Commuters with special needs should approach bus captains if they need help: Baey Yam Keng

A bus captain assisting an elderly passenger in a wheelchair at a bus stop in Eu Tong Sen Street in May 2020. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Commuters with special needs and caregivers who need help on public buses should approach the bus drivers to lend a hand, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng on Monday (Feb 14).

More than 6,300 bus drivers in the public transport sector are trained to identify and help any commuter with special needs, added Mr Baey, who said passengers could also alert the drivers and other commuters if they need help.

He was responding in Parliament to questions from Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), who spoke about a resident with a child with special needs who had trouble boarding a public bus.

The bus driver did not extend any help as the child was in a stroller and not a wheelchair, Mr Saktiandi, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, told the House.

He asked whether more could be done to deal with such issues. 

Mr Saktiandi later told  The Straits Times that the resident had asked the bus driver to lower the wheelchair ramp at the back of the bus to allow her and her child to board.

She had all three of her children with her then. Mr Saktiandi declined to provide more details of the family.

He said the driver ignored her request, instead signalling for her to board from the back on her own. 

Mr Saktiandi added that the driver then almost shut the doors on her until another commuter intervened. The public transport operator involved is currently investigating the case.

“I asked the (question) to make sure bus captains are trained. This could be a one-off but it helps to ask to make sure this is a learning point,” said Mr Saktiandi.

Responding to his question in Parliament, Mr Baey said that in general, it may be less evident to the bus driver that the child or the caregiver has needs when a stroller is used.

Some needs are also invisible, which is why the authorities introduced in April last year a specially designed card and lanyard for commuters with long-term, invisible medical conditions or disabilities, such as autism or chronic pain.

This is to help public transport workers better identify them.

"In general, when commuters have mobility needs or children in strollers, they definitely should approach the (bus captains) for help if they need," said Mr Baey.

"That is why in this journey of us providing a more inclusive commuting experience, it is a continuous effort to equip the (bus captains) to be mindful of the different needs of different commuters," he added.

All public transport operators here have training programmes to equip bus captains with the skills to communicate with and assist commuters with special needs, Mr Baey said.

Since November 2016, this has also been a part of the Enhanced Vocational Licence Training Programme that all new bus drivers must attend.

To date, more than 6,300 bus drivers have graduated from this programme.

Mr Baey said training materials are regularly reviewed based on feedback gathered from commuters with special needs, their caregivers, members of the public and social service agencies.

He added that commuters who have had similar experiences as the resident Mr Saktiandi spoke about should provide direct feedback to the relevant public transport operator so the company can incorporate such anecdotes in its training programmes.

Mr Baey said a successful inclusive commuting culture is not just the responsibility of public transport operators and their workers.

Every commuter can play a part, and in the incident highlighted, the caregiver could have also asked a fellow commuter for help, Mr Baey added.

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