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Toronto’s Beck Taxi considers withdrawing services from COVID sites

Photo: Kristine Hubbard with long-time customer, veteran Doug Cochrane. “A lot of seniors need our call centre because they don’t use smart phones,” Hubbard notes. Beck Taxi has offered to let Toronto use its call centre and dispatch centre to set up a pop-up vaccination site for all Toronto taxi drivers.

Beck Taxi Operations Manager Kristine Hubbard has announced that Beck is considering withdrawing service to specific high-risk locations in order to protect its taxi drivers.

Hospitals, public health units, COVID-19 testing centres, isolation centres and vaccination centres have been calling Toronto taxi companies to transport known or suspected COVID patients since March of 2019. Taxi drivers were deemed “essential workers” in the earliest days of the pandemic but have not been prioritized to receive vaccines.

On April 10th, a Beck driver who answered a call to pick up a patient was then notified by Toronto’s Public Health unit that he had been exposed to COVID and is required to self-isolate for 14 days. In addition to suffering anxiety about his own health, the self-employed driver will lose all of his income.

Speaking to Natasha Farah of the CBC, Hubbard said Beck is not considering refusing pick-ups from “hot spot” postal codes, but from COVID treatment sites.

“The City of Toronto began telling people ‘If you’re sick, don’t take the TTC, get in a taxi,” Hubbard noted. “People were not disclosing that to us, and the City does not disclose this to us. Drivers are being used as front-line workers, assisting senior citizens; they can’t stay 6 feet away.”

Despite the fact that Beck taxi drivers have installed plastic shields in their cabs and are spending their own money for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including masks, gloves, disposable wipes and sanitizer, they do not qualify for any government program to be reimbursed for these expenses.

“The government is getting away with using these drivers for work that should be done by front line health care workers employed by the City, protected by the City. These drivers haven’t been given so much as a mask to do their jobs,” Hubbard pointed out, noting that 6 airport taxi drivers actually died of COVID-19 early in the early days of the pandemic.

Hubbard has suggested to the City of Toronto that Beck should identify a small group of drivers fully equipped and specially trained to move COVID-probable cases, as is already being done in Ottawa with Blue Line Taxi. Toronto did not respond to this request.

Beck has also offered to use its corporate office with large parking lot and dispatch centre to host a mobile pop-up vaccination centre to vaccinate not just Beck drivers, but all taxi drivers from any company.

“We have a 24-hour call centre. Our apps and programs can be re-purposed to make appointments. We can do it all, except provide nurses and vaccines.”

At air time, Hubbard indicated she had received a phone call from a Deputy Minister within the Ontario government but that no plan has yet been suggested.