is hopeful that measures can be put in place to assist drivers to keep their buses in service.
President of the Trinidad and Tobago Taxi Drivers Network, Adrian Acosta, echoed that sentiment.
Acosta said taxi drivers have also been adhering to the no-air-condition request and are sanitising their vehicles but a call to carry fewer passengers per trip is a burden for them.
“We know that Public Transport buses are running with fewer passengers but at the end of the day, that driver’s salary is being paid by the government, there needs to be something put in place for drivers to be compensated if the government wants us to carry fewer passengers because it is a financial burden for us,” Acosta said.
Acosta said taxi drivers have been turning away passengers with flu-like symptoms.
“We are trying our best to do as much as we could to stem the spread of the virus, I wouldn’t take the chance to transport that person because of the safety of the other passengers and myself.”