Taxis see devastating drop in business after COVID-19 hits N.L.

Health Minister John Haggie says taxi drivers reported being busy on Friday night bringing people to house parties, but the owner of one of the largest cab companies in St. John's questions that information.

"I don't know where he got that at. He should have called a stand owner," said Newfound Cabs owner Albert Newell. "He should do his homework on that."

Newell said business was down 90 per cent on Friday night versus a regular weekend before the COVID-19 virus hit the province.

He said Newfound Cabs has already taken the insurance off 30 cars to save money, and it will be a challenge to survive the shutdown if it drags on for months.

Bruce Tilley/CBC

"It would be a heartbreaking situation if this continued for three months.… This is going to be a ghost town," he said. "It won't be long until I folds."

George Murphy, business manager at Jiffy Cabs, said they had a few customers Friday night, but Saturday saw a 75 per cent cut in business versus an average weekend.

"We didn't have any experiences with any parties on Saturday night, thankfully," Murphy said. "Friday night there were a few parties on the go, but it seems people are after tightening up their belts thankfully."

Meg Roberts/CBC

Haggie told reporters during Saturday's media briefing that taxi drivers reported being as busy as a regular Friday night, except they were bringing people to house parties instead of bars.

That doesn't seem to be the case, according to the operators.

"Work is certainly down," Murphy said. "We are certainly hurting out there."

Newell said he worked 12 hours on Saturday and made only $30. 

Concerns about catching virus

Newell and Murphy both said many of their drivers are worried about catching the virus from being in confined quarters with strangers.

The best they can do is not allow people to sit in the front passenger seat and wipe down the cars after a passenger gets out. With things like hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes in short supply across the city, even those basic measures are in jeopardy.

Newell had additional concerns about international flights still landing at the airport. While only the four largest airports in Canada have been designated for international flights full of Canadians returning home, some have also landed in St. John's.

Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press

Sunwing has been chartering planes full of Canadians back from vacation destinations. A plane from Punta Cana is scheduled to arrive late Monday night.

Newell said many of his drivers are not comfortable picking up those passengers.

Murphy said Jiffy drivers are also afraid to go there.

He acknowledged some drivers feel compelled to continue working for any number of personal reasons, but said they are all encouraged to stay home if they feel uncomfortable.

"It's a virus that certainly has a strong control over our lives but we have to pay attention to that or we won't be living our lives," Murphy said.

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