Accessible Living in Hong Kong
Wheelchair rehabilitation transport isn’t something you would necessarily think you’d need but when retiree Betty Liu sought out these services she found there was practically none in her City. Specifically, affordable ones and seeing most cars have difficulty fitting and providing transportation for wheelchairs users, taxis included, Liu decided this was her calling.
She founded Kissing Rehabilitation Service Limited, a WheelChair transportation service to provide more affordable options, to support those like her father, who was left paralysed after a stroke, to get around easier and safer.
For the past year protests in Hong Kong have morphed into broader anti-government demonstrations that have resulted in many violent clashes between protesters and the police.
This devastating effect has not only divided the country as a whole but has piled pressure on existing economic strains. Tourists and citizens are avoiding the dangerous territories causing many businesses to struggle affecting the stock market and economy. With no end to the unrest in sight, it has pushed Hong Kong to the brink of the first recession in over a decade (CNBC, 2019).
Hong Kong is also one of the highest cost of living regions in the world, it is only getting more expensive. One of the constant issues for new businesses is to cover startup costs and a significant part of any income is then being used to pay rent.
There will be over 2 million elderly people in Hong Kong over the next 10 years. This means the older population are having to work even harder to provide a living and look after their own welfare. The demand for wheelchair accessibility is growing and Liu hopes more will enter this market as the demands for her services pick up.
We caught up with Betty Liu to understand more about her unique services and what drives her business forward.
Interview kindly translated by Kat Wong
1.What inspired you to become a taxi driver for people with disabilities?
Our grandpa needed to use a wheelchair but there was a lack of wheelchair support services in the market, so I can understand the difficulties of wheelchair users. I got the taxi license after I retired, and started to provide services to wheelchair users. I have come into contact with different wheelchair services providers and halls, and my business has then started to grow.
2. What made you decide to be self-employed? What was the process like?
I have kept in touch with many wheelchair users during work. Some of them are having financial difficulties but I am not able to lower the price due to the high rental fee. I have decided to pick one day in a week to be a volunteer. My friends and passengers have encouraged me to get my own taxi license, so that I don’t need to be controlled by others and able to help more people.
3. How did you know there was an opportunity in the market for your type of business? Were/are there many competitors?
There will be over 2 million elderly people in Hong Kong in the future decade. New generation being less means that we have to work hard for ourselves.
I hope more people will join our industry in the future 10 years to help each other.
The demand of our industry is very high.
4. How has COVID-19 and the mass political protests affected your business?
The COVID-19 and protesting in Hong Kong does currently affect my business. I obtained my license in July last year and I didn’t have any business at that time. I have to pay all the costs myself. However, the government has also supported our industry in the short term.
5. What’s the most enjoyable part of your job and why?
I enjoy my rehabilitation transport work very much. I always think my passengers are my friends.
There was a special case about travelling with Parkinson’s disease patient. I have learnt a lot about the disease afterwards.
Parkinson’s disease medicine is very effective but the side effect is unpredictable before the drug is taking effect, such as having a fit or drooling. I was afraid when I first met a gentleman with Parkinson’s disease, as I could only comfort and accompany him. However, we became friends after that trip, and he also helped me to obtain my taxi license. This was a very special experience for me.
6. In Hong Kong, is self-employment/owning an independent business popular?
What is it like compared to people who are in full-time employment?
Running a rehabilitation transport business is flexible compared with a full-time job. I can do what I love to do, and meet my friends every waking morning. I am happy to help them. If this is full-time employment I won’t be able to help others freely.
Self-employment takes more time and effort than a full-time employment, as it’s a 24 hours business. Patients need to travel at different times, it can be from 6am to 11pm. I might have a break in between. Usually people need us in the afternoon, as they doctor appointments.
7. Do you have any advice or guidance for people starting up their own business?
You have to be very interested in what you want to do and do it happily. Once you enjoy it you will study it and understand it, and become an expert. People will appreciate your professionalism. To be successful you have to firstly enjoy your job. I can’t say I am a very successful person yet, but at least I love what I am doing every day.
“To be successful you have to firstly enjoy your job. I can’t say I am a very successful person yet, but at least I love what I am doing every day.”
8. How did you grow your rehabilitation transport business? How did you attract clients?
Breaking even is hard. I have to promote myself. I hope people would donate their cars and let me manage them, as I am able to understand more about elderly homes and disabilities. My plan is to let the public know my company and the need for rehabilitation transport services.
9. What has been the most challenging part of your job so far and how did you overcome it?
As spoken before such as the Parkinson’s disease case, there are a lot more challenges. The patients are the most important thing. Patient’s families work very hard as carers and at times they can be bad mannered and rude to me as a rehabilitation transport driver, but I have to acknowledge and accept it.
10. What future projects do you have planned?
I hope to help wheelchair users as mentioned above. There are not a lot of these types of taxi services in Hong Kong.
I wish the society can develop a community for the people in need, with hospitals and recreation facilities. So, elderly residents can apply to living in it.
If there are hospital services in the area for the people in need, then they don’t need to travel far for a doctor, and hence the demand for taxis will decrease and there will be fewer cars in our city.
You can connect with Kissing Transportation Services:
Photo by Victoria
Interview conducted by Anthea Wong
Translated by Kat Wong