Wheels of fortune and freedom
Doris Leung found it so difficult to travel around Hong Kong with her wheelchair-bound mother that she decided to take matters into her own hands. Out of sheer frustration, she set up her own taxi company, Diamond Cab (HK), and now has a fleet of five wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
But mobilising the city's disabled community was not as easy as Leung had hoped. Her first problem was finding the right type of cars.
'I couldn't find any model of vehicle that suited my need in Hong Kong, so I had to contact Toyota in Japan and request five tailor-made cabs,' she says.
The Hong Kong taxi industry was also a source of irritation. 'It was like mission impossible trying to change the existing norm of the taxi industry. Most people in the industry put profit in first place. To provide a cab service for people in need seemed like a weird and crazy idea to them,' she says.
While many taxi operators rejected Leung's idea, she eventually found a like-minded partner from within the industry. One of the organisations that now support Diamond Cab is the Hong Kong Physically Handicapped and Able-Bodied Association (PHAB).
Like Leung, PHAB project development manager Patrick Yip has also experienced transportation problems in the city, in particular when planning trips to Hong Kong Disneyland for wheelchair users.
'Before Diamond Cab came into existence, people had to book transport with Rehabus [a travel service provided by the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation],' Yip says. 'But it can be difficult to book, and some people just end up staying home. But now, the appearance of wheelchair-friendly cabs has greatly improved the social life of disabled people.'
Dr Leong Che-hung, chairman of the Elderly Commission, echoes Yip's views. 'The elderly usually have very limited mobility. Diamond Cab enables them to go out and visit their friends or grandchildren. It helps them become more active,' he says.
Another fan is Mrs Lai, who has a severely physically handicapped daughter. Mrs Lai finds Diamond Cab convenient, although she thinks the service is quite pricey.
'I hire Diamond Cab regularly because I need to take my daughter from our home in Kowloon City to Sham Shui Po to have physical therapy. It is necessary to have this kind of service,' she says. 'The only bad thing is the fare is far too high. The trip to Sham Shui Po costs me HK$150. It would be perfect if the fare was a lot cheaper.'
Unlike normal taxis, which use liquefied petroleum gas, Diamond Cab's fleet uses petrol, which raises operating costs by more than 30 per cent. Leong hopes the government will help ease the company's high costs by, for example, offering tax-free petrol.
Leung says she hopes to expand her fleet so she can match the demand from Hong Kong's wheelchair-bound residents, their families and supporters.