A cab service for the disabled

A cab service for the disabled

But funds crunch stalls an entrepreneur's dream

A cab service for the disabled

Millions of differently-abled Indians are technically qualified with the necessary skills to be employable.

But most remain jobless since there are no vehicles to take them. A Bengalurean’s effort to bridge this glaring gap with a fleet of vans modified to accommodate wheelchairs has been grounded for long. Reason: No one wants to fund this initiative, even if the brains behind it is a startup activator himself.

The irony can’t be starker: Wheelchair-bound V Shakthi has been an inspiration for dozens of startups, linking them up with venture capitalists and startup activators. But he has been struggling to realise his vision for five years. Shakthi commutes in a modified cab, a prototype of sorts that could be replicated.

Shakthi explained the rationale behind a modified cab service: “Forty-eight per cent of the estimated 20 million differently- abled people in the country have the necessary skill sets needed to land a job. There are not even 100 of them employed across Bengaluru. Even the employed are stuck at one level, they never go up. Potential employers are ready if this commute issue is addressed.”

But modification is a costly affair. “If the vehicle cost is Rs 7 lakh, you ought to spend another Rs 6 lakh configuring it to accommodate three to four wheelchairs. Add the cost of engaging a driver who is sensitive to the needs of the disabled, maintenance and fuel, and it gets heftier,” said Shakthi. The total cost per vehicle could exceed Rs 12 lakh.

The project plan is modest: A fleet of two to three vehicles, which could be scaled up later. But no one wants to invest the Rs 25 lakh required to get it going. Investors, said Shakthi, insist on a mobile-first, app-based version. Some have even declared it impractical without giving it a thought. Others say it is a service line and not worth an investment.

Undaunted, Shakthi wants to go ahead even if it means hard self-financing. “Even if it takes five to six years, I want to do it for the differently-abled but skilled people,” said the man, who is also the most followed differently-abled Indian on the Internet. He has 1.65 lakh Twitter followers.

Buildings and public infrastructure in Bengaluru are notoriously inaccessible to the disabled. Footpaths, bus stops and other public spaces pose mounting challenges to the visually challenged and the physically disabled. Access audits have repeatedly drawn attention to these glaring lacunae with little effect.