Andy Thompson: Towards a caring commuter culture in Singapore
Are you a caring commuter? In Singapore, a government-backed body is encouraging the public to show a little patience for those who find travelling a challenge.
The Caring SG Commuters Committee, which trains “champions” and gives awards to those who help fellow customers with accessibility needs, is a sign of a changing culture in this east Asian city, where Go-Ahead operates 450 buses.
It wasn’t so long ago that disability, here, tended to be hidden away. But inclusivity is now firmly on the agenda, and there’s a welcome sense that disabilities, whether obvious or not, are nothing to be ashamed of.
Singapore is a city of plans - and at the centre of the city’s transport masterplan for 2040 is an objective to provide “transport for all”. It sets out to create barrier-free journeys with a more “gracious and caring commuter culture”.
It’s easy to see why this is a priority – like many modern cities, Singapore has an ageing population. And it’s also a city where very few people own cars (about 11%, compared to around 50% in Europe and 80% in the United States). So it’s vital that everybody feels comfortable using public transport.
So what can we do to contribute? Last year, Go-Ahead Singapore introduced an idea created by a sister company in the UK, Brighton & Hove Buses, for yellow cards which can be shown to bus drivers discreetly with slogans such as “may I have a seat please” or “alert me when I’m approaching my stop”. Called Helping Hand cards, these have proven hugely popular and we’re proud that the “may I have a seat please” card has been adopted by the Land Transport Authority for all bus and rail services.
We know that some people can feel unwell, or just need a rest, when they’re travelling. So at Pasir Ris, one of our key bus interchanges, we’ve created a designated Heart Zone where people can sit down and where help is available if they need it. There will be one at our other main interchange, Punggol, soon too.
To help challenge any remaining stigma around disability, we’ve created a gallery wall at Pasir Ris displaying works from artists with disabilities. And we’re organising Confident Commuting courses to help build comfort around everyday travelling – using an out-of-service bus to give people the opportunity to practice boarding, and interacting with drivers.
Andy Thompson is Managing Director of Go-Ahead Singapore
I know that hidden disabilities – including dementia and autism – can make public transport daunting. So we’re training our colleagues in dementia awareness, and we’re liaising with a local charity, Dementia Friends, who have launched an app – which displays the family contact details very prominently for anybody looking a little lost around our network.
We’ve established a designated Go-To Point for people with dementia who need help. And at Pasir Ris, there’s even a chill-out room for people with autism who occasionally just need a space away from the crowds.
I’m not presenting these initiatives out of boastfulness, or to gain plaudits. These are things that any good public transport operator should be doing. They’re ideas that are appreciated by our customers, by our stakeholders and that motivate our colleagues, too.
I’m delighted to be working in a city where the authorities view accessibility as a genuine priority. And it’s gratifying that we’ve been able to share ideas, and borrow a few, from our Go-Ahead colleagues back in the UK. Our objective must be to provide journeys that work for everybody.