Taiwan has become an aged society. To address the transportation problems of disadvantaged populations in rural areas, the Feng Chia University Center for Service Innovation and Mobility Design established the Donkey Move social enterprise, a transportation platform for long-term care. The platform integrates car fleets, communities, and other vehicles to successfully create Taiwan’s first Shared Medical Transportation Service Model for Remote Indigenous Villages.
The team led by Professor Sheng-Tsung Hou, director of the Feng Chia University Center for Service Innovation and Mobility Design and distinguished professor of the Graduate Institute of Public Affairs and Social Innovation, is committed to the practice of “serving society through mobility”. In his exclusive interview with the MOST Center for Global Affairs and Science Engagement, he talked about how within a 2-year period, nearly 290,000 rides have been provided for the elderly across Taiwan, thereby successfully alleviating the problem of medical transportation for rural residents.
A university professor who really knows his taxis
Sheng-Tsung Hou has been involved in taxi mobility innovation research for nearly 20 years. Eight years ago, the traditional taxi industry was impacted by Uber's operation in Taiwan, restrictions on tourists from Mainland China, and other factors. Coupled with Taiwan's aged society, Hou believes that the value of taxi drivers is not limited to merely “point-to-point transport”. Therefore, he gathered teachers from fields such as information, transportation, statistics and marketing in Feng Chia University to establish the Taiwan Taxi Academy Association and set up the Driver Academy. The Association and Academy help drivers obtain specialized licenses. As driver tour guides and nursing attendants which means that the drivers will be the model in the market instead of worrying about being outmoded.
In 2017, Professor Hou received an Emerging Technology Innovation Business Model Research Project grant from the Ministry of Science and Technology. He focused on the technology development and commercialization of the mobility service platform, and began with the basis of the Taiwan Taxi Academy Association. Soon, together with his team of teachers and students from the university, he had established both the Travel Taiwan ride-hailing platform and the Donkey Move shared medical transportation platform. His integration of practical academic research outcomes from ride-hailing service platforms enabled many drivers to earn their living locally by providing chartered tour guide services. What’s more, this integration of local governments and communities has also created point-to-point ride-sharing services for medical treatment. In this way, Hou has become champion enabler for long-term care in remote villages.
Sustainable operations: Finding business models that will endure
Donkey Move was established to solve transportation problems for people who lack mobility (the elderly, people with disabilities, and people living in remote areas). How to keep its operation sustainable is the most important goal for Professor Hou and his team. Hou lays it bare: When university professors lead their students deep into local areas to practice university social responsibility, the intention may be good; but in the end, when the project ends and the team withdraws, the system often has no way to continue providing services in the area. What should be a benefit to the local area instead becomes a disruption.
For this reason, the operational team of Donkey Move is composed of professional managers rather than inexperienced college students. In order to continuously cultivate talents, Hou and 15 other teachers within the university have formed a special task group. They focus on three core facets of service: the elderly, sustainability, and local revitalization. They created The Design for the Future Program on campus, and offers it to all students in the university. Recently, this program has been upgraded to a minor department, to cultivate the talents that will be needed a decade from now in Taiwan's aged society.
Hou and his team started with service in the Lishan and Daguan areas. In the example of Lishan, for an elderly person to seek medical treatment in Taichung City would take nearly 4 hours. However, current subsidies are based on the cost of a single trip rather than based on mileage. Hence, there are no incentives for the transportation industry to provide service; and that means there are no rides to call for disadvantaged people in rural areas. Therefore, Donkey Move sought partners to purchase vehicles that will be kept in the villages; the project collaborated with local aboriginal villages and churches to hire local drivers, while Feng Chia University serves as the dispatch center. In 2019, more than 4,000 rides were provided for medical treatment and physical therapy.
A single vehicle can serve many supposes for a community. Their fleet and operation continues to grow, word has gotten back to the local government of the program’s achievements. The success of the Donkey Move medical treatment ride-sharing model has attracted attention from government and private long-term care transportation organizations in areas such as New Taipei City, Taipei City, Yilan, Taitung, Kaohsiung and Pingtung; all have actively sought how to introduce the system and collaborate in operations. Coupled with Driver Academy certifications from the Taiwan Taxi Academy Association, even more pioneering taxi drivers have been trained.
Changing the rules of the game for government
New Taipei City’s Department of Health makes another great example. The Department’s collaboration with the Feng Chia University Center for Service Innovation and Mobility Design is now entering its third year. In August last year, they established the New Taipei City Long-term Care Transportation Service Platform to connect the drivers with the people who need them. The use of technology provides people with more convenient long-term care transportation matching service.
Professor Hou has achieved successful reforms in New Taipei City through his pioneering experience in Lishan. The city government adopted an innovative fare system and a reformed contract system that would charge 1.2 times the rate of normal taxi fares. In addition, the central government also introduced a subsidy to incentivize the service providers to refit more vehicles for long-term care operation. These changes take into account both operating costs for cab fleets and the needs of the public. Currently, there are more than 200 long-term care vehicles providing medical care transportation and more than 30,000 rides for elderly people each month. The long-term care dispatch rate in New Taipei City is as high as 99.9%. In the future, this platform will not only transport senior citizens, but will also extend its service to include school lunches and other logistical services to rural areas.
Last year, the Feng Chia University team and the media organized the Crossover Workshop of Rural Flip by Mobility, inviting the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC), the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Ministry of Education, and other agencies to attend. After the workshop, the MOTC committed to loosening regulations on non-commercial vehicles in rural areas, to allow civilian vehicle to legally provide transportation services in rural areas.
Professor Hou points out that at present, Donkey Move is implementing projects in numerous counties and cities in order to find sustainable business models. The ultimate goal is to practice “mobility as a social service”. That is why the team hopes to continue integrating rural long-term care with Rehabus vehicle sharing. By benefiting all the most disadvantaged stakeholders – whether they be elders in rural area or front-line taxi drivers – the true value of technological revolution is achieved and common good is created for society.