BY ALEX GREGORY
A local taxi union is calling for greater protection and more passenger screenings after ten taxi drivers who worked at Pearson International Airport died from COVID-19. The push for greater safety came after the Airport Taxi Association revealed updated numbers Wednesday, along with up to 15 drivers who tested positive for the virus.
Among the drivers who died was Karam Singh Punia, a two-time candidate running for Mississauga council and a former employee of Aero fleet Taxi Service, who contracted the virus in late March and passed away on May 4. “We never expected so many people could be infected and die,” Rajinder Aujla, the president of the Airport Taxi Association, said in an interview with media outlets on Wednesday. “It’s shocking for everyone in the taxi industry.
Back in early March, we could have had proper sanitization, proper safety gear given to the drivers, proper temperature checks from everyone inside who was coming outside, for us to have masks, gloves.”
Also among the victims was 50 year-old Kamal Dhami, an employee of Airline Limousine. Dhami is believed to be the first taxi driver to have died from a confirmed case of the virus. The association, which represents approximately 700 drivers, has seen its active drivers shrink to single-digit numbers as air travel ground to a near-halt during the ongoing pandemic.
As of press time, it was unclear if the drivers had contracted the virus while on the job or through community transmission. Despite that, drivers have asked for greater personal protection on the job, especially from passengers leaving the airport, such as passenger screening and appropriate physical distancing. “It’s very hard to make six feet of distance in the car and they’re putting their lives at risk,”
Anjla said last week. The Greater Toronto Transit Authority acknowledged the deaths of the drivers last week, giving their “deepest sympathies” to the families of the victims while pointing out the measures that have been taken to protect employees and passengers since the outbreak began. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the drivers who have passed away,” a GTAA spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.
According to a release distributed last week, the GTAA had previously undertaken several safety measures to protect drivers, including distribution of approximately 6,000 disposable gloves and relaxing their policies for licence holders who normally provide continuous service at drop-off areas. “With respect to the taxi and limo community at Toronto Pearson, we have been working closely with their industry representatives, the Consultative Committee on Taxis and Limos (CCTL), to address concerns regarding COVID-19,” the GTAA said Wednesday.
“The CCTL met most recently last week to discuss the industry and specifically to discuss driver health and safety, which is the responsibility of the CCTL.” The GTAA also added that it would help drivers’ source personal protective equipment (PPE) “should they require assistance.”