Tuesday 22 May 2012

Disabled can get a ride with volunteer drivers

Home-grown firm's app to help address transport woes of the handicapped
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 21 May 2012

PARALYMPIC swimmer Theresa Goh, 25, may be a speed demon in the water, but she still needs some help on land.

That's where a new mobile app, on a two-month test run from today, may come in handy.

Called Ecommuter, the app allows disabled commuters to send requests to private volunteer drivers or drivers from welfare and transport groups when they need a ride.

It was developed by Hapticus, a home-grown Web development start-up, which had partnered the Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA) for the project. During the pilot test, 15 drivers - either private volunteers or drivers from various organisations - and their assigned passengers will try out the app.

'I am looking forward to seeing how this works out. I think it's definitely helpful for the disabled from low-income families or for others to move around more spontaneously,' said Ms Goh.

Hapticus hopes to partner more players in the disabled transport sector beyond the two-month test period. Eventually, it hopes to rope in taxi companies as well, its chief executive Amir Nivy said.

The limited transport options for the disabled came under the spotlight last year when SMRT Taxi said it was withdrawing its fleet of 15 London cabs, which could fit a large wheelchair.

Though the cabs will now be available until March next year, the disabled still face many transport woes - not least of all the lack of specialised taxi services.

The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) is expected to give an update on its plans to work with taxi operators and voluntary welfare organisations (VWO) to offer more specialised transport services to the disabled soon.

Mr Nivy, 35, who developed the app with two other partners, Mr Gideon Simons, 33, and Mr Shay Almog, 42, said his hope is that the app will encourage the disabled to go out more often.

'Because of cost issues and the limited transport options available, many just head to and from their schools, workplaces or medical appointments,' he said.

'We want them to go out to meet their friends and pursue their hobbies without having to plan for transport in advance.'

Companies such as Lenovo and SingTel are supporting the pilot project by sponsoring tablets for the VWO drivers and providing 3G broadband coverage respectively.

Mr David Chang, one of the volunteer drivers in the test run, said the app would make it easier for other drivers to volunteer.

Together with some friends, the 61-year-old businessman has been ferrying a dialysis patient to his medical appointments three times a week for the past two years.

Having personally witnessed how crucial transport services are in enhancing the quality of life, he hopes to help out on a larger scale now.

Since he runs his own manufacturing business, he will be able to find pockets of time during the day to offer the rides.

He said: 'It's easy to volunteer this way as you don't have to commit yourself in advance.

'As long as everyone pitches in to play a small part, the likelihood of the disabled finding a match increases.'

Those interested in participating in the pilot test can contact Hapticus at mailus@hapticus.com

How the app works

ONCE the disabled commuters log onto the app, they can customise their settings to filter their transport options.

For example, a disabled commuter can register himself as using a high-backed wheelchair and a member of HWA. Immediately, he will be able to view available transport services that can accommodate his type of wheelchair and services that are open to him because of his membership.

This feature eliminates the need for the disabled to make separate checks with various transport providers when making a booking.

With the listed options, the disabled commuter can then either send a transport request to a particular provider, or wait for available transport providers to offer the rides. The request can be made in advance or in real time.

Once a match has been made, the app - which runs on a 3G broadband network - shows a map to track the progress of the driver towards the pick-up point.

This allows the commuter to gauge its time of arrival, and so have sufficient time to get to the pick-up point.

With the map feature, the organisations can also track the locations of its various drivers and dispatch the nearest driver should an ad-hoc request come in.

If multiple requests fall within the same route, the organisation can send one driver to pick up several passengers along the way.

The app also makes it more convenient for private volunteers to offer their transport services.

If a person suddenly needs to head to town to run an errand, he can log on to check if any disabled commuter needs a ride.

A rating system allows commuters to give feedback on private volunteers to ensure safety and reliability.

The commuter or driver can also communicate by sending each other messages should the need arise.


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