Street Talk: Doris Leung, Diamond Cab founder
Doris Leung is the founder and CEO of Diamond Cab, a social venture dedicated to helping wheelchair-bound people get around the city. She tells Adrienne Chum about the inspiration behind the company, tricking out her taxis and singing karaoke with customers.
HK Magazine: What inspired you to start Diamond Cab?
Doris Leung: My mom. She couldn’t move on her own, so had to be carried into a car. I discovered that lots of people used regular taxis, NGO buses and illegal vans meant for supply transport but modified to carry a wheelchair, which often operate without a license.
HK: Why’d you choose to focus on taxis?
DL: At the time, there really weren’t many options for wheelchair-bound people. Taxis seemed like the most workable solution: they have the most licenses for public transport, and run from one specific point to another, just like a private car. So I finally decided that the taxi industry needed a change.
HK: On average, how many customers does Diamond Cab get a day?
DL: Right now we have five cars, and a sixth that’s being repaired. Each car gets an average of 13 orders every day. The drivers depend on this job to pay their bills, so they also accept regular street customers and charge the usual meter amount.
HK: What’s so special about the cabs?
DL: They are made in Japan, where there’s an aging population, and specifically made for this market. After the car arrives we just change some of the features so it’s like a Hong Kong taxi: We paint it red and add a meter, cash box and light. Otherwise, everything else is the original design from Japan. The government was okay with it, because we didn’t modify the original design too much.
HK: How do you find drivers?
DL: Normal taxi drivers sit in their seats for 10 hours a day. If you suddenly ask them to get out of their cars to do things, they find it bothersome, so getting a regular driver is extremely hard. We’ve been lucky, though, to work with Integrated Vocational Training Center, which has a taxi driving course. Even though 30 applied for the job, I chose the ones who were in it for the cause. They know that this is slow work and that they provide a special service. Our driver turnover rate is pretty much zero.
HK: How can you tell if the driver is cut out for the job?
DL: See if they have patience. If they don’t even have patience for me, how can they have the patience to secure the wheelchairs of the elderly? There is so much more work to this operation: They have to get out, help the passenger, and fasten safety straps and seatbelts. The financial risk is high, as my drivers have
to cover their own expenses if they are at fault in an accident—which means they have to enjoy the work to be able to accept the risks.
HK: What’s the best thing you’ve learned while doing this?
DL: I discovered that the elderly love karaoke: Some love to sing, others to move to the music. We put on something called Diamond Leisure, which provides a different activity every month. Once we went to a selfie studio, another time we did shabu shabu. It helps the elderly homes because transportation is taken care of, and the elderly think of these evening parties as adventures.
Learn more or book a ride at www.diamondcab.com.hk.