Heartless In The City

The Star - January 8, 2006
The Star – January 8, 2006

The headlines in today’s The Star screamed “Heartless In The City.” Chief Reporter M. Krishnamoorthy, spent one day on a wheelchair, trying to hail taxis in various part of Kuala Lumpur.

The article was sparked off by a letter from a reader in Penang. It was a heart-wrenching account of how difficult it was for him, who is *wheelchair-bound (sic), to get a taxi to stop.

This is what The Star’s M. Krishnamoorthy together with journalism trainee Vincent Tan and photographer Low Lay Phon discovered when Krishnamorthy posing as disabled person on a wheelchair tried to hail taxis at Kl Sentral, Bukit Bintang, Kota Raya and Salak South:

Only one in 12 taxis that I tried to flag down stopped for someone in a wheelchair. The others just drove by.

All in all, I tried to flag down almost 60 taxis. Only five taxi drivers stopped to ask where I wanted to go.

Of the five, two tried to swindle me.

This is all very true. There are taxi drivers who discriminate and there are the devious few who make the other honest and hardworking cabbies look bad. If in Kuala Lumpur, where there are thousands of taxis plying the roads, getting a taxi is such a big problem, imagine how it would be like for wheelchair users in other parts of the country to move around where there are less taxis.

Ahmad Yahaya, A. Raj and Wong Kam Sang are proof that not all taxi drivers are heartless. They are the few who have no qualms in picking up passengers using wheelchairs. Ahmad’s words were especially heart-warming:

“I always stop and pick up disabled people because they are special people.

In fact, I make it a point to look out for the disabled because I am fortunate to be able to walk and drive a taxi.

Therefore, it is my duty to take anyone who wants to ride in my taxi.

When I see a disabled person, I am thankful and grateful to serve that person.

I can take you anywhere you want to go, and even buy the coupon for you from the counter.”

In Penang, do not expect the taxi drivers to use the meters. Do not even attempt to hop into one before asking about the fare. They usually charge RM10 for short distances. Ask them to use the meter and expect to get dirty looks and nasty replies. Other modes of public transportation are in shambles, as admitted by Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Khoon. Imagine how difficult it is for a disabled person in Penang to go out. This is reflected by Yeap Chin Chunya, a web designer, and Tan Kuan Aw, Deputy President of the Society of Disabled Persons Penang in the same report. Both are the few advocating accessibility and transportation for people with disabilities in Penang.

At the moment, there is only one group in the Klang Valley catering to the transportation needs of people with disabilities. Mobiliti, an association based in Petaling Jaya, charges RM3 per trip for their door-to-door transport service. They have three vans fitted with hydraulic lifts and wheelchair restraint systems. One van can usually accomodate three wheelchairs. Reservation is usually needed as the service is fully booked many days in advance.

Other organisations and institutions serving people with disabilities have lift-equipped vans or buses. However these vehicles are limited to the use of their own members or inmates only and are not open to the public. Unless the government takes the initiative to draw up a public transportation masterplan that includes the needs of people with disabilities, this problem will go on and prevent many in the disabled community from becoming contributing members of society and lead meaningful lives.

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The following are todays articles from The Star.

Disabled, ignored and exploited

WHEN our local taxi drivers see a disabled person trying to flag them down, more often than not, they turn a blind eye.

“If you are a disabled person, chances are you will go unnoticed in Kuala Lumpur”, is what the disabled have been telling the media and friends.

We put this to the test to gauge whether cabbies are sensitive to the needs of the disabled.

I went undercover in a wheelchair around the city for four hours. And I found out … Yes! Taxi drivers pretend that a disabled person in a wheelchair does not exist. They look the other way.

Only one in 12 taxis that I tried to flag down stopped for someone in a wheelchair. The others just drove by.

All in all, I tried to flag down almost 60 taxis. Only five taxi drivers stopped to ask where I wanted to go.

Of the five, two tried to swindle me.

“If I take you to Kajang, I will have to return empty. So I have to charge you both ways. One way is RM30, so the fare is RM60,” said one.

Another cabbie at the Bintang Walk, stopped and ogled at a foreign tourist and boasted that he had made love to almost all nationalities who were his passengers in the past 12 years.

He went on for 10 minutes and then parted with a word of caution: “Tell all your friends not to let their daughters marry a taxi driver.”

My undercover work started at 10am when The Star van dropped me off at the Hilton Hotel car park, and I tried to wheel myself across to the taxi stand at KL Sentral.

A policeman who saw me struggling rushed over and helped me across the road dividers.

There were about 10 taxis waiting in single file for passengers. I tried to hail them but they ignored me.

Of the 23 taxis I tried to stop at KL Sentral, only two stopped to ask where I wanted to go.

Ahmad Yahaya, 43, said he was willing to take me to Kajang.

“If you wait here, I will go and get you a coupon and I can take you to Kajang.”

“Can my wheelchair fit in your taxi?” I asked him, and he said, “No problem. I have taken wheelchair-bound passengers before.

“It is my duty to take anyone who wants to go in a taxi. Thank you for stopping me and asking me to give you a ride,” he said.

Ahmad was a helpful taxi driver and I could see his enthusiasm in wanting to help a disabled person.

In contrast, the majority of taxi drivers ignored the disabled. Many of them pretended to talk on the mobile phone, covered their face behind a newspaper or just ignored me and drove away.

My next stop was the Kota Raya bus stand.

Just like the taxi drivers at KL Sentral, the cabbies here did not look at me.

However, one taxi driver responded.

As he walked towards me, he asked me: “Where do you want to go?”

I said: “Rawang”.

“Okay! But it will cost you double.”

I asked him why and his reply was the same as the earlier taxi driver.

After lunch, I sat patiently by the main road next to the Salak South post office and of the nine taxis I tried to stop, only one did.

The driver, Wong Kam Sang, 67, was prepared to take me. But because I was supposedly heading to Rawang, he apologised for not being able to do so as he had a prior appointment in 20 minutes.

I told him I understood and appreciated the fact that he cared enough to stop.

The rain came soon after and it was time to call it a day.

Despite the bleak conclusion about how heartless the city is with regard to the transport needs of the disabled, I saw a ray of hope in people like Wong and Ahmad.

Reliant on regular cabby

PENANG: Wheelchair-bound Yeap Chin Chunya only leaves his apartment in Jalan Bagan Jermal a few times a month because of difficulty using public transport.

When he does need to go out, Yeap, 42, will call his regular taxi driver, Ah Guan, or a taxi company named Ticcom Agency.

“Many cabbies won’t take people in wheelchairs because they don’t know how to handle us and are afraid of us.

“When I call a taxi company, I must first let them know my condition as I will need to be carried into the taxi. It is up to them whether to take me,” said Yeap, a web designer for the Society for Disabled Persons Penang.

Society for Disabled Persons Penang deputy president Tan Kuan Aw, 52, said although there are taxi drivers who are helpful to the disabled, it was still expensive for the disabled to depend on taxis all the time.

“Buses in Penang are unsuitable for the wheelchair-bound. It is unthinkable to even try (using them),” said Tan.

Access a big problem

PETALING JAYA: The biggest problem disabled Malaysians face more than anything else is accessibility to public transportation.

“That is the one reason why disabled Malaysians are mostly jobless,” said Anthony Thanasayan (pictured here with his guide dog, Soolam), an advocate for the disabled who writes the weekly column Wheel Power in The Star.

“Even when a kind soul out there is willing to offer a disabled person a job, there is just no way for him to get there in time or even get there at all,” he added.

Public transport facilities like the LRT are disabled-friendly but getting to the various stations still require, in most cases, a taxi.

“Even if one does stop, the driver will try to take advantage of the situation because they know just how vulnerable we are,” he said.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

11 thoughts on “Heartless In The City”

  1. honestly, i haven’t read the morning paper yet. thank god with technology, i don’t have to waste RM1+ for a paper. then again, im shocked to know that not many taxis would be willing to serve diabled people. i guess its no longer a huge shocker especially when they too highlighted about young people being selfish and never gave their seats to the old, the pregnant nor the diabled. perhaps, Malaysians no longer nourished the ‘budi bahasa tanggungjawab bersama’ in their daily lifes anymore.

    i think the reason why the taxi drivers refused to help them is because they have their own personal experience wif such group of unfortunates and they simply tend to serve ‘normal’ customers more than the unfortunated ones.

  2. How heartless can another human being be? How low can we stood some more?….Sad to see this on our front page…

  3. I always stop and pick up disabled people because they are special people.

    This is really heart-warming. For the rest of the heartless ones, I can only sigh. By the way, I realized a wheel chair can fit in a Proton Iswara Aeroback only after knowing you. 🙂

  4. 1 in 12 taxi drivers stopped for this journalist. My friend, who uses a wheelchair also quoted the almost the same in 2000, he said 1 in 10 stopped for him. He had to ask an able bodied friend to flag taxis for him. I am not surprise that the taxi drivers asked for more money. You see, usually the taxi driver don’t have to get out of the cab to help other passengers, and the taxi don’t have to stall for 5 minutes while you load the wheelchair. It’s all economics. Times two when you disembark,so that amounts to 10-15 minutes wasting, right? The taxi driver could have earned another 10 ringgit somewhere else, no need to carry heavy wheelchair some more …

  5. Hi Peter,

    I saw you at Midvalley two days back, at Secret Recipe. I was seated a few tables away, too shy to come up and say hi. =P

  6. Until this society learns what it means to be civic-minded, we will never be developed. We could have all the high-rises and all the technology, unless that one factor changes, we remain trapped in a third-world mentality.

  7. chengsim,
    Those that did not stop… well… what can I say? Uncaring? People with disabilities still have a long way to go to achieve equality in life judging from this report.


    My wheelchair can also fit into Wira’s boot without disassembling the wheels and footrests.

    One more thing… taxis now must come equipped with an NGV tank in the boot. The boot with a wheelchair in it cannot be closed. I had to use a drenched wheelchair a few times when we were caught in the rain.

    No need to be shy. Next time then…

    Many people still help a disabled person out of pity, so they said. Is that better than ignoring us?

  8. Perhaps it is comforting to know that Malaysian taxi drivers are heartless not only to the disabled but they are equally heartless to the able bodied too. As Penangites we know how our taxis never ever use their meters. It cost me RM38 for a trip from the airport to my house in Island Glades. When I expressed consternation at the exorbitant fare, the moron commented that “orang kaya” shouldn’t complain about the fare!

  9. virgorat,
    It is a fact that Penang cabbies having been taking their passengers for a ride for far too long. Nothing has been done to stop this form of daylight robbery. We have to suffer, have been suffering for decades, because the authorities refuse to act.

  10. I got this point from a UK egroup discussion on accessibility issues.
    Taxi drivers would need to undergo a training after recieving their licenses after 6 months, and that the Disability Awareness Training is funded by an increase in the license paid for: Quote –
    ” 1.It is a condition on all licenses that the driver undergoes this training within six months of receiving their licence. 2.The training is funded through an increase in the taxi driver
    licence. ”
    So who will monitor the taxi drivers? I assume that the law itself does that, and disabled passengers can bring to court the companies or drivers.
    Because they have the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) and Bill enforced since 2004, this is able to happen. Food for your thoughts.

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