Say hi to your fellow passenger on your next bus ride

Mayor of South West District and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower Low Yen Ling (third from left) speaking to Madam Ng Choon Hueh (second from left), alongside Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng and student volunteers. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - 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 (CDC) aims to get commuters to do just that.

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 on Friday (Dec 7) with a half-hour bus ride around Chua Chu Kang, involving 44 students from Pioneer Junior College and Institute of Technical Education College West as well as 20 elderly 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 for commuters to assist one another, such as putting wheelchairs at some MRT stations.

The PTC will use feedback gathered from Friday's ride to identify areas where 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 elderly commuters 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 though 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 Friday'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 on the bus, as he normally has to take the bus alone.

Another retiree Paraman Nayar, 76, said it was pleasant talking to 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: "Today's 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 elderly residents living alone and those with mobility issues.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.