Heroes on wheels

One talked a woman out of committing suicide, another helped locate a teenager with special needs, while a third came to the aid of a man with dementia. These public-spirited transport workers were among 26 who won the highest accolade at the National Kindness transport awards last week for going the extra mile. Clement Yong reports.

Eagle-eyed driver spotted lost teen at bus stop


Transport Gold Outstanding Award (Bus operations)

She knew that she should not be eavesdropping, but bus driver Lee Yee Ching simply could not help herself on Sept 27 last year.

During a 10-minute break in between her driving duties at Hougang Central Interchange, Ms Lee, 39, overheard a domestic helper frantically telling an SBS Transit (SBST) colleague that she had lost her employer's daughter, a 19-year-old with special needs.

Ms Lee said last Friday: "I was curious but also very worried when I found out that the girl required special care. It made me really nervous."

As luck would have it, she managed to catch snippets of the teen's description just as she had to resume driving her service number 107 bus from Hougang Central Interchange to Shenton Way Bus Terminal. The bus driver heard that the teen had short, cropped hair and was wearing a purple shirt, black trousers and spectacles.

Ms Lee said she then kept a lookout while driving. At a bus stop near Shenton Way Bus Terminal, she noticed a young woman looking forlorn and sitting alone.

"I quickly parked the bus at the terminal and ran back towards her, smiled and introduced myself, and got her to slowly warm up to me," Ms Lee recounted.

During her attempts to verify the teen's identity, she realised that she had speech disabilities as she would only nod or shake her head in response to questions.

Ms Lee said the teen soon understood that she wanted to help, and began holding Ms Lee's hand. She even allowed Ms Lee to take a photo of her to send to the staff at Hougang Central Interchange to confirm her identity.

Ms Lee, who has two children aged nine and 10 living in Malaysia, said the teen's helplessness tugged at her heartstrings.

"As a mother, seeing a child without her parents breaks my heart. It was what made me really happy to find her too," Ms Lee said.

Later, she led the teen back to the SBST office at the Shenton Way Bus Terminal, before returning to her driving duties. The teen was subsequently reunited with her parents.

When Ms Lee found out that the young woman's family had written to SBST a few days later to thank her, she was overjoyed.

Ms Lee said: "It is only right to do the right thing, but doubly sweet when people are grateful for what you have done."

He reunited dementia patient with his family


Transport Gold Outstanding Award (Bus operations)

On April 27, bus driver Ang Eng Huat, 46, was on his usual service number 137 route between Upper East Coast terminal and Sims Place terminal when the odd behaviour of a senior citizen caught his eye.

Mr Ang, who has been driving with SBS Transit for three years, said he first noticed the man at Sims Place terminal when he did not alight with the rest of the passengers.

"He just sat quietly looking outside and did not get off," recalled Mr Ang.

"When I told him in Hokkien that it was the final stop, he only nodded and seemed not to register what I was saying."

But the bus driver put the man out of his mind after the passenger eventually alighted, deciding to focus on his return drive from Sims Place to Upper East Coast terminal after taking a short break.

He was shocked when the same senior citizen boarded the bus again, this time for the return trip. This prompted Mr Ang to ask the man if he knew where he was going and how he should get there.

"He just kept repeating that he needed to go to Tampines, and looked quite frazzled. That was when I remembered my training and suspected that he had dementia," Mr Ang said.

He decided to stop the bus in Bedok for a short while to call a phone number that was on a piece of paper which the senior citizen had handed him. Mr Ang told passengers on the bus that he would resume the trip shortly.

"They were all quite understanding. I managed to get in contact with the man's wife and daughter, who were both getting quite worried about him," Mr Ang said.

He told the man to remain on the bus until it reached the Upper East Coast terminal. There, Mr Ang sat him down beside his colleague to wait for the man's daughter to arrive at the interchange.

Mr Ang said he was pleased when he later found out that the daughter had commended him to SBS Transit, but added that it was not why he did what he did.

"Helping others is the foundation of happiness," he said.

"I was actually most happy when I found out that (the man) had been reunited with his family.

"My two children know that I have been awarded this prize... I think it sets a good example for them to always be kind. It is very meaningful for me," Mr Ang added.

Patience, kindness prevented suicide


Transport Gold Outstanding Award (Rail operations)

Mr Abdul Azim Abdul Azizam knew something was wrong when a woman told him she wanted to leave everything behind.

Last October, during a regular patrol at Hougang MRT station, Mr Abdul, an assistant station manager, saw a woman sobbing alone in a dimly lit part of the station.

"Security threats are usually foremost on my mind when I do my patrols, but it is also my job to check out any situation that is out of the ordinary," he said.

He approached the woman and asked if she needed any assistance, spending about half an hour listening to her relationship woes.

Mr Abdul, 36, said he assumed the worst when the woman confided that she had no one else to turn to and wanted to "leave everything behind".

"I told her that she should move on and look forward to a better future. It is always better to find out that a relationship is not working now rather than later, and that seemed to make her feel better," Mr Abdul said.

Before he left the woman, Mr Abdul referred her to the Samaritans of Singapore hotline as he suspected that she might need further help.

When SBS Transit told him a few days later that the woman had written to say that Mr Abdul's kind act had led her to change her mind about taking her own life that evening, he felt a huge sense of relief.

"I am just glad I was in the right place, at the right time. These things matter a lot.

"It is part of my job to care about my commuters," he said.

In June last year, Mr Abdul saved another life, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on an old man who had suffered a heart attack on the platform of Hougang MRT station.

He said his time in the Singapore Civil Defence Force during his national service served him well during that incident.

"I'm proud to have saved not just one, but two lives, in the past year.

"I feel that I'm more ready to respond to these sorts of situations in the future," Mr Abdul said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2019, with the headline 'Heroes on wheels'. Print Edition | Subscribe