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Wanderley Massafelli/

Rows over face masks and Covid-19 'deniers' feature in complaints to taxi regulator

The chief executive of Lynk Ireland has said that complaints over mask wearing are a “two-way street”.

A COUPLE “EXPLODED” and spat at a taxi driver and kicked his car in Dublin city centre after he requested that they wear a mask in his cab.

That is according to chief executive of taxi firm, Lynk Ireland, Noel Ebbs who said that the request by the company’s taxi driver to the two standing at the window of the car “hit the big red button for them and the couple just exploded”.

He stated: “The driver said to them ‘listen, I live with my elderly mother and without a mask, I can’t take the risk’. They started kicking his car and spitting at him and calling him all sorts of names.”

Ebbs stated that the incident occurred at College Green in Dublin city centre.

He recounted the incident when asked to comment on complaints made by passengers to the National Transport Authority (NTA) concerning taxi drivers who refuse to wear masks.

Ebbs stated: “There is no doubt that it has been a two-way street.”

The wearing of masks is now mandatory for drivers and passengers and Ebbs stated that this has given drivers comfort.

He stated: “It is much less stressful going to work for drivers knowing that passengers and drivers have to wear masks. It is the right move and it is a shame that it wasn’t made earlier.”

Prior to the masks being made mandatory, Ebbs said that “certainly in early evenings and night time, drivers did have a lot of problems with the public when making a simple request to wear a mask”.

Ebbs stated that the College Green incident occurred in the summer of last year when Covid 19 restrictions had been loosened up.

He stated: “At the time, there was still a strong cohort of people who believed that Covid-19 was some sort of conspiracy and that it didn’t exist. I don’t think there are too many of those around now.”

Ebbs stated: “Even under normal circumstances, it is an awful thing to spit at a person but during Covid it is even worse.”

Ebbs stated that none of the spittle landed on the driver and instead landed on his car but the driver drove off and left his position in the rank in order to get away from the young couple.

Ebbs stated: “It was an assault – and that kind of explosive reaction is not common, but it does happen and very rarely do taxi drivers report it. The stoic attitude is ‘head down, right, I need to get on with this”. It is seen as part of the job, part of the risk and move on. That is more often that not the way the driver would react. They don’t tend to pursue things”.

Ebbs said that he had experience himself of booking a taxi with a small taxi company on the outskirts of Dublin last year where the driver “just refused to wear a mask. He told me ‘I don’t believe in them. This is a conspiracy’.”

Complaints lodged with the NTA last year show that one taxi passenger who opened a window for ventilation was told to close the window by a ‘cold’ taxi driver after he told the customer that the Covid 19 pandemic does not exist.

Covid-19 “deniers”

The complaints to the NTA made available following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request reveal a very small cohort of taxi-drivers who were Covid 19 ‘deniers’ at the time.

In one complaint, one passenger told the NTA that a driver “refused to wear a face mask. He spent the entire trip claiming the Coronavirus does not exist”.

Another passenger complained: “The taxi driver had a dry cough and was continuously coughing for the duration of the journey. I opened the window in the back and I was wearing my mask.”

Concerning the complaint where the taxi driver stated that the pandemic does not exist, the passenger complained: “The car did not have a screen and driver was not wearing a mask, so I opened the window to have some ventilation.

“Driver insistently tried to get me to close the window and said that he was cold and that the pandemic did not exist.”

Another passenger on another unspecified date stated that “the driver was very opinionated about Covid 19. He seems to believe that it was blown out of proportion”.

“The passenger added: “I was wearing a mask as per government guidelines. He did not seem to think there was any evidence of their use even though there is.”

In another complaint, a passenger told the NTA that “the driver was not wearing a mask but there was a screen. There was no sanitiser available. We requested to be dropped at a Garda station after the driver became hostile about questioning of his driver ID.”

In another complaint, a passenger stated that “the taxi had no Perspex and the driver had no mask on. I felt extremely uncomfortable with his attitude”.

Another passenger contacted the NTA to state that “the driver wasn’t wearing a mask and there was no Perspex screen. The driver mentioned he had returned from a non-green list country and wasn’t isolating”.

Another customer wrote to state “there was no plastic guard between him and me. Driver was not wearing a mask and when asked to wear one, he only put it over his mouth as it hurt his ears”.

In another instance, a passenger stated that the “driver was wearing a dirty mask and the vehicle was dirty and untidy. The driver was video calling throughout the journey”.

Another customer wrote to state: “the driver did not wear a mask and there was no screen between the front and the back seat”.

On the impact of Covid 19 on the taxi business, Ebbs stated: “We are back at 40% now on our pre-Covid business and at its worst it was at 30% during the first lockdown. I expect over the next two weeks to be back at 30% because the numbers are dropping daily and the ‘stay at home’ message has finally arrived home and people get it. You can see it every single day now. The numbers are falling, falling, falling.”

Ebbs stated: “Thank god for the Covid payments because companies and self employed people would be destroyed without it.”

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