Passengers with disabilities can travel with confidence on public transport with the help of a travel buddy
For many of us, commuting on public transport to get around is an integral part of daily life. However, for some like 57-year-old Mr Tan HB, he finds it a challenge to do so after he sustained a spinal cord injury and now uses a wheelchair to move about.
“I had to get used to manoeuvring around on a wheelchair. Getting onto a bus or a train suddenly became so unfamiliar, and I am not certain on how I can re-adapt to the transport system,” said Mr Tan.
With SBS Transit’s “Travel Buddy” programme, Mr Tan will soon be able to familiarise himself with the public transport system so that he can travel independently and with confidence. The first of its kind in the public transport network, this inclusive initiative will involve a trained staff to serve as a travel buddy to accompany a Passenger with Disabilities (PWD) on his/her trip. During the journey, the travel buddy will also share useful travel information and practical tips with the aim of helping the PWD gain familiarity with his/her regular travel route and from there, gradually gain confidence in using public buses and trains.
PWDs who can travel on their own but are anxious and unsure about navigating the public transport system can book a session with a Travel Buddy. Registration can be made on the SBS Transit website at www.sbstransit.com.sg/travelbuddy.
On the arranged date, a Travel Buddy, who is an SBS Transit staff will meet the PWD at his/her specified originating bus stop, bus interchange or station and accompany the PWD to his/her destination that is in a public area. Up to three sessions can be booked for the same route for familiarisation purposes where a sector of the journey must include travelling on any SBS Transit bus services, and/or the North East Line, Downtown Line, or the Sengkang/Punggol LRT services. The service of the Travel Buddy is offered at no charge.
To be equipped to serve as travel buddies, about 30 staff, including four who are PWDs, have attended the SPD Disability Awareness Training Course to enhance their knowledge and understanding of people with disabilities, and the etiquette and skills in helping them. Uniquely, the four travel buddies with physical disabilities, of whom three are on wheelchairs, will share information and practical tips gained from their own personal experiences, and this will help to bolster the confidence of Passengers-in-Wheelchairs (PIWs) in travelling on public buses and trains.
Officially launched today at the North East Line (NEL) Outram Park Station by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Mr Baey Yam Keng, the “Travel Buddy” will initially cater to PIWs and progressively extend to those with other forms of disabilities.
Mr Tan said: “Apart from familiarising myself with the public transport system, the sessions were also eye-opening for me. I never knew that there are Operations Control Centres supporting Bus Captains and train staff. If an incident or an unexpected situation were to happen, I’m glad to know that there are well established guidelines for them on what to do as well as a whole support system for both staff and passengers. This gives me the added confidence to travel independently on our public transport system.”
Mr Tan’s wife, who is also his primary caregiver, said: “I usually accompany him everywhere he goes, and this can sometimes be at the expense of my own medical appointments. However, with the Travel Buddy programme, I’ve realised that our public transport is quite accessible for passengers in wheelchairs and there’s a lot of
support from the public transport staff if help is needed. I feel reassured that he’s in good hands and can travel more independently.”
Mr Baey also launched another inclusive initiative known as the "Stair Climber" at the NEL Outram Park Station today. The “Stair Climber” is a portable, trolley-like equipment that helps station staff to move a manual wheelchair with a laden weight of up to 150kg up or down a flight of stairs.
While scheduled lift maintenance is done when the stations are closed, there may be occasions where urgent maintenance is needed and PIWs may not have checked the SBS Transit app to find out if the lift at the station is down. The “Stair Climber” will provide PIWs with a convenient solution if they are caught in a situation where they may not have enough time to make alternative travel plans when getting to their medical appointments at the adjacent medical hub. If the lift is down, a Station Staff will use the battery-powered Stair Climber to enable PIWs get to or from the concourse to the platform safely. More Stair Climbers will be deployed to the other MRT stations if the pilot is successful.
Mr Dexter Goh, a Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA) administrative executive, said, “There may be times where things don’t go according to plan and the lift is one such example. The stair climber is a convenient option especially when we are rushing for an important appointment.”
SBS Transit Chief Executive Officer, Mr Cheng Siak Kian, said: “We believe that public transport should be for all, including persons with disabilities. In line with this, we have embarked on a “Travel with Confidence” programme where the Travel Buddy and Stair Climber initiatives are part of it. We will continue to expand our efforts by working with the various social service agencies to explore new initiatives and enhance existing ones to enable persons with disabilities travel safely and with confidence on our buses and trains. This remains our steadfast commitment as a caring and inclusive public transport service provider.”