SINGAPORE - Boarding a bus in a wheelchair has become easier.
The unveiling of a new electric minibus on Wednesday (Oct 16) has brought the last bus service in Singapore that is not wheelchair-friendly in line with the country's move to provide a fully-inclusive public transport system.
The new green electric minibus on SMRT's service 825, which replaces its white, non-electric, non-wheelchair-accessible predecessor, is fitted with an automated wheelchair-lifting mechanism that takes around three minutes to accomplish its task.
It is 8m long compared to the typical 12m-long bus.
Operating between Yio Chu Kang Bus Interchange and Lentor estate, service 825 was previously unable to ferry wheelchair users.
With the change, Singapore's public bus fleet of about 5,800 buses is now 99 per cent wheelchair-accessible, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
It also brings the country just a notch away from fulfilling its goal to have all public buses accessible to wheelchair users by next year, a major milestone in its Land Transport Master Plan 2040.
Wheelchair user Wendy Tan gave the thumbs-up on Wednesday when she boarded the new bus, using its automated wheelchair-lifting mechanism.
Said the 64-year-old retiree: "The whole process is very safe and I feel very comfortable. I am very happy that Singapore is taking these steps to help people like me."
LTA said four electric minibuses fitted to lift wheelchairs will be progressively introduced from Thursday, allowing passengers like Ms Tan to use service 825.
Bus captain Ramli Khamis, 57, who helped Ms Tan board the minibus, said it took him between one and two weeks to master the lifting mechanism.
But compared to other buses he had driven in his 19 years with SMRT, the minibus is impressive, he said.
"This new technology makes the whole ride very smooth and comfortable for both the drivers and the passengers. It is environmentally friendly and allows for handicapped commuters to take the trip."
Beyond the minibus, the Yio Chu Kang Bus Interchange has also been undergoing a major expansion and enhancement since December 2017 to make the public transport system greener and more inclusive.
The additions include an improved boarding point at each berth and graduated kerb edges to ease boarding by wheelchair users, as well as green features such as a green roof to keep the interchange cool and a more energy-efficient air-conditioning system.
To encourage more people to cycle instead of drive to public transport hubs, 150 bicycle parking spaces have been added.
Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Paliamentary Secretary for Transport, said: "While the commuters will enjoy better facilities and more spacious grounds, what is unique about this interchange is that there are more inclusive facilities to take care of the needy.
"The new bus also allows everyone access to the public buses. This is something very significant for us."