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Coronavirus: Okanagan taxi company says fewer cabs, longer waits because of COVID-19 pandemic

A cab company in Penticton says it’s down to five taxis from 18 to 20 as drivers stay home due to fear of contracting the novel coronavirus.
A cab company in Penticton says it’s down to five taxis from 18 to 20 as drivers stay home due to fear of contracting the novel coronavirus. Global News

Looking to hail a cab in Penticton? You might be waiting a while.

One cab company in the South Okanagan community says the coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on business as drivers temporarily step away for fears of contracting COVID-19.

Klassic Kabs and Courtesy Taxi says it normally employs 65 to 70 drivers, but as of Friday, it’s down to nine drivers.

READ MORE: Safety top of mind for Regina cab driver during COVID-19 pandemic

Dispatch supervisor Shawna Severinski says the company is still open, but is operating with minimum services. That includes no service from midnight to 6 a.m. – a first in the company’s history, said Severinski.

“Drivers are afraid,” Severinski. “They’re afraid to come to work because of COVID-19.”

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Severinski said the understandable exodus of drivers began two weeks ago.

“We have a lot of drivers who are older, have lung issues, have health issues,” said Severinski. “And, of course, we can’t have them come in.”

Coronavirus: How to social distance in taxis and rideshare vehicles
Coronavirus: How to social distance in taxis and rideshare vehicles

She added that “we’re hearing it all through the industry.”

“It’s not that drivers are sick, or that anybody’s gotten sick, it’s that they’re afraid,” Severinski said. “And we’re taking every precaution humanly possible … We have amazing sanitizers, we sterilize all touch areas between every customer.”

Severinski added that the company is no longer allowing passengers to ride in the front seat, and that it’s desperately searching for plastic front-seat shields commonly seen in larger markets.

COVID-19 anxieties are hurting local taxi drivers’ wallets
COVID-19 anxieties are hurting local taxi drivers’ wallets

Noting that the company is down to five vehicles from 18 to 20, Severinski said most calls for service have been understanding of longer-than-normal wait times, but not all.

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“We can’t keep up with the demand at this time,” said Severinski.

“Ninety-five per cent [of callers] have been extremely understanding. And about four per cent, once you explain to them why, they’re OK. I’d say one of about every 100 calls where we’re getting yelled at or sworn at and told off.

“People need to realize what’s going on out there. We’re doing the best we can and trying to keep our doors open to keep people moving. The last thing I need is to be called 20 different swear words because, my goodness, you woke up late and now you have to wait for a taxi.”

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Another taxi company in the Okanagan, Checkmate Cabs in Kelowna, told Global News that business slowed down at first, but has since picked up.

“At the very beginning, when everything first happened a couple of weeks ago, it got really quiet, really quickly,” said director of operations Rory Anderson.

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However, Anderson said Checkmate has several large contracts that have enabled it to stay busy, though some drivers have opted to stay at home during the pandemic.

“We’ve been keeping pretty steady,” said Anderson. “We’ve lowered the amount of cars we’re allowing at one time to make it fair for every driver out there, but we’re doing pretty good.”

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In the North Okanagan, Vernon Taxi says it has lost two-thirds of its drivers and that it’s only offering rides involving essential services — trips to doctors, the hospital, grocery stores or work.

It also said by by staying open, it’s losing money, but will keep operating because it’s for the greater good of the community.

Vernon Taxi added that it’s still operating 24 hours a day, but there will only be one driver between midnight and 5 a.m., and that drivers are sanitizing their cabs between rides.