Transport firms in disability sector get help with new app

HeartWheels fleet management system is created by SG Enable to boost productivity

Handicaps Welfare Association van driver Ng Song Liang uses the HeartWheels app to view his schedule from a tablet, instead of depending on a pen and paper method and picking up phone calls from the office.
Handicaps Welfare Association van driver Ng Song Liang uses the HeartWheels app to view his schedule from a tablet, instead of depending on a pen and paper method and picking up phone calls from the office.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Van driver Ng Song Liang, who works for the Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA), ferries disabled and elderly people from their homes to clinics for their medical appointments.

The 56-year-old, who juggles up to 10 trips daily, used to rely on a paper job chit and a street directory book for locating unfamiliar places.

But since he started using a mobile app called HeartWheels about eight months ago, Mr Ng has been able to do away with these rudimentary paper tools and focus better at the wheel.

Instead of collecting a hard copy chit daily from the office, he now views his schedule from a tablet, which can also give him Global Positioning System (GPS) directions.

Ad-hoc transport jobs are also assigned to him via the app's messaging system so he no longer has to pick up numerous phone calls from the office.

HeartWheels is a new Web-based fleet management system developed by SG Enable, an agency set up by the Ministry of Social and Family Development to help people with disabilities.

Through the platform, SG Enable hopes to boost the productivity of transport companies and care centres in the disability sector which mostly rely on a "pen-and-paper" mode of operation.

A pilot was carried out from November 2015 to June last year, The Straits Times has learnt, and currently six outfits are on the system.

Ms Ku Geok Boon, SG Enable's chief executive, said: "We realised that transport providers who serve disability care centres rely on manual processes to manage bookings.

"SG Enable developed the HeartWheels system to improve productivity to bring about better service to persons with disabilities."

Mr Simon Ching, HWA's transport manager, said HeartWheels allows the association to make 10 to 15 per cent more trips.

Its annual report states that more than 65,800 trips were made in the year ending March 2016.

He added that there is a need for greater efficiency in the industry, with the ageing population resulting in demand exceeding supply.

The app can track drivers' locations on a digital map and show their availability in real time. This is a boon to HWA's Dial-a-Ride service, using a mini-bus which ferries wheelchair users.

"The customers' return trips are usually a problem, as they won't know when their medical appointments end. When we wanted to find another available driver in the past, we had to flip through all the job sheets," said Mr Ching.

Ms Joy Lee, assistant manager with Silveray, another transport provider, said HeartWheels helps to give more "clarity" on when drivers are free so it can better meet last-minute requests.

Disability care centres can also leverage on HeartWheels by submitting booking requests to their transport partners and receiving confirmations via the system. And repeat bookings are more easily made as the app allows client profiles and schedules to be created.

Mr Duraisamy Ramesh, manager at HWA's Whampoa Rehabilitation Centre, said: "As we can locate the vehicle on a map, we can also inform clients if the pick-up is delayed because of a traffic jam."

Other centres using HeartWheels include another HWA rehabilitation centre in Jurong Point and the SPD rehabilitation centre at the SPD Ability Centre in Tiong Bahru. SG Enable said it is pushing for more agencies to adopt the system. The initiative is fully supported by SG Enable and the VWO-Charities Capability Fund. Users do not incur any costs, except those of buying mobile devices and plans.

Mr Ng is appreciative of the new technology. "Sometimes when we are driving and we get a call from the office for a new job, we can get the pick-up address wrong.

"But with the app, this won't happen," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'Transport firms in disability sector get help with new app'. Subscribe