Call to boost 'heartware' on public transport system

IT WOULD take more than just improvements in infrastructure for the public transport system to be truly elder-friendly, say social groups.

Apart from upgrading facilities, making navigation simpler and educating staff about seniors' needs could help the elderly feel more at ease with using public transport.

Bus-stop seats could be fitted with arm rests, suggested Ms Chua Hui Keng, a care manager with the Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing's care management service. The arm rests would help elderly commuters get up from their seats more easily.

Other ideas include providing grab bars along sheltered walkways and having all announcements on the MRT made in the four official languages.

Some said they would like to see larger fonts being used on the maps, posters and signs at bus stops and in buses.

Last Saturday, Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said Singapore will soon have a comprehensive plan to make public transport facilities more senior-friendly.

This could include having more anti- slip flooring, and more seats at bus stops and train stations. Details are likely to be announced during the Committee of Supply debate next year.

While these physical improvements would help elderly commuters, some people indicated that it is also important to make sure service personnel are aware of the challenges certain seniors face, such as a difficulty in walking or keeping their balance.

Improving the "heartware" aspect is as important, said Ms Chua.

One gripe that retired human resource manager Soh Swee Kiat has is that bus drivers are not always aware of what their older passengers need. "In the new buses, the brake system is very strong and there is a lot of jerking," said the 66-year-old. "A number of times, the bus also started to move off before I could get to my seat."

Navigation is another area where seniors face difficulties. "Many are afraid that they will get lost, and they tend to stick to familiar things and familiar routes," said Mr Isaiah Chng, director of social enterprise Proage, which promotes active ageing.

Ms Julia Lee, director of Touch Seniors Activity Centre, said: "The elderly are generally afraid of taking public transport unless it is necessary, as most of their familiar landmarks are gone and they have difficulty with spatial orientation as they age."

Said 79-year-old retiree Ou Mei Zhu, in Mandarin: "I take public transport a lot, but mostly only to Jurong because my daughter lives there, or to Changi Airport because I have a direct bus. But if you asked me to go to Suntec City by myself, I would get lost. It's too complicated."

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