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     FrontPage Edition: Wed 28 June 2006

Singapore's first wheelchair-accessible buses launched


SBS Transit Launches Singapore¡¯s First-Ever Wheelchair Accessible Buses, Offers One Month Free Rides
For the first time in 15 years, wheelchair-bound Sherena Loh will be able to take the bus to her favourite shopping haunts in Orchard Road instead of having to rely on taxis or specially-arranged transport.
This is thanks to the launch of SBS Transit¡¯s Service 21 wheelchair-accessible buses (WABs) ¨C Singapore¡¯s first such service. From tomorrow, 10 WABs will ply the Pasir Ris-St Michael¡¯s route daily.
To commemorate this significant occasion, all passengers in wheelchairs (PIWs) will be given free travel on WABs until the end of July.
Service 21 was chosen to be the first WAB service after consultation with Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) and the Land Transport Authority.
It runs past the premises of the Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA) in Whampoa, enabling members to gain direct access to major town centres like Pasir Ris, Tampines and Bedok. It also provides connections to Tan Tock Seng Hospital and other medical facilities.
The fleet consists of 14 air-conditioned double-deck and 9 air-conditioned single deck buses. The deployment of 10 WABs means that one in two buses on the route will be wheelchair-accessible during peak hours.
Mr Ong Boon Leong, Executive Director, SBS Transit said: ¡± We are happy to finally be able to serve all commuters in Singapore ¨C able-bodied or not. To make it even easier for passengers in wheelchairs to use our service, we have made available the timetable of WAB trips on our website. SingTel mobile service users can also make use of our SMS service *Send 655 to check out the next bus arrival time so as to better plan their journey.¡±
This is good news for PIWs like Ms Sherena Loh, who lost the use of her legs after a bout of illness. She said: ¡°I am very excited and happy about the amount of money I will be saving. It may not be as convenient as taking a taxi, but I am glad to be saving what I estimate to be between $150-$200 every month.
¡°I will also be making good use of the website timetable and the SMS service to plan my journey so I don¡¯t have to wait too long at the bus stops,¡± said the 46-year-old who stays in McNair Road which Service 21 plies.
To ensure the safety and comfort passengers like Ms Loh, all Service 21 Bus Captains have been trained to operate the wheelchair ramp and to render assistance when needed.
A public education programme, conducted in partnership with the LTA, has also been launched to ensure that members of the public are aware of the issues associated with WAB travel.
One of the key messages is the need for patience and tolerance on the part of all road users. This is because, the process of boarding and alighting for the PIW will take several minutes given the need to deploy and stow away the ramps.
¡°The introduction of WAB services signals a coming of age in society. Its success is now dependent on how PIWs take to it and how members of the public grow to accept it. Delays and bus bunching are bound to happen when boarding and alighting activities take place. I hope that the commuting public will be tolerant and show their care and concern for the less fortunate amongst us,¡± said Mr Ong.
Dr Ow Chee Chung, Executive Director, the Society for the Physically Disabled agreed. He said: ¡°Many of us take for granted our daily bus rides. Not so for our members who have been looking forward to this day for a long time. As able-bodied individual, we need to show them our support and render them assistance when needed. This is our duty.¡±
Indeed, the public education programme will include messages to motorists reminding them to steer clear of bus stops. This is because WABs need to stop close to the kerbs to deploy the ramp properly.
Added Ms Judy Anne Wee, Vice President of Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA), who is herself a wheelchair user said: ¡°This is a momentous occasion for many wheelchair users. We have been lobbying for wheelchair-accessible buses for a while now and the day has finally come. I, for one, am eager to try it out myself and I hope that everyone in Singapore works together to make it a success.¡±
About WABs
The 150 new WABs cost $71 million and are equipped with wheelchair ramps to enable easy access for passengers in wheelchairs.
A specially-designated area, with a padded backrest, horizontal handrail, vertical stanchion pole and a bell-push button for signalling the intention to alight, has been installed to make commuting on public transport more comfortable for passengers in wheelchairs.
These features are being introduced on all new SBS Transit buses, in line with the recommendations by the Committee on Ageing Issues to make all new public buses low-floor, step-free for easy boarding and alighting and wheelchair-accessible.
To help make new buses wheelchair accessible, the Government is funding the incremental capital cost of providing manual ramps and associated features. The Government has also embarked on road infrastructure improvement facilities, starting from the facilities for Service 21, to enhance accessibility between destinations for passengers in wheelchairs to use the public transport system.
About Service 21
Service 21 operates from Pasir Ris Bus Interchange to St Michael¡¯s Terminal via Pasir Ris Dr 3, Dr 6, Dr 1, Loyang Ave, Tampines Ave 7, Ave 4, Ave 5, Ave 1, Bedok Reservoir Road, Jalan Eunos, Changi Road, Geylang Road, Geylang Lor 1, Boon Keng Road, Bendemeer Road, Jalan Besar. Kitchener Road, Serangoon Road, Balestier Road, Moulmein Road, Thomson Road, Balestier Road, Whampoa Drive, Jalan Bahagia and Whampoa Road.
SBS Transit
SBS Transit is 75%-owned by ComfortDelGro Corporation. SBS Transit is the largest scheduled public bus operator in Singapore with more than 2,700 buses on 217 routes. The buses serve 16 interchanges, 16 bus terminals and more than 3,000 bus stops. Low-floor zero-step (or step-free) buses for easy boarding and alighting, were introduced in 2001 after the successful completion of a trial bus in 1998/99. Since then all new buses are of zero configuration. Currently, SBS Transit operates 86 low-floor step-free buses, consisting 14 single deck and 72 double deck buses.

Source: Press Release 26 Jun 2006

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