In a parliamentary session yesterday, Assoc Prof Kalyani K Mehta brought up the issue of the refusal of wheelchair accessible bus (WAB) drivers to accept wheelchair-bound passengers.
Prof Kalyani Mehta also asked how long it will take to make all routes ply by the WAB available for wheelchair-bound passengers; and when and how will the information regarding the WAB be communicated to the public, such as on the LTA website.
Ms Eunice Elizabeth Olsen also raised the issue of why 80% of bus stops along a bus route have to be wheelchair accessible before SBS Transit is allowed to accept wheelchair users on wheelchair accessible buses.
Other questions raised were: (a) What are the features of a wheelchair accessible bus stop; (c) what infrastructure work does Land Transport Authority (LTA) have to do in order for a bus stop to be wheelchair accessible; and (d) how does LTA and SBS Transit intend to coordinate on the issue of wheelchair accessible bus transport.
Mr Raymond Lim Siang Keat's written reply:
Prof Kalyani Mehta's and Ms Eunice Olsen's questions touch on the implementation details of the wheelchair-accessible bus ("WAB") programme. For a bus route to be wheelchair-accessible, two things must happen.
First, the buses plying the route must be wheelchair-accessible. The public transport operators are in the process of equipping new buses with wheelchair-accessible ramps, as they replace and renew their fleet.
The Government is funding the capital cost of the ramps, which comes to about $21 million in total. By end-2010, 40% of our buses will have wheelchair-accessible ramps, and by 2020, all of them will.
Second, the bus stops along the route must be wheelchair-accessible. This involves replacing steps with ramps, removing potential obstacles and creating more space for wheelchairs to manoeuvre.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is in the process of making all 4,500 bus stops in Singapore wheelchair-accessible by 2010.
These two sets of improvements, to the buses and the bus stops, are coordinated between the LTA and the public transport operators so that we can roll out as many wheelchair-accessible bus services as possible to best meet the needs of passengers-in-wheelchairs.
The criterion of requiring at least 80% of bus stops to be wheelchair-accessible, before designating the bus route as such, is to balance between the safety of passengers-in-wheelchairs and the speed of implementation.
To fully ensure the safety of passengers-in-wheelchairs, ideally 100% of bus stops along a certain route should be made wheelchair-accessible before it can start serving passengers-in-wheelchairs.
But we recognise that this will take some time. LTA had therefore worked with the VWOs representing passengers-in-wheelchairs, to find a way to accelerate the rollout of wheelchair-accessible bus routes without unduly compromising safety.
It was after these discussions that all the parties concerned agreed to the 80% criterion, as a reasonable balance that can speed up the designation of wheelchair-accessible bus routes, while ensuring safety.
Prof Mehta asked about information on WAB services. There have been extensive efforts to publicise WAB services through multiple channels such as news releases, educational pamphlets and information on online portals such as on SBST's website.
The relevant VWOs have also helped to disseminate information to passengers-in-wheelchairs.
I would like to take this opportunity to clarify that when passengers-in-wheelchairs are refused boarding, it should happen only on routes which are not yet designated for wheelchair-accessible service.
This is in the interests of safety. To indicate a designated wheelchair-accessible service, the windscreens of buses will display decals.
The recent confusion arose because decals were displayed on buses plying routes that were not designated as wheelchair-accessible.
This should not have happened. SBST had since taken measures to remove the decals on buses when they ply non-wheelchair-accessible routes.
Let me assure Members that LTA and the operators are working together as quickly as they can, to ensure that passengers-in-wheelchairs can use our bus system on as many routes as possible, and as soon as possible.