For Preeti Singh, who has cerebral palsy, booking a ride through an online cab service often ends up being a traumatic experience. Recently, the driver of a cab she booked called her wheelchair ‘heavy luggage’ and refused to allow her to keep it in the car. He eventually agreed, but only after an argument. “This has happened so many times… it takes a toll on my mental health. It is outright discrimination, but every time I take it up with cab aggregators, I get a weak apology,” said Singh.
Nipun Malhotra, whose petition against the Delhi Transport Corporation’s procurement of 1,000 standard floor buses — instead of low-floor buses that are wheelchair accessible — is currently being heard in court, pointed out that while services like Ezymov and Kickstart in Mumbai and Bengaluru respectively provide cabs accessible to persons with disabilities, Delhi does not have any such service.
“The cabs have CNG tanks so there’s no place to stow a wheelchair in the boot. The only option is to keep it inside the car, but drivers complain that their seats might get damaged. It’s all too common for drivers in the city to cancel rides with disabled persons… there should be a clause which disallows that,” said Malhotra.
Sources said an accessible cab should, at the bare minimum, possess a ramp and sufficient space for wheelchair entry and storage. Popular cab aggregators Ola and Uber did not respond to questions by The Indian Express on why they haven’t introduced such a service in the city. Meenu Bhambhani, the head of CSR at Mphasis, is working with Uber to launch a fleet of 50 retrofitted vehicles for wheelchair accessibility in Bengaluru.
“While the Motor Vehicles Act permits disabled persons to modify their vehicles, the regulation disallowing any change to the basic eternal structure of the vehicle is prohibitive. The roof of a car needs to be sufficiently high to accommodate a wheelchair. Our proposals to use cars like Xylos with heightened roofs for the fleet were rejected. The car which we had to settle for was the Tata Winger, which costs more than Rs 10 lakh. The hydraulic ramp and ratchets to fasten the wheelchair need to be imported and are also quite expensive.
With the luxury GST on these items, the expenses come up to around Rs 25 lakh per vehicle. Which cab aggregator would pay that much to accommodate disabled persons?” said Bhambhani, adding that not a single car manufacturer produces disabled-accessible cars for the Indian market, and that they have no incentive to do so. “Apart from removing the prohibitive clause, perhaps the new Motor Vehicles Act pending in Parliament could mandate manufacturers to provide affordable, accessible cars in limited numbers at least,” she said.