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RACING DRIVER BUILDS DREAM GARAGE… OF WHEELCHAIR SHUTTLES

Former racing driver Alexander Mui with one of the five rehab cars he’s purchased to help the disabled community

The cars Alex Mui sold to finance his charity vision – another Porsche is up for sale as corporate donations dried up under the Covid-19 pandemic

The Porsche 993 Carrera S, the Nissan Fairlady Z32… for racing enthusiasts, a dream garage. For Alexander Mui, a former racing driver and karting champion, his high-powered machines represented a pot of money he could put to better use.

Mui’s big brother suffered a stroke in 2015, and it changed Mui’s life. Seeing the suffering and difficulties of other stroke patients gave Mui a vision of how he could help people like his brother, and he put two of his fast cars on the market to raise money for his charity concept, Rehab Life. His vision was an entirely new kind of dream garage: a fleet of rehab cars to serve the community.

Rehab Life today has a fleet of five Honda Freed rehab vehicles to drive wheelchair users, for free, to their regular hospital check-ups.

The Freeds are wheelchair-adapted with mechanical ramp extensions, through which a wheelchair, with user in place, can roll directly onto the car, and be securely fastened with two three-point safety belts. Rehab Life has assigned one car to serve five districts: Aberdeen, Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin, Yuen Long and Tai Po.

While Mui has been in racing and karting for most of his life, his devotion to charity started in 2015, when his brother suffered a stroke at the age of only 48.

“I still recall visiting my brother in Tuen Mun Hospital, where I encountered many stroke cases,” says Mui. “Many stroke patients were amazingly young, the youngest being 35. It’s very painful seeing them suffer. My brother lost control of half of his body, and that’s a painful process for both him and the family. Some of the hospital cases were even more saddening: the patients couldn’t even utter basic wishes, like ‘my back is itchy’, ‘I’d like a glass of water’.”

And that inspired Mui to serve the community, and to do it with cars – the area he’s most familiar with. While another well-known charitable organisation uses rehabilitation buses to convey wheelchair users to and from hospital, Mui chose to acquire individual rehab cars, such as the Freed.

“The car is smaller, meaning that we can only carry one wheelchair user each time. And that is exactly what I want,” says Mui.

A uniformed driver helps a wheelchair user onto a Honda Freed, as part of Rehab Life's free service

Each car carries just one patient, offering them unique service, dignity and privacy

“Imagine a rehab bus assigned to carry eight to nine wheelchairs. There’s always a certain route to follow. If you’re the first to get in, then you have to wait for several more stops before everyone is collected, before you can arrive at the hospital. Imagine how uncomfortable it is, especially if you are immobile.”

Mui chooses his drivers carefully. He prefers to employ the “young elderly”, because he wants to give them a chance to re-engage with society. One of his drivers is a former racing driver too – the second-runner-up in the 1984 Sha Tsui Road karting race.

“The renumeration is not high, but it’s about empowering them with a purpose. Another of our drivers often argued with his son and daughter-in-law, who found him ‘useless’. Since he began driving for us, he feels useful again, not just earning a bit of money, but positively engaging in helping the community. And his family relationships have improved,” says Mui.

“As for driving skills, it’s not just about driving the car well, but about driving the passengers well, ensuring a comfortable journey.”

A smaller car also means giving more dignity to the wheelchair users, Mui says, as the journey is more private. But this results in higher costs. Each car can serve only four people per day, and taking petrol, maintenance, car park, insurance, annual licence and driver salary into account, every trip costs an average of HK$198.

Rehab Life relies entirely on personal and corporate donations for funding. Mui has already sold two-thirds of his treasured collection – the Porsche and the Fairlady – to start the charity and, with a downturn in corporate contributions, his last collectible car, a Porsche 964, is now on the market too.

Mui says, “This is not just about injecting money into the company, but about making the operation self-sustaining. I have in mind to start a revenue-generating project, which will both employ people from the low-income sector, and create an income stream to finance the charity operation.”

On the cost side, while Rehab Life receives no government funding, Mui says that if the government looked into tax exemptions for vehicle import and petrol, it would help a lot.

“A disabled person gets a tax exemption when they buy a car,” says Mui. “Our fleet of cars are bought entirely with the aim of serving the disabled, so if we enjoyed tax exemption on vehicle purchases, we could build up the fleet more quickly, to serve more people sooner. Likewise, for petrol, there’s a Government Excise Duty of HK$6.06/litre; if that could only be waived, or if petrol companies sponsored us, that would be a significant cost reduction for our operation.”

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