Taxi companies in Penticton say they are taking every necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but it’s not enough to make most drivers feel comfortable with working through the pandemic. Dozens of unused taxis now sit in lots as drivers refuse work. (Phil McLachlan - Western News)

Over 50 Penticton cab drivers walk off the job amid COVID-19 concern

Local taxi companies have cut operating hours as drivers refuse to work due to COVID-19

Concern stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic has caused over 50 taxi drivers in Penticton to walk out.

In fact, drivers have gone home at such an alarming rate that Klassic Kab and Courtesy Taxi dispatch manager, Shawna Seperisski, says she’s unsure how much longer her companies will be able to operate.

“They’re terrified,” Seperisski said. “Anyone who has babies, children, elderly at home, we gave them the option of going on E.I.”

READ MORE: Taking time off work due to COVID-19 now falls under medical leave

Klassic Cab and Courtesy Taxi are now closed from midnight to 6 a.m., down from their usual 24-hour service. Seperisski said this has never happened before in company history.

The two cab companies normally operate with 15 to 18 drivers on during the day. These days, they are down to just four.

In total, the fleets normally employ anywhere from 50 to 60 drivers. Now, they have just 10.

Seperisski says the company is taking every necessary action to ensure the safety of both drivers and passengers.

At both Klassic Kab and Courtesy Taxi, drivers are sterilizing the cars and debit machines between every trip, wearing gloves, and customers must sit in the back seat to promote social distancing.

“We’re taking every precaution possible,” said Seperisski.

However, some drivers are still uncomfortable working around dozens of people each day. Often they transport people who have just touched down at the airport.

As for the demand in services, Seperisski said call volume is down but drivers are just as busy because of the lack of remaining workers.

She said if the situation doesn’t improve, she fears the companies may have to shut down entirely.

“It (shutting down) is possible. Right now we are desperately, desperately, desperately, trying to stay open at least Monday to Friday,” she said.

“Our hours are becoming less and less every day and we’re losing drivers every day.”

The only competing cab company in town, Eco-Cab, is having an equally tough time as a result of the pandemic.

“It’s been drastic, it’s had a huge affect on our business,” said acting manager Darren Regnier.

Eco-Cab has also been forced to reduce their hours as staff refuse to work. The company normally employs 14 drivers but are currently down to six. Regnier says he wouldn’t surprised if that number continues to fall.

He says he understands the drivers’ fears despite their best efforts to disinfect everything.

“We have a very public job so the drivers are nervous, and understandably so. Considering the size of the vehicles that we’re in, it’s impossible to maintain six feet,” Regnier said.

“There’s a certain level of risk that are drivers are not willing to take and it’s understandable.”

Regnier says business has still been steady despite the virus. Although, he’s not sure if this can be attributed to more calls or a lack of drivers.

One major difference that Regnier has noticed is the nature of the calls his company now receives.

“We’re not seeing a lot of frivolous trips anymore,” he said.

He stressed they won’t refuse anyone who needs a ride, adding that traffic along the airport route continues to be busy.

“We have to keep the community moving,” Regnier said.

“As far as I know we’re deemed an essential service so we have to maintain a certain level of service but we’re trying to go beyond that and I’ve only got so much to work with here.

“We are doing our very best to keep things moving.”

@PentictonNews
editor@pentictonwesternnews.com

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READ MORE: COVID-19: Here’s what is considered an essential service in B.C.

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