Taxis scheme offers hope for the handicapped
|Full throttle: Three-wheel motorbikes have been a popular addition to the selection of transportation for the handicapped, but few can afford the modifications to turn motorbikes into three-wheelers. — File photos
by Quang Minh and An Vu
Recently, on the boisterous streets of Ho Chi Minh City, a motorbike taxi group has been offering free transport for the disabled. The group's members are young, from all social classes, and share a common goal: to help the disabled community.
The project is the brainchild of HCM City's DRD (Disability Resource and Development) in co-operation with KOICA (Korea International Co-operation Agency) and helps handicapped citizens gain access to public transport.
The project possesses ten motorbike taxis each costs VND35 million (US$1,600) servicing the area. At present, the group consists of six members, two of them handicapped.
"The ten three-wheel motorbike taxis have been specially designed to ensure safety for the handicapped. They are supported with seat belts and a metal frame for hanging their wheelchairs. Certified helmets are also provided," says Vo Thi Hoang Yen, director of the DRD.
One of the group's volunteers, Pham Nhu Y, quit his job as an official to work full time for the group.
"I am only slightly handicapped, but I am able to drive a motorbike. I want to help those who are more disabled than me. So far, the clients have been happy with the motorbikes," says Y.
"Previously, I was helped by a lot of people. Now it's my turn to return the favour," he adds.
Tran Minh Tri, another member of the group, immediately starts the engine after he receives a call from one of his customers. The customer, this time is blind and rents a house in a small alley in District 10.
Gently escorting the man to his motorbike, Tri fastens his seat bell and puts on his helmet. He is about to drive the man to a small clinic approximately 10km away.
"We are willing to transport and pick up handicapped people within a 15km radius. However, in cases of emergency, we will travel however far we need to help. The three-wheeled motorbike is far more convenient than a cab and easier to mount. The seat is comfortable, and there is space for crutches and wheelchairs," says Tri.
He believes the motorbike taxis have changed the lives of many handicapped clients. "I remember a paralytic 16-year-old girl who would never leave the house and never use transport. This prevented her from integrating with the community. She had given up hope. It shows that the programme is also addressing the social needs of the disabled community."
Y, 26 describes his motorbike as a capable assistant.
"The three-wheeled motor vehicle is really helpful. It is convenient, easy to use and safe. When I heard about the project, I resigned my previous job to become a taxi driver. I know how hard it is for disabled people to do even simple things like travel," he says.
Yang Won-Tae, head of Able Forum, a forum for disabled rights in South Korea, has expressed excitement over the project. "I want to give my great appreciation to all members of the motorbike taxi group, who have given their time for the handicapped. Together with DRD, we want to ensure Viet Nam's disabled community can enjoy a life that resembles the rest of the community," he says.
Shin Ju Hwa, representing the South Korean consulate in HCM City, says the project has promoted co-operation between the two countries. "I really believe this project will improve the rights and benefits of the handicapped," says he.
For Nguyen Ngoc Huyen, a handicapped lawyer, the taxi service marks an important turning point in his life. "All of them are skilled drivers. Sitting behind them makes me feel secure and I sympathise for them. The road is bumpy with many obstacles for three-wheeled vehicle drivers. I really welcome this project," he says.
Three-wheel motorbikes have been a popular addition to the selection of the handicapped's transportation, but few can afford the modifications to motorbikes to turn it into a three-wheeler.
Still, the results speak for themselves, according to Director Yen.
"The motorbike allows them to travel where they want to go. To socialise and make their own contributions to society". — VNS