It’s a bitterly cold March afternoon in Munich’s old-town district of Lehel. Freelance designer Gerd Brederlow (64) waits, as he does each day, at the intersection for his younger brother Bobby. Bobby Brederlow (56) is autistic and unquestionably the best-known mentally disabled actor in Germany. He has acted alongside stars such as Senta Berger and Veronica Ferres and has appeared in popular German TV shows, including “Tatort” and “In aller Freundschaft”. But things have quietened down around Bobby of late. “He has been suffering from dementia for three years now,” says Gerd Brederlow, who has cared for his brother at his home for the past 29 years. “Before, he was independent and could even fly alone. Today he doesn’t even know what a spoon is and is afraid of stairs.”

Gerd Brederlow helps his brother to get into the car.

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More Than Just a Driving Service

A white ŠKODA OCTAVIA pulls into the street: “Here comes Bobby,” says Gerd Brederlow cheerfully. The driver helps the actor out of the car and guides him to his brother. “Bobby is cared for during the day at a social institution, the Monsignore-Bleyer-Haus in the Pasing district. Since I have to work until 4 pm, I can’t pick him up myself. That’s why we rely on a personal driving service,” says the designer. Until a year ago, Bobby rode a bus, but it became increasingly burdensome as time passed. “The drive across the city took over two hours, which is difficult for a person suffering from dementia to handle.”

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Since his mother died in 1989, Bobby Brederlow has lived with his brother in Munich’s Lehel district.

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Actor Bobby Brederlow, who has been suffering from dementia for three years, uses CareDriver every day to get to his care facility.

Now Bobby is driven by CareDriver, a start-up driving service initiated by ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab. This digital arm of the Czech carmaker commissioned Creative Dock, an outfit that builds companies, to set up CareDriver in 2016. The idea: to create a driving service, including care services, specially designed to meet the needs of the disabled, seniors and children. The service can be conveniently booked via an app or by phone and paid for with a credit card or via PayPal. It’s no accident that CareDriver has initially been offered only in Munich. The city has a plethora of health and care facilities and an above-average proportion of families in which both parents are employed.

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CareDriver CEO Markus Feichtinger manages the growing start-up. The service will soon be rolled in other cities.

Reliable Drivers, Loyal Customers

The CareDriver team manages the service from a top-floor office in the Maxvorstadt district, just a stone’s throw from Ludwig Maximilian University. “We deliberately chose this central location,” says CEO Markus Feichtinger. “Our CareDriver service is designed to serve people, so it’s important for us to be in the centre and to be involved in city life.” The office exudes the classic start-up atmosphere: a fancy espresso machine, energy drinks next to laptops, an improvised seating area. In one room, there are stacks of child seats, as well as boxes with sweets and colouring books. “Parents are still our biggest customer group,” explains Feichtinger. “Our drivers don’t simply take the kids from point A to point B – they personally pick up their charges at the daycare or school and bring them to their piano lessons or sports, where they hand them over directly.”

The parents place a great deal of importance on the reliability of the drivers; they have to know who they are entrusting their children to.” Consequently, CareDriver does not currently offer short-notice drives; most routes are planned days in advance. “We can’t be compared to a traditional taxi company or Uber. The big difference: 98% of our customers are return customers who have a clearly defined need for mobility and care services on a weekly basis,” says the CEO. Price-wise, CareDriver can keep pace with traditional taxis. One hour costs 16 euros, which comprises a five-kilometre trip, with any additional leg costing 1.50 euros.

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Markus Feichtinger, CEO of the start-up CareDriver, stands next to a car.

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Markus Feichtinger

CEO CareDriver

 

Our drivers pick up their charges and bring them to their piano lessons or sports directly.

A year after being founded, the customer base is still modest – roughly 120 customers book about 170 drives each month. CareDriver has two of its own vehicles so far. If needed, for example to transport wheelchair users, partner companies are tapped to add additional capacity. “We plan to add accessible vehicles, such as modified Volkswagen Caddy models, to our fleet,” says Feichtinger.  

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Vision for the Mobility of the Future

He sees great potential in the health sector overall. “We are increasingly working with health insurance companies, retirement homes and hospitals,” explains Feichtinger. The market is currently dominated by non-profit providers such as Caritas, the Red Cross and the Johanniter. However, they generally offer group drives that take up a lot of time for each individual. “But people want more individual trips. A person with dementia like Bobby Brederlow needs his own space and a personal relationship with his driver,” notes the start-up’s CEO.

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Markus Feichtinger, CEO of the start-up CareDriver, in his office

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CareDriver's company car ŠKODA OCTAVIA

CareDriver is still being piloted; the project is intended to establish whether the business model is viable. In close collaboration with ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab and Volkswagen research in Wolfsburg, the Munich-based start-up is drawing up a vision for future mobility. The key questions in that process: “How do the mobility needs of our particular target groups differ? What requirements have to be fulfilled for the transport of seniors, children and people with disabilities? Would the use of autonomous vehicles be a possibility for these people? These are the questions that we want to answer,” says Feichtinger.

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Driver Ralf Schaal takes eight-year-old Tessa to her acting lessons every Thursday.

 

Gummy Bears for Tessa

Change of scene: an elementary school in Aubing, the westernmost part of Munich, shortly before 2 PM. CareDriver driver Ralf Schaal is waiting in the school hall for the bell to ring. Scarcely has the bell rung, when Tessa storms out of her classroom and eagerly shakes her driver’s hand. Every Thursday, Ralf Schaal drives the eight-year-old across town for acting lessons at the Schauburg Theatre. Tessa likes her jovial and friendly driver. “He’s always there to pick me up and sometimes he even has gummy bears.” It warms Ralf Schaal’s heart to hear such kind words.  

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A driver takes a young girl to her acting lessons.

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CareDriver owns two ŠKODA OCTAVIAs in Munich. Soon more cars will be purchased.

He spent over 40 years in the laser industry before being sidelined by a protracted injury. Once he regained his health, the family man learned about CareDriver in a newspaper article. He started as an independent contractor and is now employed by the company. “I really enjoy taking care of the children and people with disabilities. And I also have the feeling that I’m doing something worthwhile. I drive advanced-stage Alzheimer patients, for example, and it’s very gratifying when they recognise me and I have gained their trust,” says Schaal. For him, working for the start-up has been rejuvenating: “CareDriver is more than a transportation service provider. I take care of the passengers as if they were my own children or relatives.”

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