Mobility is key!

Mobility is key!

RE:START ROMANIA – ABILITAXI is a free transportation service adapted for people with disabilities in Bucharest. Organised by an NGO working in close collaboration with the Municipality, ABILITAXI tries to make up for the city’s unaccessible public transportation and bumpy streets. Mari goes for a ride with them in the third episode of the 'Wheelchair Roadmovie' series.

How does it work?

The service is currently available only in Bucharest, operating with three adapted vans. The organisers are in the process of negotiating the project’s expansion in other Romanian cities, looking for the help of local public administrations.

The access to ABILITAXI is based on appointments established on the phone. The call centre manages the routes, the appointments and the drivers’ schedules in the most efficient way. There are only three cars now, but the demand is increasingly high.

Three drivers and three assistants participate by rotation, helping the beneficiaries and operating the electric ramp of the van. They are coordinated by a project manager. The project’s publicity and lobby efforts are supported within the RESTART:ROMANIA organization, by president Dante Stein and the PR&communication department.

“Bucharest became the only city in Romania to provide free and essential transportation solutions for people with disabilities.”

Find out from the team about the context and driving force of the project by reading the text below!

“We thought of this project after comparing the transport options available for people with disabilities in other big cities in Europe. For example, Vienna has around 500 vans who enable people with disabilities to travel wherever they want. Bucharest used to have none. At this moment, three vans provided by RE:START ROMANIA – ABILITAXI operate in the city. Likewise, people with disabilities are enabled to attend their medical appointments, go to work, undergo physical recovery or participate in various social activities. These things wouldn’t be possible without this service, as the streets and public transportation system in Bucharest are quite unaccessible. Now the city became the only one in Romania to provide free and essential transportation solutions for people with disabilities.

We see this project as a social investment: providing people with disabilities with mobility enables them to participate in their community’s social life and to integrate in the labour market, thus generating added value to society. At the same time, studies have showed that mobility and social involvement reduce significantly the risks for affiliated diseases (particularly depression) in the case of people with disabilities. With these thoughts in mind, we wrote our project and struggled for more than 6 months to get it financed. We finally managed to convince the Bucharest Municipality to invest in ABILITAXI.

We are currently discussing with the Municipality about extending this project. Its pilot stage ends in August 2019 and we would like to continue it by buying more specially adapted vans and by enlarging our team. At the same time, we are also talking with various other big municipalities in Romania about introducing ABILITAXI in more locations spread around the country. 

RE:START ROMANIA is commited to creating more projects that various communities can benefit from. Besides ABILITAXI, we have a help line which provides free psychological and legal support for people with low incomes (ASISTEL), a project which brings together active volunteers and elderly people who live alone in an attempt to alleviate their loneliness (Adopt a Grandparent), we have a circular library based on bookstands located in various popular locations, where people can lend books from and bring books without subscriptions (Open Library), we are currently working on creating an Academy for Mayors, providing specific education that would improve the quality of the public administration. You can check out our projects on our website or Facebook page.”

The main problems you see in the Romanian society, in terms of integrating people with disabilities are …

For us, the transport infrastructure seemed the easiest issue to address, but the challenges faced by people with disabilities in Romania are multiple.

The first one is people’s mentality: there are still no educational programs directed at teaching young people how to integrate those who are 'different'. Until the 1990s, people with disabilities in Romania seemed invisible. They were hidden away in institutions or kept inside their homes, as if their lives were something to be ashamed of. The mentality has evolved significantly since then, but we still have a long way to go. We still need to learn – as a society – how to enable people with disabilities to be our equals. ABILITAXI is meant to be an important step in this direction.

A ride with Abilitaxi that you will never forget was when …

Most of our rides are memorable, as people with disabilities are in the awe of (finally) having the opportunity to do things in 'normal' conditions. This is a permanent reminder: while we generally take so many things for granted, the road we have to walk until people with disabilities enjoy normality is still a long one.

The most amazing ride, though, was when we took Denisa (one of our beneficiaries) to the Winter Fair to see the Christmas Town. Maybe this trip would have been unsurprising and ordinary for others, but for her it felt like a fantastic story turned into reality. The sheer joy and emotion she expressed when seeing all the Christmas lights, the little elf houses, the big Christmas tree with all its ornaments, will support our enthusiasm for years to come.

Which famous person would you take for a ride with Abilitaxi and what would you tell them?

We started this project by trying to walk in the shoes of someone with disabilities, so we could better understand the needs and the challenges this community faces day by day. From this perspective, we believe that everyone - public figure or not - should once take a ride in the ABILITAXI.

It would be useful if we could take each mayor on a ride, in an attempt to convince them that this service is a social necessity and that its benefits clearly outweigh the involved costs. If we had to choose for a person though, we would like to aim high. Perhaps a great passenger could be the vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans. It would be great if he would be willing to advocate for our initiative, since he now enjoys a lot of popularity in Romania.