During the Walk Cycle Ride SG Symposium on Wednesday 20th July this year, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced that foldable bikes and personal mobility devices (PMDs) will soon be allowed on public transport all day as part of a six-month pilot trial.
This is part of the government’s effort to promote a car-lite Singapore in which alternative transport options will become attractive and convenient. Well and good, but let’s analyze and examine what will come about with this implementation. In solving one issue, managing the car population, will there be multiple problems that will surface following the car-lite project?
Mr. Khaw hopes that public transport commuters and those who bring their bicycles and PMDs on the buses and trains will adopt a give-and-take attitude and to be considerate to one another. Though this is sound advice, the reality is that not all commuters are gracious and there are bound to be issues that will arise. To ensure the safety of all passengers, there must be a clear think through before its implementation.
Firstly, buses and especially trains are overcrowded for the most part of the day. During peak periods passengers on board trains are packed like sardines and can hardly move about freely. For the elderly and the sick, breathing becomes an issue. Then on top of that, the authorities want to allow foldable bikes and PMDs on board public transport without considering the safety of all its passengers. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) needs to understand that overcrowding of trains can prove disastrous. This was clearly the case in October this year when an overcrowded train in Cameroon derailed, killing more than 70 people and injuring 600 passengers.
Secondly, there are still frequent train breakdowns and buses get involved in accidents. When this occurs, commuters get agitated as they scramble to contact their loved ones. During such a scenario, tempers will flare and arguments with fellow passengers and MRT staff/bus captains are not uncommon. MRT staff and bus captains who are the frontline staff will then be on the receiving end of commuters’ frustration and it has happened.
Thirdly, we are not a very gracious society as there will always be people who shove and push when they move up and down the escalator, disregarding the safety of our seniors. Lifts that should be given priority to those with special needs are often used by able-bodied men and women. To this end, the authorities ought to consider building an additional lift strictly for use for those with special needs at new MRT stations.
However, if the LTA is still keen to allow such equipment to take off the ground, then I propose that one area in the trains or buses be reserved for this purpose so that there will not be a mad scramble to rush when an accident or a breakdown takes place. There must also be no bottlenecks during the ride as arguments can so easily take place when there is limited space.
Public education through the public address systems on buses and trains has to be on-going – and more so if and when the car-lite project gets on the way. A clearly marked area “CAR-LITE SECTION” with an advisory message in the 4 languages will guide commuters to place their foldable bikes and PMDs in the assigned place. Needless to say, public transport staff must on hand to give guidance, and once all these proposed measures are put in place, I have every confidence that there will be minimum disruption; and this car-lite project might just be successful.
Let us build a social mission culture here in Singapore where everyone looks out for one another, ensuring that we all live, work, play and travel in a safe and pleasant environment. This social mission culture may be a tall order, but if we put our hearts and minds to it, I have every confidence that it can be done. At the end of the day, helping our Government to come up with constructive, workable and practical suggestions on various matters can make this a great country!
Raymond Anthony Fernando