Bike taxis of disabled vroom around Chennai

By Bhavani Prabhakar Published on Aug 03, 2018 01:26 PM IST

Take a ride around the city with Maa Ulaa team that is entirely run by differently-abled persons.

Chennai: It is half past nine at night and amid the chaotic traffic, Mohammed Gaddaffe is seen waiting on his converted two-wheeler outside Chennai Central railway station.

A man walks up to him, ignores the cabs and taxis, and hops on to the pillion seat of the bike which has the legend 'Maa Ulaa Bike Taxi'.

The auto drivers and cab drivers present at the scene despise Gaddaffe and wait for their turn to take revenge.

News Today takes a ride with Gaddaffe while he narrates the story of the bike taxi service and introduces Balaji, the founder.

"Maa stands for Maatru Thiranaligal, translating to differently-abled in English," says Gaddaffe. Started in 2016, Maa Ula bike taxi is a service organisation run by the physically challenged community in the city.

When Balaji, the founder, a differently-abled himself, was on a job hunt, he realised that he was offered a position purely on humanitarian grounds. Despite hardship, he got placed in an IT company.

"I have worked with IT companies and advertising agencies, I was not given any work since I'm physically challenged. I felt I was being paid for the work I was not doing. My conscience hit me hard, so, I quit," says Balaji.

Balaji and Mohammed Gaddaffe - core members of Maa Ulaa Bike Taxi

The graduate found it difficult to survive in the city with meagre salary. He began contemplating about the plight of other such people and came up with the idea of a bike taxi service.

"When I was riding my two-wheeler, I happened to see my yoga teacher and decided to give him a lift. While getting down, he gave me Rs 20 and thanked me for helping him reach his destination on time. That is how I came up with the concept of us, differently-abled persons, running a taxi service," recalls Balaji.

Soon after this idea struck him, Balaji experimented for six months. Initially, people were afraid to get on to the bike, and he took a year-and-a-half to publicise the service - now it is a 23-member team who live in different parts of the city.

Maa Ulaa bike taxi drivers operate out of Beach, Parry's, Egmore, Central, Koyambedu, Guindy, Mudichur, Tambaram, Ennore and Vadapalani.

Having known each other for 18 years, Gaddaffe encouraged the idea that Balaji proposed.

Gaddaffe, who was working as a history professor at Presidency College was out due to the revised UGC regulations and has been a part of Maa Ulaa since.

Talking about the initial days as a bike taxi driver, Gaddaffe says, "There were days when the customers did not trust us. They would enquire and even asked for a copy of my Aadhaar card. But gradually, we regulated our service and were able to build a set of regular customers."

Despite the odds, the drivers are considered to be competition for other forms of private transport cabs and autos - as they charge only Rs 10 per km even during peak hours and at night. Most of the drivers work during night, between 10 pm and 5 am.

"The USP of our bike taxi is the fixed charges that has earned us 300 loyal customers. Though the base charge is just Rs 10, every one of us earns around Rs 18,000 per month which not even corporate companies will pay us. We feel contented that we are paid for the work we do," adds Gaddaffe with a smile.

While it is evident that this unique concept is catching up in the city, the drivers have also been getting offers from corporates and taxi services to partner but they have chosen to remain independent.

Talking about the expansion, Balaji says, "There have been a lot of requests from eight districts in the State. We were confused about how to go about it. Recently, there was a job fair for differently-abled people in Tirunelveli and we got around 25 applications."

"We have a coordinator in Tirunelveli who has taken up the responsibility of selecting the areas and drivers. Gradually, we plan to take it up in other seven districts from there," adds Gaddaffe.

While the team is planning to branch out to other remote districts; in Chennai, Maa Ulaa plans to teem up with small food outlets and grocery shops for door delivery.

For those who wish to enrol as driver in Maa Ulaa, there are some ground rules, but they are basic and simple. "In terms of enrolling as drivers, we expect them to have a two-wheeler of their own. They must know driving and have a licence to ride," says Balaji, founder of Maa Ulaa bike taxi service.

What about timing? It is flexible. "They can work whenever they find it convenient, but most of them have chosen to do night shifts," adds Balaji. "We do not impose hard and fast rules to join us," he asserts.