Society

A drive to freedom

Retrofitted cabs. Photo: special arrangement  

Senior citizens and people with special needs make up nearly 150 million Indians. And they sorely lack basic accessible facilities in public spaces resulting in them spending lonely, restricted lives. Vidhya Ramasubban knows about this as she has worked for many years in the disability sector.

She is the Managing Director of Kickstart Pvt. Ltd., a cab service designed for people with special needs, at the moment working out of Bangalore, but looking to start in Chennai, Coimbatore and Pune.

Kickstart began a year ago along with a non-profit organisation called Wheels Of Change ( See box). Its aim is to provide accessible transportation that will make the disabled feel inclusive and part of society. “It can give the elderly independence to move about freely and safely either for their daily activities or even just leisure and entertainment. And it is a boon for younger people too who need accessible transport to get to work and visit hospitals regularly for treatment,” says Director, Srikrishna.

Going forward
This service is perhaps the first of its kind in India. It began with a grant from an IT company, Mphasis, and has just four cabs in its fleet. The vehicles are retrofitted with accessibility features. And the drivers are specially trained to assist customers in and out of vehicles and buildings. The dream is to make it a pan-Indian service, says Vidhya. “It is a success here and we have been getting enquiries from other cities as well. We plan to start in three other cities – Chennai, Coimbatore and Pune. But we need CSR grants and sponsors.”

According to Srikrishna, “In order to make a real impact, there should be ideally 100 cabs for big cities and 50 for the tier two cities. In the next five years we hope to extend to at least nine more cities. But that is our dream. We need at least five cars in a tier-two city to make the operations feasible. Which means we will need seed money of at least Rs 50 lakh. Each retrofitted car costs Rs 10 lakh.” He adds that the operation is sustainable, but getting started is the key. And they are looking out for CSR grants and sponsors to step in and help out. “It is a good idea and many organisations and corporate houses see it as such. But obviously, these things take time to materialise into something tangible,” says Vidhya.

Kickstart says its services will have a positive social impact. It aims to create 150 jobs in three years and provide employment to people with disabilities. It hopes to reduce the carbon footprint by ensuring that in the next five years 25 per cent of its fleet is made up of electric cars.

Srikrishna says, “Mobility is the fundamental issue people face. There are people who have stopped going out as they feel they are a burden to the other members of the family. They feel marginalised. Many others have not tried to find a job because it is a nightmare trying to get to the work space. A service such as Kickstart, feel Srikrishna and Vidhya, brings them back into the fold. Says Vidya, “We receive so many thank you call from grateful customers. They say being able to move about freely gives them back their dignity, independence and identity. It releases them.”



Wheels of Change

- WOC owns retrofitted vehicles

- Train mechanics in manufacturing the adaptations

- Creates awareness on accessible transportation.

- Trains and sensitizes drivers in assisting persons with disabilities.

- Works on policy issues to promote universal design vis a vis transportation that owns the vehicles and the designs.

- If you want to know more email info@wheelsofchange.org.in , or visit www.wheelsofchange.org.in

Wishlist

- 100 cars for big cities and 50 for second tier cities

- Extend service to at least nine more cities in the next five years

- Appeal to organisations to donate cars. While a bulk donation would be welcome even one or more care every year for a period of five years or more would make the operations sustainable.

- One or more car every year for a period of 5 years or more.

- Each new retrofitted car costs approximately Rs 10 Lakh.

- Help to set up IT infrastructure that will take care of bookings and messaging etc.

- Help with training drivers: This is an ongoing expense. For the first three years the cost will be about 12 lakh in order to ensure quality service.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 8:38:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/a-drive-to-freedom/article6751641.ece

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