Old buses put special needs pupils, patients on road to independence

Three SBS Transit buses have reached the end of the road ferrying commuters, but they are now chalking up kilometres in a different way.

Instead of being sent to the scrapyard or exported after the end of their statutory life at 17 years, they have been donated to two special needs schools - Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) Chaoyang School and St Andrew's Autism Centre - and Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), to help pupils with special needs and patients to learn to travel independently.

SBS Transit said it considered requests for a decommissioned bus from organisations, which have to submit their plans for its use to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) for approval.

Upon approval, SBS Transit will scrap the engine of the buses and sometimes retrofit the interior before towing the vehicles to the organisations. The organisations must renew their permit with the LTA every three years to keep the donated buses.

SBS Transit vice-president of corporate communications Grace Wu said the company was delighted to donate the buses, and added: "It is not only a purposeful step forward in our sustainability journey, but also serves as an added service to the communities we serve."

The latest donation was to TTSH in May last year for patient rehabilitation in the hospital's upcoming Integrated Care Hub.

Patients who are recuperating from complex strokes, brain or spinal injuries, or have had amputations, will use the bus to learn how to get on board with their wheelchairs or other personal mobility aids. Patients and their caregivers will be able to practise boarding via a wheelchair ramp, manoeuvring in and out of the wheelchair space in the bus and alerting the driver that they are alighting, said TTSH senior occupational therapist Chia Rui Min.

Chaoyang School head of life skills/ICT department Huzaima Hamid said the school received its bus in December 2020. It was put to use at the start of this year after being refurbished.

"Our students with special needs learn more effectively in an authentic real-life environment," she said. "Before we bring our students out of school to practise travelling in public, the decommissioned bus provides a safe environment for learning.

"We can demonstrate to them how dangerous it is if they play on the bus or run to alight from the bus because they may get hurt or trip and fall. We can address dangerous situations without having to put them in one."

St Andrew's Autism Centre received a bus in 2019.

Acting programme lead Debbie Eleora Thng said it "lets our students learn how to board and alight safely, how to tap an ez-link card, and how to follow safety rules and have proper social conduct when on the bus".

The experience has received the thumbs-up from Chaoyang School pupil Rayyan Naufal Suffiandy, 11, who said: "I enjoy having lessons on the bus. I have learnt how to use public buses in the future."

His mother, Madam Juliana Jamaat, 42, said: "I am thankful for this valuable and authentic learning experience that my child has received. I feel safer letting my son travel independently."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2022, with the headline Old buses put special needs pupils, patients on road to independence. Subscribe