Maxi-taxi squeeze up

A maxi taxi awaits passengers at the City Gate hub on Saturday. - ROGER JACOB
A maxi taxi awaits passengers at the City Gate hub on Saturday. - ROGER JACOB

ELIZABETH GONZALES AND JULIEN NEAVES

A NUMBER of maxi taxi drivers said they will not practice social distancing with the number of passengers they transport as part of covid19 prevention measures until Government makes it mandatory.

Fitzroy Cambridge, a main road driver at City Gate told Newsday: “There’s no need to drop how much we carry from 22 or 25 to ten. We are continuing until the Minister of Health or Government says not to carry the full amount.”

He added: “We using our discretion but the way things going we would have to lock off for good.”

One taxi driver was seen asking two passengers to leave his maxi after they were coughing uncontrollably and they eventually left in another maxi.

Another driver said, “I’ll take what I could and if people chose not to sit so close to each other then it’s up to them.”

The drivers are also calling for the Prime Minister to allocate special funding to assist them.

Johnny Paria who works the Arima route said, “It’s frustrating but we have to cope. While we coping I will be taking the full amount of passengers. I’m already losing around $1,000 a day. I’m not afraid and I don’t think there’s nothing (sic) to risk.”

He said he would continue practising proper hygiene, sanitising in and around the maxi and refusing to transport any passenger that shows covid19 symptoms.

"Eventually I know it will come down to where the Government will put laws where we cannot carry the full amount but for now I’ll take precautions as best as I can.”

Abraham Cumberbatch, who works the San Fernando route, said, “If we agree to ten passengers at the end of the day we'll struggle. Even through the banks are willing to defer payments remember we have operators who have debts outside of the banks and who have families to feed."

Route 2 Maxi Taxi Association president Linus Phillip told Newsday his more than 2,100 members have been asked to follow the guidelines Government has been issuing including to drive without air conditioning. He said with less people travelling the drivers have a lot of downtime and they have been asked to sanitise their vehicles after every trip using a spray bottle containing diluted bleach and a clean cloth. Smaller maxis were asked to carry one passenger in front and to have the seat directly behind driver vacant.

"We don't want anyone to sneeze on the driver."

He said there were a couple of stubborn drivers who were refusing to follow the guidelines and moral suasion was being used with them.

Asked about maxis picking up less people to practice social distancing, Phillip said it was difficult to practice. He explained that when most drivers reach Curepe half of their load would have exited and there would be no one to pick up on the road.

Phillip said with less people travelling some drivers are not working while others have much less trips. In one instance a driver had to wait six hours for another trip. He added people are not complaining as other people were out of work such as casino workers.

"People say thanks for whatever we getting and try not to make it an issue."

When asked if the Transport Ministry is prepared to intervene if drivers refuse to adhere to Government's social distancing advice, Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan said the ministries of national security and health were setting guidelines.

“We have been in consultations with the maxi-taxi owners and we have asked them to be responsible, but we continue to take guidelines from the ministries at this time as to any change going forward.

“They would have instituted certain criteria from the Government to control public transport however we are working with the maxi taxis and some of them are complying.”

The Public Transport Service Corporation in a previous media release reported a number of social distancing efforts: no standing passengers on buses; buses will run at 50 per cent capacity and there will be one seated passenger in every other seat; and commuters will be asked to stand three feet apart as they line up to board the bus.

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