As the community shelters in place by self isolating in the safety of their homes, unsung heroes like Gordon Boutilier are risking exposure to the illness every time he ventures out into the community to provide vital transport services.
The 52-year-old taxi driver and city resident is one of roughly a dozen drivers still plying city streets for Central Taxi amid the pandemic shutdown, providing an essential service for riders who need to meet their doctor, visit a pharmacy or need a lift to Belleville General Hospital’s emergency department.
But Boutilier isn’t taking any more than necessary chances of infection for both he and his customers.
At some considerable personal expense, Boutilier and his spouse, Debby Burrows-Boutilier, have kitted out his taxi van with a large transparent plastic vapour barrier between the driver’s compartment and the rear seat.
He wears an N95 face mask most of his working day and is armed to the teeth with hand sanitizer, Lysol disinfectant wipes as well as disinfectant spray to wipe and clean the passenger area after every single trip.
He said he is thankful to Central Taxi for reducing his weekly lease rate by 40 per cent to help him cover materials to offer customers the healthiest transport services available.
The best offence is a good defence, Boutilier told The Intelligencer Friday morning before starting his day shift.
“I don’t know how long this thing will last but it’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Boutilier. “I can’t afford to be sick. I’m taking care of my wife.”
The former Halifax resident said working with the public amid the strange new realities of a global pandemic is taking some getting used to and requires patience both for driver and his fares.
“Some are getting upset because I won’t let them sit in the front seat but I can’t take the risk. Most passengers are understanding though. The world’s changed since yesterday,” he said.
A few days ago, Boutilier said one of his fares started coughing in the back seat and then quipped nonchalantly that it was the coronavirus.
“When this all passes we can make a joke but it is not funny right now,” he said. “Generally, my passengers are thanking me saying this is a smart setup and appreciate me trying to make everything safer.”
Boutilier said he’s seen a 25 per cent decline in business in the last couple of weeks but predicted demand will pick up in the days ahead as seniors’ pensions arrive near month’s end and many will need to do pharmacy and grocery-store runs.
Plunging gasoline prices in the low 60-cents-per-litre range are helping taxi drivers like Boutilier weather the storm to a small degree, he said.
“It’s been brutal the last two weeks, it’s been harder to make money. The only saving grace through all of this is the cheap gas.”
– Source: Derek Baldwin – www.intelligencer.ca