It's not easy building a company from ground up. And to do it while living with disability seems almost too hard. But Chennai’s Balaji and Mohammad Gadaffi decided to take a chance and not let their disability stop them. And a year later, even they’re pleasantly surprised by how popular their bike taxi service has become.
Yes, you heard that right. Balaji and Gadaffi have successfully created, Maa Ula, Chennai’s first bike taxi service run entirely by persons with disabilities.
It started in January 2016, when Balaji could not find a job after completing his Bachelors in Business Administration. Gadaffi, Balaji’s friend, suggested that he should try starting a bike taxi service and see how profitable it is. “He started the service and in one month, Balaji earned Rs 12000,” says Gadaffi.
From that point on, there has been no looking back for the duo. “Now, we have total of 11 people with disabilities working with us, and everyone is able to earn about Rs 15,000 after spending on petrol,” says Gadaffi.
What’s most interesting about the success of Maa Ula is that it has grown mostly on the back of word-of-mouth, with minimal investment in advertising. “We distributed many pamphlets when we started and we have stuck phone numbers on our bike taxi, people call us through that,” explains Gadaffi.
Gadaffi proudly says that every driver is able to earn a livelihood through their service. Running on a moderate scale in various parts of Chennai, Maa Ula strikes a balance between providing competitive rates and service, and taking care of the needs of its drivers.
“We charge Rs 10 per kilometre in the morning and Rs 13 per kilometre in the night. Half the people work in the morning shift and the rest work in the night shift,” he explains.
What has worked particularly well for them is that a number of customers have turned into regulars. “We have many regular customers including IT people, school children and food delivery people. We also give discounts to elderly people and people with disability,” adds Gadaffi.
But their journey has not always been an easy one, says Gadaffi. “The auto-drivers see us as a competitor and they feel that we are taking away their customers. Whenever we go to the Central Railway Station to drop a customer, a few of the auto-drivers start fighting with us, saying that we do not have permission from the government to drive bike taxis.”
Gadaffi says that much of this trouble could be avoided if the government sanctions permission for them to drive bike taxis. “We had registered our initiative as a travel agency but we want the government to provide us permission to ride taxis,” says Gadaffi.
Despite hiccups, however, Maa Ula is a significant opportunity for its drivers who are unable to find work elsewhere, says Gadaffi. “Even if people with disability are highly educated, they are not given employment by anyone. We have a person with us who has finished his Bachelor in Engineering and is now working with us,” he says.
Gadaffi himself has completed a PhD in History and has worked as a professor in Presidency College as well as at two private firms. While Maa Ula gives him a basic income, he admits, he has to supplement it with other projects. “I usually do night shifts and in the mornings, I try to get some projects to do. We also have to feed our families and pay school fees for our children,” says Gadaffi.
While still a small operation, Gadaffi says that they have bigger plans for Maa Ula. As a first step, a company has come forward to help them create an app for their service. “We are in talks with a company to see if we can create an app. We are planning to start this initiative in other districts also,” he says.