Millions of differently-abled Indians have the required skill-set and more to be employed, but most have stayed jobless due to a rather rudimentary setback – lack of transport options to help them commute. Uber and Kickstart cabs took matters into their own hands to bridge the gap, and now, one of India’s oldest cab services, Meru Cabs, has joined the fray. Designing a fleet of taxis that will be accessible for differently-abled and elderly commuters in association with Ezy Mov, Meru’s ‘Enable’ fleet is equipped with a state-of-the-art wired remote control-operated hydraulic lift.This will come in handy to comfortably lift the wheelchair-bound passenger and ‘enable’ them to board the cab without any support from a third person.
Speaking about their novel service, Meru CEO Siddhartha Pahwa says, “For people with mobility challenges, there is no specific public service to commute in a city apart from an ambulance. These differently-abled people are not patients or receiving medical treatment for any disease.They are simply physically impaired. Our intent here is to empower people with special needs by giving them option to travel with pride,and independently, just like other passengers.”
The cab’s interiors have been given a special facelift for commuters with mobility challenges such as quadriplegics, paraplegics and senior citizens, to accommodate their wheelchair at the back, along with extra room for three other co-passengers or caregivers, a wheelchair restraint to safely hold the chair during movement, first-aid kit for emergencies, a fire extinguisher and GPS, GPRS which could be tracked on a 24X7 basis. It also has a wheelchair-locking systemand special handles, further adding to the comfort of the passenger.
“This specially designed fleet of cabs enables the people with special needs to commute across the city with or without caregivers, giving them freedom to travel independently,”Siddhartha says.
Branded with a distinct purple bumper with a white or silver body colour, the 10 spacious vehicles that will be deployed in select areas of Mumbai have also been customised to fulfill the needs of pregnant women and medically-obese persons. Apart from the careful handling of wheelchairs, creating adequate space and driving with care, drivers of Meru Enable have been trained to assist passengers with mobility constraints. “Twenty more vehicles are in modification stage,” informs Siddhartha.
With higher tariffs, a Meru Enable has a minimum flag-down charge of Rs 200, inclusive of the first four km, followed by a fare of Rs33 per km thereafter. “Currently, there is a price difference between regular cabs and Meru Enable cabs, as there is a good amount of investment that went towards upgrading these cabs, and also due to initial fleet size. But, economies of scale will have a big role to play in the pricing in the future.”
Meru Enable can be booked by calling in to the 24×7 call centre number. Going forward, the service will also be integrated into the app. Piloted in Mumbai, the service will soon be available in Delhi and Bengaluru by second half of 2016, followed by Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata in early 2017.
According to the 2011 census, over 5.4 million people have some kind of physical disability in India. Kickstart Cabs was the pioneer in trying to address this need, identifying the problem in late 2013 to engineer a solution with a modest fleet of 10 such cars. Uber also sensed the gap in December, and had piloted ‘Uber Assist’ in Delhi, with specially trained drivers sensitised to cater to the special needs of the patrons.