A Winnipeg safe ride group for women said the number of volunteer drivers has dropped dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the demand for their service is expected to ramp up.
IKWE Safe Rides, which is run by women, only has three volunteer drivers right now — down from 55 in early March, according to Christine Brouzes, the co-director of the not-for-profit group.
“And those three drivers are just doing a few rides here and there to help out and of the goodness of their heart, they’re not full-time,” Brouzes said.
“So the requests I do see posted, I’m fearful as to how those women are going to keep themselves safe.”
‘There is a need’
Brouzes said many volunteers chose to stay home when the physical distancing rules began during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she fully supports adding that the safety of volunteer drivers is really important.
“But at the same time it’s been very difficult because the ride requests were still happening,” she said.
Many women still need to get to doctor appointments and grocery stores she said.
Brouzes said the women who rely on them do not want to use taxi services after reports of Indigenous women being harassed by cab drivers in the past.
“There is still a need, and in my heart I’m more worried now than I was before because with fewer transportation options for women, I do fear what might happen,” she said.
IKWE offers free and safe rides for women on their Facebook page, and Brouzes said they continue to get requests every night.
“We want to keep them safe, to get them home, but we are not able to do that because our volunteers are not volunteering right now.”
Brouzes said the City of Winnipeg is allowing them to operate provided that drivers and passengers take extra precautions.
Vehicles must be sanitized after every drop-off and passengers can only sit in the back seat.
Both drivers and passengers are required to wear masks too.
She expects this week to be busy as the second phase of the province’s reopening plan begins Monday.
Everything is sanitized
Caryle Stefura has been volunteering with IKWE for two years. She has a daughter and niece, and knows what it’s like to worry about their safety — which is why she became a volunteer driver.
“I’m retired and I have the time.”
Stefura said she’s taking all the precautions necessary to keep herself and her passengers safe.
“I am hoping the girls aren’t sick when they get into the car, I immediately sanitize the whole back seat and the door handles, the windows, everything is sanitized, seat belts are sanitized,” Stefura said.She is driving fewer hours than a few months ago, but is expecting her calls to pick up this week.
“More stores are opening now,” she said adding that she will work every day this week as needed.
Stefura said she will continue to volunteer.
“It’s scary for women even though we’re in a pandemic,” she said. “And cabs are short on drivers too, so cab waits are two to three hours long,” she said.
IKWE has given 100,000 rides since it was formed in 2016.
In ‘holding pattern’
Brouzes said while they do need volunteer drivers, she doesn’t want people to feel pressure to go back on the roads now.
She said they will need volunteers in the summer months when it’s expected to get busier.
“We’re in a holding pattern right now, we’re waiting to see what happens with COVID-19 cases in Manitoba in the next couple of weeks,” she said.
“Is there going to be a second wave of cases?”
Brouzes said most of her drivers are waiting to come back when they feel it’s safer to do so.
IKWE will officially begin a new training session for new volunteer drivers in July.
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