Wheelchair users in Hong Kong will be able to ride in specially designed taxis from January. The Diamond Cab, a wheelchair-friendly taxi manufactured in Japan, will be introduced by Social Ventures Hong Kong (SVHK), a venture philanthropy organisation. Barrier-free taxi services will begin with a fleet of five taxis but their operation will be confined to Kowloon at first. Services will be extended to the New Territories if the trial is successful. Wheelchair users can enter the taxi through an adjustable ramp at the rear of the car. A 24-hour call centre will be set up to take bookings. SVHK executive director Doris Leung Shuk-yi said they had teamed up with several taxi owners and homes for the elderly to set up the social enterprise. SVHK is a subsidiary of the non-profit 30s Group, a group of young professionals founded in 2003. Leung said the taxi services would be charged on a meter but that the charges, which had not been finalised, would be higher than those for ordinary taxis. The petrol-fuelled taxis will also be available for hire at a specified rate set by the enterprise. 'While the social enterprise hopes to achieve its social mission of providing barrier-free transport for wheelchair-bound people, it will operate in accordance with commercially prudent principles,' Leung said. The taxis will give priority to the wheelchair-bound but they will also pick up ordinary customers. 'Apart from their special design, their operation will be no different from ordinary taxis on the streets,' Leung said. Joseph Ngai, a director of SVHK, said it would not be commercially viable for the social enterprise to provide taxi services for wheelchair-bound people at a below-market rate. 'Instead, we are looking for companies to sponsor people to ride on the taxis,' he said. There were 41,100 people requiring a wheelchair in Hong Kong as of late 2008. They are served by about 130 rehabilitation buses and vans, but bookings have to be made up to three months in advance. Disabled passengers can travel by bus and MTR, but not all buses are equipped with the necessary low floor and some MTR stations still have no lift. In an attempt to make the plan more financially sound, the taxis will display advertisements put up by sponsors. The adverts will be designed by disabled artists. 'We have received positive responses from many companies who believe displaying advertisements on our taxis will add value to their brands,' Leung said. Executive councillor Ronald Arculli, one of SVHK's supporters who acted as an adviser on the Diamond Cab project, believed it would be commercially viable.