Drive to get younger commuters looking out for needs of seniors

Madam Veerama Suppiah, 77, and her husband Paraman Nayar, 76, receiving goodie bags from Pioneer Junior College students Preshika Das and Dian Haziqah, both 17. Care Ride @ South West wants to "provide opportunities for younger commuters to better un
Madam Veerama Suppiah, 77, and her husband Paraman Nayar, 76, receiving goodie bags from Pioneer Junior College students Preshika Das and Dian Haziqah, both 17. Care Ride @ South West wants to "provide opportunities for younger commuters to better understand the travel needs of seniors, so they can be more mindful".ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Have you ever turned to the passenger next to you on a bus ride to strike up a conversation?

A new initiative by the Public Transport Council (PTC) and the South West Community Development Council aims to get commuters to do just that.

As part of efforts to make public transport more inclusive, Care Ride @ South West wants to "provide opportunities for younger commuters to better understand the travel needs of seniors, so they can be more mindful and proactive", said the two organisations.

The initiative kicked off yesterday with a half-hour bus ride around Choa Chu Kang involving 44 students from Pioneer Junior College and ITE College West as well as 20 senior residents of rental blocks in the district.

Care Ride @ South West is in line with the PTC's Caring SG Commuters movement, which provides initiatives such as putting wheelchairs at some MRT stations for commuters to assist one another.

The PTC will use feedback gathered from yesterday's ride to identify areas in which public transport can be made more "commuter-centric".

"With one in four Singaporeans expected to be 65 and above by 2030, our public transport experience must be age-friendly and inclusive of seniors with varying mobility needs," said PTC chairman Richard Magnus.

Making public transport more inclusive is not just about investing in infrastructure but also building the "culture of commuters", said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng.

He noted, however, that it would take time to build a "culture of graciousness, looking out for others and being nice" and for commuters to "not be afraid of offering the first smile or extending the first greeting".

Participants on yesterday's ride said they enjoyed the experience.

Retiree Ng Lai Seng, 72, who has difficulty walking, said it was good to have the students assisting and accompanying him as he normally has to take the bus alone.

Another retiree, Mr Paraman Nayar, 76, said it was pleasant talking with the students, noting that, in the past, people were more willing to strike up a conversation with their fellow passengers.

One of the students, ITE College West's Lionel Chua, 18, said: "The experience opened my eyes a bit as I got to listen to other people's stories." He added that he would now take the first step in speaking to other passengers.

South West District Mayor Low Yen Ling said she intended to "scale up" the initiative across the district, by getting primary and secondary school students, as well as those in institutes of higher learning to assist seniors living alone and those with mobility issues.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2018, with the headline 'Drive to get younger commuters looking out for needs of seniors'. Print Edition | Subscribe