“Being able to move freely is crucial to being healthy. And that's true for the elderly too,” says Boniface Gasper of Magics NGO.

Kochi NGO to launch senior taxi giving elderly freedom to travel
news Senior welfare Saturday, June 16, 2018 - 18:34

“Being able to move freely is crucial to being healthy,” says Boniface Gasper, the secretary of Kochi-based Magics NGO. “This holds true for the elderly also. Unfortunately though, our cities do not make it very easy for them to move around.”

Magics, a three-year-old NGO, works in the areas of geriatric health (both mental and physical) and senior welfare. And under their initiative called ‘Age Friendly City’, they plan to launch ‘senior taxis’, exclusively for Kochi’s elderly.

Boniface tells TNM that Magics has been speaking to the elderly as well as taxi drivers in the Maradu municipality in Ernakulam for the last few months to find out the issues that were preventing seniors from moving freely. 

“We found that they were wary of unfriendly drivers. The drivers they had encountered were often inconsiderate and impatient, which prevented them from commuting on their own,” Boniface reveals.

Similarly they also spoke to drivers, whose issues with ferrying the elderly were that they were slow, would try to haggle, but most of all – they were afraid of emergency situations. What if something were to happen to their elderly passenger during the ride and the responsibility fell on them?

Realising that there was a communication gap between the two parties, Magics set out on a mission to make taxis and other private transportation more accessible to the elderly.

How senior taxi will work

To begin with, senior taxi will be a voluntary service – taxi drivers who own cars will be trained in dealing with the elderly. They will also be given basic life support training by a certified medical professional who will allow them to practice on mannequins.

“This will boost their confidence and make them feel capable of taking care of the elderly passengers even in emergency situations. We have also prepared a module on geriatric psychology which will be explained to the drivers in layperson terms,” Boniface shares.

Training for basic life support

Further, the marketing will essentially happen through word of mouth. “This is our own project and we do not have external funding. This prevents us from developing and maintaining an app. So we are going to rely on word of mouth to popularise the senior taxi. Hopefully, if one senior citizen likes the service, they will share the contact of a senior friendly driver in their circles,” Boniface says.

Further, they are also training a six member team in all of the 73 Kochi wards, which would include an ASHA worker, a Kudumbasree worker, Anganwadi teachers, a senior volunteer and a youth volunteer who will encourage other service providers to be senior-friendly. This team will also help popularise the senior taxi through word of mouth.

Senior taxi, Boniface states, is only one of the initiatives under ‘Age Friendly City’. “We are also holding training sessions with bus conductors, local plumbers and electricians so that an elderly person does not have to think twice before requesting for repairs at home, security, or taking public transport. We are also looking to make headway into making tourism more senior friendly,” he says.

A successful pilot, and vision for the future

This is not the first time that Magics is attempting something like this – they had a pilot for ‘senior taxi’ in Ernakulam about a year ago. And while the service was much appreciated, because it was a voluntary programme, the number of drivers they had (about 28-29), was much lesser than they would ideally have liked.

Boniface says that their work to launch senior taxi in Kochi has the support of the city corporation as well, and should be officially up and running in about 3-4 months.

The Chairperson for Kochi Corporation’s Standing Committee for Welfare told TNM that they have been in the process of envisaging elderly-friendly projects and that the taxi service, in collaboration with Magics, is one such project. “Magics has identified elderly people living alone in all divisions of the corporation through a survey. We have identified 150 auto and taxi drivers in total who have been trained for the last two months,” he said.

“The elderly citizens can call the drivers when in need. The drivers are selected on the basis of their good track record and willingness to be part of the scheme,” Sabu added.

“But since it’s a voluntary service with 150 drivers identified so far, it would come up to 1-2 drivers per ward. But ideally we’d like to have 10-15 drivers in each of the wards in Kochi,” Boniface says.

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