In a country where a job is difficult to come by for differently-abled people, few of these men and women decided to make a difference by starting a bike taxi service in Chennai- Ma Ulaa.
‘Maa’ is for ‘maatru thirunaaligal’ meaning ‘differently abled’ and ‘ula’ translates to ‘journey’– which means ‘a journey with the differently-abled’.
In a conversation with Life Beyond Numbers, members of Maa Ulaa spoke to us about their hopes, struggles and with the staunch belief that something good always comes out of something terrible.
The idea took shape when the founder of this bike-taxi service K Balaji was aided along by his friend and co-founder Mohammad Gadaffi, who gave the service its name- Maa Ulaa.
In the beginning, Balaji had to use stickers, posters to alert people about Maa Ulaa bike-taxi service but now they have a loyal fan base in the city. What made this one stand out from other transportation services is that this one was completely operated by the specially-disabled people.
It was K Balaji (36) who gave up his job of making power-point presentations in a small company and kept himself busy by riding to meditation classes in the evening. One thing he hated was people sympathizing and pitying him for being differently-abled.
While dropping Ramalingam, a teacher after the class every day, he casually suggested that why not drop other people too, for a fare? Since then there was no looking back and Balaji, even though he felt awkward in the beginning while asking someone if they wanted a ride, he got a purpose to look forward in life.
“I asked the man to hop over the bike taxi but didn’t know how much to charge but on reaching the destination, he gave me Rs.20. This motivated me to move forward,” says Balaji.
Currently, there are 30 bike-taxi drivers in Chennai and 25 drivers in Tirunelveli who are associated with Maa Ulaa. They charge Rs.25 for the first two kilometers and Rs.10 per kilometer beyond that. While the base fare remains same, the night charges are Rs.15 per kilometer. According to the figures mentioned on their website, on an average, the drivers can earn Rs.25,000 per month.
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One of the bike taxi drivers T. Alagurajan (26) says, “People prefer riding with us because we charge pocket-friendly fares. At times, tourists who come to the city enjoy the view while they travel through the city. We also provide door-step service as well.”
He continues, “In the beginning, there were clashes with auto-rickshaw drivers as their revenue was getting affected and they considered us as their competitors but knowing more about this initiative has solved that issue and now even they encourage this idea.”
Even popular app-based cab service like Ola and Vroom, a bike-sharing service have approached them but the members have come a long way and want to keep it simple and pocket-friendly for their customers. That doesn’t mean they are not upgrading themselves.
Currently, they are in talks with the developers to help them build an app and reach out to more people. “We are planning to launch it next month and spread across more districts of the state,” adds Alagurajan.
Gadaffi who until recently taught History in Presidency College has started looking out for more young men to be recruited for their bike-taxi service. According to Balaji, this is the first-ever bike taxi service run by specially-abled people in the country.
This wonderful initiative by the specially-abled people tells us a lot about the tenacity and grit with which a human mind can work.
Wishing Maa Ulaa team all the best for their future endeavors!