THE IDEA FOR Amazing Van, a transportation service for wheelchair users, was conceived in 2012 by long-time pals Peter Teoh and Lily Looi, to fulfill Peter’s dream to institutionalise helping wheelchair users move around Penang.
The friends first met at Cheshire Home; Peter was born with cerebral palsy, making speech difficult and mobility somewhat restrictive, while Lily is a wheelchair-bound polio survivor. For a living, Peter sold padlocks, hand phones and beverages at Lorong Kulit before saving enough to purchase a van from the Home to kick-start the venture.
“Peter drives the van, while I assist with the bookings. I’d sometimes accompany him on trips as well, to facilitate communication with the passengers,” says Lily.
A Rocky Start
Peter showing the tail lift used to help wheelchair users into the van.
Acquiring the van was a complicated business, says Peter through Lily. “There were financial setbacks to contend with initially; the banks wouldn’t allow Peter to take a loan because of his condition. As a last resort, we wrote to the chairman of the Home to ask for his assistance. He was kind enough to secure a loan for us, and within four months, the van was ours.”
Amazing Van is distinguishable by its logo: two wheelchair users seated facing each other, with Penang’s flag standing tall and proud in the middle. “The logo is very meaningful to us; it signifies a disabled person helping another disabled person,” says Lily.
The van is able to accommodate four wheelchair users at one time, and is also fitted with a tail lift for easy access into the vehicle. “Passengers are charged according to the distance travelled. The fee remains the same whether or not the passenger’s family or caretaker comes along for the ride. We don’t count by head, we count by the number of trips made; if 10 people are able to fit into the van, we’d take them all for the same price,” says Lily, adding that it took a bit of trial and error, as well as guidance from taxi driver friends to reasonably decide on the rates.
There was also the issue of Peter obtaining his driver’s license legally. “The Road Transport Department was not convinced that Peter was able to drive, and so he was not allowed to take his driver’s license.” Not one to give up, Peter then applied to the International Driving Institute at Butterworth, where he was eventually successful. Here’s a little known fact about Peter: he was already able to drive a manual Proton Saga at the young age of 11!
“Navigating Penang’s roads early on was confusing because Peter wasn’t accustomed to using GPS. So we relied heavily on passengers’ directions to their residences instead. We even forgot to pen down the time when we first started! It was a whole new experience for us,” explains Lily. Finding parking was also a game of luck. “Though there are disabled parking spaces available, they are also limited; and we Penangites tend to prize convenience above all else. So, whenever we take passengers into town to run errands, we’ll kill time by dropping into Cheshire Home to catch up with friends.”
“The logo is very meaningful to us; it signifies a disabled person helping another disabled person.”
Peter and Lily have big plans for Amazing Van. A second van has already been purchased and soon, more routes will be added. “With the second van, we’ll now be able to travel to Butterworth,” says Lily, adding that they have made trips to as far as Kedah, Genting Highlands, KL, and even Hatyai.
A large chunk of the income generated goes back into servicing the vans. As they were bought secondhand, breakdowns and costly repairs are inevitable. At the time of writing, the second van, which can comfortably seat three wheelchair users, is being fitted with a tail lift. “We spend at least RM120 weekly on fuel, this can go up to RM600 a month. The remainder of our earnings, which is not much, is able to see us through the month. We try to make do as best we can. We don’t receive help from NGOs, but there’s a silver lining. We have a circle of friends who’ve generously contributed to our cause,” says Lily, adding that the installation of the second tail lift was a gift from them.
On occasion, Amazing Van also collaborates with Rapid Penang through its Rapid Mobility Van, the Eden Handicap Service Centre and the Society of the Disabled Persons Penang. “We are all offering the same service, so in case one of us needs extra capacity, the rest are ready to provide emergency back-up. The Rapid driver knows us well, so if his van suffers a breakdown or if he is unable to take more passengers, he’ll reach out to us,” says Lily.
For more information, visit facebook.com/okuamazingvan or call 016-474 9200.