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Speech by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng at The Ministry of Transport’s Committee of Supply Debate 2020 on Towards A Safe and Inclusive Transport for All

05 Mar 2020 Speeches

The Government is committed to ensuring that Singapore’s transport system is safe and inclusive.

1.     Mr Chairman, the COVID-19 situation over the past weeks has reminded us of the importance of safety and inclusivity in Singapore’s transport system. During this difficult period, it is even more important that we ensure no one is left behind, especially the elderly and vulnerable.

2.     In fact, safety and inclusivity have been priorities for transport way before COVID-19 outbreak. Over the last 5 years, we have invested about $200 million on various safety and inclusivity-related transport initiatives. Let me highlight a few:

a.     In 2018, we announced plans to implement Red-Amber-Green (RAG) arrows at all feasible traffic junctions to replace discretionary right turns and improve pedestrian safety. Mr Png Eng Huat will be pleased to know that we have implemented these RAG arrows at more than 300 junctions, and target to have the arrows at a total of 1,200 traffic junctions by 2023. 

b.     We continue to strive towards a “Vision Zero” environment with fewer land transport-related fatalities, through regulations at the vehicle, driver, and operator levels. This includes stringent medical examinations for drivers. Not only will this give confidence to commuters, it is also for the drivers’ own safety. Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap asked about streamlining the medical examinations for elderly taxi drivers. As shared in the house last week, by the end of this year, elderly taxi drivers who have passed the medical assessments for their Taxi Driver Vocational License (TDVL) can use them to renew their Class 3 personal driving licences. On the statutory age limit, we need to bear in mind that taxi driving is physically and mentally demanding and can have serious impact on commuters and other road users. It is important to ensure that vocational drivers are fit to drive as they perform a public service. However, we are aware that with improved healthcare, drivers may be able to drive longer. We are studying the possibility of raising the statutory age limits of elderly vocational drivers together with Singapore Medical Association. 

c.     Mr Png Eng Huat also asked about Pedestrian Overhead Bridges, or POBs. Indeed, our preference is to build crossings at grade, rather than POBs, as they are all barrier-free and can be more easily accessed by the elderly and people with mobility challenges. However, there are instances where such at-grade crossings are dangerous, for example across major roads with fast-moving traffic, or when they may cause serious traffic congestion. In such cases, we will provide POBs. Even then, we will do our best to meet the needs of our elderly and the less ambulant. We plan to install lifts at all new POBs near major transport hubs, and at other existing POBs, if possible. As these lifts are costly, priority is given to the POBs which will most benefit the less mobile.

d.     Since March 2015, we have gradually introduced priority queues at transport nodes, so that individuals with special needs can board buses and trains more easily. Building on this effort, we will also start trialling the use of priority cabins on the North East Line trains towards the end of this year. Commuters in these cabins, which will be located 
near station lifts where possible, are encouraged to give way to the more vulnerable 
commuters, such as the elderly, wheelchair users, and families with young children. The idea for this initiative came from various public engagements done to better understand commuters’ needs. Thank you for the suggestion.

3.     As Singaporeans’ mobility needs change, our transport system also needs to keep pace. Where suitable, the Government will continue to make our transport system even safer and more inclusive.

a.     To enhance road safety for senior pedestrians, we have introduced 17 Silver Zones since 2014, with 18 currently in progress. These zones have narrower roads, speed humps to reduce traffic speed, and two-stage crossings for senior pedestrians to pause and rest, making road crossing safer for them. Over the past 6 years, accidents involving the elderly have reduced by almost 80% within these Silver Zones. With these encouraging results, we will continue for our plans to build a total of 50 Silver Zones island-wide by 2023. We are also constantly looking to improve upon existing results. For example, we will be trying lower speed limits at specific Silver Zones in the coming months to enhance road safety for our senior pedestrians. 

b.     To help the visually impaired navigate through our transport system, we piloted the mobile application, Mobility Assistance for the Visually Impaired and Special Users, or MAVIS for short. The app was piloted on selected buses since January 2019. MAVIS alerts bus drivers when commuters with special needs are boarding and alighting, and allows visually impaired commuters to activate an audio announcement at their boarding bus stop to guide them to their arriving bus. This might not mean a lot to able-bodied commuters, but to the visually impaired, these functions help them get around more conveniently and safely. We have received heart-felt feedback from commuters on how MAVIS had made a difference in their lives, giving them more confidence to take the bus, especially when there is no one around to help. I am happy to share that towards the end of this year, we will expand the MAVIS trial progressively to all of the buses on services 139 and 141, which serve the Enabling Village and the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped. Members would also have read about LTA’s upcoming hands-free ticketing trial, which supports our effort to make it even more convenient for commuters with special needs to travel on our buses and trains, without the need to tap their fare cards.

Commuters play a key role in making our transport system safe and inclusive.

4.     Mr Chairman, the Government’s efforts alone are not enough to make our land transport system safe and inclusive. For example, even if we build more lifts at existing train stations, it will not help vulnerable commuters if others compete with them to use the lifts. 

5.     Commuters play a very important role too. We will continue to encourage individual commuters to be more understanding about those with different needs from ours, be more gracious in putting other’s needs before ours, and even better, be more caring by going the extra mile for fellow commuters, especially the elderly and those with special needs. 

6.     Let me share this story on how some commuters have done so. Mr Lester Wong was on the train when an elderly woman fell with her groceries and could not get up. Lester went out of his way to accompany her home, to make sure that the elderly was okay. Upon reaching home and taking a rest, the elderly was still not feeling well, so Lester insisted on sending her to the hospital to make sure that she got the medical care and attention she needed. Lester was the winner of the first Caring Commuter award last year.

7.     Over the past years, we have heard many stories like Lester’s. And there are probably many more out there that we do not know of. We can harness these individual acts of care into a national movement, and build a culture where showing care for fellow commuters become a way of life. 

8.     Hence, to galvanise commuters and other key stakeholders into action, the Public Transport Council has set up a new Caring SG Commuters Committee to help grow this movement: 

a.     Firstly, the committee will help to facilitate greater awareness of the challenges faced by commuters and show commuters how to care for others. It is not always easy to know what kind of help others need, or if and when we should even offer help. Sometimes we just feel paiseh! This is why one of the committee’s first goals is to help commuters better understand other commuters’ needs. We will encourage commuters who need help to ask for help too, so that it is easier for their fellow commuters to step up and provide the necessary care.

b.     Secondly, the committee will engage commuters and other stakeholders to explore ways we can grow the caring commuting movement further, as part of the broader SG Together movement. Over the next six months, the committee will organise two series of engagements. To begin, we will engage widely to gather ideas and views on how we as commuters can contribute to this cause. Then, we will engage commuters in targeted ways to pilot and co-create solutions that can help to grow the movement. 

c.     The committee will submit a report to the Minister for Transport in a year’s time, on its findings and recommendations on how we can continue to work with commuters and other stakeholders to build and sustain a caring commuting culture in Singapore. 

We will step up industry partnerships towards safe and inclusive transport.

9.     Mr Chairman, the industry will also need to lean forward to play their part in making our land transport system safer and more inclusive for all Singaporeans. There may be some initiatives that are difficult for the Government to mandate and implement alone. An example would be the provision of child seats in taxis. This was discussed extensively during our public consultations for the P2P regulatory review and had mixed views from drivers, operators, and the public. Today, I am pleased to announce that SMRT will be leaning forward to pilot the provision of booster seats in all its taxis, at no additional charge to commuters. This will enhance safety for children in taxis, and provide parents of young children with a safer transport option. 

10.    Over the past weeks, we have seen even more instances of the industry stepping up to partner the Government, coming together during these difficult times.

11.    For example, Grab and Gojek have rallied their drivers to step up in this time of crisis to provide on-demand transport services for healthcare professionals. This had helped to provide peace of mind for the frontliners of our battle against COVID-19, to know that they can have a much needed, more comfortable ride home after a stressful day at work caring for fellow Singaporeans.

12.    While COVID-19 would eventually run its course, the partnerships forged during this difficult time cannot end. We will continue to strengthen these ties and forge new partnerships as we build a transport system that is safer and more inclusive for all Singaporeans.

Conclusion

13. Such partnerships are pivotal in the next phase of Singapore’s development. The Government cannot and should not do this alone. We will need to tap on synergies across sectors and harness the strength of our entire community.  As a whole, we are greater than the sum of our individual parts. Working closely together with commuters, the industry, the community we will achieve our vision of a safe and inclusive transport system for all.