Nivell Rayda, Yogyakarta, Indonesia – As a person stricken with polio since he was a toddler, Triyono knows firsthand how hard it is for people with disabilities in Indonesia to travel to school, work or seek medical attention.
"When I was at school, no bus would stop for me. Moving around is a hassle because the infrastructure is not friendly for differently abled people," the 40-year-old, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told CNA.
According to the Indonesian Health Ministry, there are 3 million people with physical disabilities and 3.4 million visually impaired people.
These people constantly face challenges getting around as buses are not designed to accommodate them while pavements are often non-existent, shoddily built or encroached by private vehicles.
The only viable option is to use a taxi, which can be costly to disabled people who come from a poor background.
As a result, many do not go to school by the time they become too heavy to be carried around by their parents or siblings, hindering their chance of a formal employment.
Many spend much of their teenage and adult life unable to venture beyond the confines of their homes.
"I thought to myself that there needs to be a mean of transportation catering to my friends who use wheelchairs so that they can move freely, be it from home to school, to the hospital or anywhere they choose without the need to get on and off their wheelchairs, which can be exhausting," said Triyono.
Determined to change this, the entrepreneur who switches between using crutches and a wheelchair to move around, started Difa Bike, a motorcycle taxi service catering to people with disabilities in his native city of Yogyakarta in 2014.
Difa Bike began its services a year later and now employs 26 drivers, all of whom are disabled. The company has between 3,000 and 4,000 customers a year.
Although the company is still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, Triyono who started Difa Bike with his own money, has big dreams for the company.
He plans to expand Difa Bike services to other cities across the populous Indonesian islands of Java and Bali.
Difa Bike operates two types of motorcycles, one of which has a flatbed sidecar with foldable ramps designed specifically for people who use wheelchairs so they do not have to get on and off their assistive mobility devices.
The other one has a sidecar with seats and wide doors designed to be easily accessible by people in crutches and the blind.
"Difa Bike has been very helpful for someone in a wheelchair like me. I have to get on and off from my wheelchair when I'm using a taxi. Using the Difa Bike, I can just stay in my wheelchair," Lusi Insiati, 57, told CNA.
The polio-stricken woman said she has been hiring Difa Bike regularly for the past six years.
The service is not only beneficial for the customers but also its disabled drivers who would otherwise be unemployed.
Difa Bike driver Tri Hartanto, who has cerebral palsy and can barely stand up without a walker, spent much of his childhood being carried around on his father's back or driven to school using a motorcycle.
As he got older and heavier, his father could no longer carry him or help him hop onto the motorcycle. As a result, the now 33-year-old did not continue his education after finishing elementary school, killing his chance of ever being formally employed.
Hartanto said for most of his teenage and adult life, he hardly ever ventured outside of his home.
That all changed in 2015, when Hartanto met Triyono, who offered him a chance to join Difa Bike.
"The most rewarding part (about my work) is I get to meet new friends. I get to travel anywhere I please without burdening others. I get to visit tourist attractions in Yogyakarta that I could only imagine going before," Hartanto told CNA.
Difa Bike has been exclusively hiring people with disabilities as its drivers.
"After coming up with the idea, I also realised that the majority of people with disabilities have low education. Many didn't even go to school.
"No one was driving them to school, while public transportation can be costly for them. Which is why it is hard for them to land a formal job," said Triyono.
According to Triyono, Difa Bike proved to be a hit among some 25,000 people with disabilities living in the province of Yogyakarta. The service also attracted able-bodied people, particularly the elderly, pregnant women and women with children.
"Ordinary people use Difa Bike because we offer a three-wheeler, which is safer, more comfortable and roomier than a two-wheeled motorcycle at a price that is much lower than a four-wheeled taxi," he said.
The company charges its customers a flat fee of 2,500 rupiah (US$0.17) per kilometre while app-based ride hailing services charge between 3,500 and 6,000 rupiah depending on location and time of day.
With their services in such high demand, a Difa Bike driver can earn a decent wage, Triyono said. But it was the changes in the quality of life and attitude of the disabled drivers that he found most striking.
"They used to have low self-esteem because they are shunned by society, considered a burden, unable to land a job and stay at home all the time.
"Now, they are more confident because they can now support themselves and their families and feel that they are a productive member of society," added Triyono.
Rising from the ashes
The COVID-19 pandemic and the series of activity restrictions that followed have hit the company hard.
"For the past two years we have been operating at a loss. For six months we didn't have a single customer," said Triyono, adding that during the early days of the pandemic the drivers were seeing their income reduced to zero.
The drivers started to regain some of their income months later when they began delivering food to self-isolating families and taking the disabled people and the elderly to vaccination centres.
There were also those making ends meet as roadside food vendors in between their regular transportation jobs to survive.
Things are getting better now but not yet back to the way it once was.
"Before the pandemic, a driver could transport three to five customers and earn more than 100,000 rupiah a day. Now, they earn around 70,000 rupiah a day," Triyono said.
"It felt like 2014 (when the company started) all over again.
"It's like we are back to square one. We have to rebuild our customers, promote ourselves on social media. But we are slowly getting back on our feet again."
Triyono said Difa Bike is planning on making a big comeback over the next year.
The company is now revamping its app and is in the process of working with one of Indonesia's biggest digital wallet providers to make it easier for customers to book a ride and pay.
"I want to expand Difa Bike to the rest of Java and Bali because there is a big untapped market there.
"To do this, I need to convince an (automotive) manufacturer to start producing disabled-friendly motorcycles. If they are on board, we are ready to procure 3,000 motorcycles," he said.
Triyono said the difficulty in procuring motorcycles that suit Difa Bike's needs has been the single biggest barrier for growth and expansion.
Today, Difa Bike has to spend a lot of money upfront to purchase an ordinary motorcycle and send it to a metal workshop where workers spend weeks, sometimes months, modifying the bike.
"If we are able to strike a deal with an automotive manufacturer, we can figure out ways to finance it in the form of loans and so on.
"Best of all, the bikes would be ready to be used to make money from the time we procure them and the bikes would pretty much pay for themselves," he said.
Triyono said from the beginning, Difa Bike has received some support from the government which agreed to help its drivers obtain a special driver's licence for disabled people.
It has also loosened some of its regulations on motorcycle modifications and the use of side cars.
But there is still more work to be done, he said.
"Difa Bike was created as a response to the lack of infrastructure and public services that are friendly towards disabled people. I hope our presence can bring more attention towards this fact," said Triyono.
He said if only the transportation services and public infrastructures are accessible to the disabled people, their mobility would be high.
This has been proven with the presence of Difa Bike.
"It is the government's job to address this. But I think it would take another 20 years for (these challenges) to be addressed. It is impossible for us to wait 20 years.
"As members of the (disabled) community we have to come up with innovations, provide examples, overcome these challenges and support each other," added Triyono.
He said he is not afraid of losing customers if the government succeeds in building disabled-friendly infrastructures and public transportation services.
"There will always be a market for door-to-door transportation," he said. – CNA/ni(ih)