SINGAPORE - Commuters with special needs may get more help with taking public transport, if new recommendations by the Public Transport Council (PTC) on making bus and train journeys more accessible are taken up.
The council is proposing, for instance, that bus captains be trained to look out for visually handicapped commuters on their routes, and to call out bus service numbers to them when they pull up at the bus stop.
It also suggested the development of apps that integrate all public and private transport options door to door for the wider commuting public, including those with special needs.
Another recommendation is have apps provide information on rail disruptions to hearing impaired commuters through a video of an avatar signing the information, as a "step up" from text-based alerts, said the council.
These were among the 21 recommendations announced on Thursday (Jan 25), in the council's second advisory report to improve the public transport experience.
The report, which took in the views of more than 11,000 commuters through focus group sessions, surveys and in-depth interviews, was submitted to Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan. PTC also consulted The Singapore Association for the Deaf and the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH).
PTC chairman Richard Magnus said during a press conference on Thursday: "Commuters have shared with us their wish for the public transport system to be inclusive of the vulnerable or special needs commuters.
Operations manager Francis Tay, 57, who is visually handicapped, said having more assistance from bus captains would be a boon.
"We can get other people at the bus stop to tell us which bus is arriving, but sometimes, there is nobody around," said Mr Tay, who works at SAVH.
Mr Tay said that while his mobile device has a screen reader function, allowing him to use transport apps to tell him which bus is arriving, it can be challenging when multiple buses come together.
Meanwhile, the PTC also announced on Thursday it will expand its Heart Zone trial, currently at Outram Park MRT station, in which the elderly and visually impaired can go to designated areas where hospital staff or other commuters know they will need assistance getting to the nearby Singapore General Hospital.
The council said that Ng Teng Fong Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital will take on the same initiative, through a partnership with SMRT at Jurong East and Novena MRT stations by the second quarter of this year (2018).
The PTC also called for more public education, so commuters know how to interact and help those who have disabilities.
Besides the suggestions for a more inclusive transport network, PTC had other recommendations to improve rail commutes - such as for station staff to get more training to ease crowding at train doors, and to improve the cleanliness and customer service standards at stations.
Mr Magnus said a third advisory report is planned for next year (2019), which will focus on buses. He said this is timely as the bus contracting model, which the industry adopted in 2016, would have had three years to settle.
"It's a great opportunity... to find out how commuters react to the new bus (contracting) model and new bus services. We are also looking at taxis and private-hire vehicle services," he told The Straits Times.
While the PTC's main role is to regulate transport fares, its responsibilities have expanded since January 2016 to advising the Transport Minister.
The inaugural advisory report was publicly released in August 2016 and contained 17 recommendations, several of which were taken up by the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
These included allowing open prams on buses, implementing dual speeds for escalators at rail stations so they run more slowly during off-peak hours, and reviewing the design of buses and bus stops.
The LTA said on Thursday that it will work closely with the public transport operators to look into how the PTC's latest slate of recommendations can be adopted.
Tower Transit's group communications director Glenn Lim said many of its bus captains already announce service numbers to visually impaired passengers at bus stops, but it will be looking to make this practice more consistent.
A spokesman for Go-Ahead Singapore said the firm is currently reviewing the PTC's findings and recommendations.
Meanwhile, SMRT on Thursday said that it had, since October (2017), been training staff to understand the needs of commuters with special needs. To date, 350 staff have gone through the one-day programme, SMRT said, adding that it plans to train 1,400 in total by July this year.