Monday, May 11, 2009

Let disabled ride buses and trains for free

Telemarketeer Rethinasamy Rajasvari, who is blind in one eye, says people with handicaps need help with transport costs MISS Rethinasamy Rajasvari, 49, has been in and out of meet-the-people's sessions in the last two years, pleading with Members of Parliament (MPs) for one cause:

By Mindy Tan, The New Paper
15 January 2008

MISS Rethinasamy Rajasvari, 49, has been in and out of meet-the-people's sessions in the last two years, pleading with Members of Parliament (MPs) for one cause:

Waive public transport fares for the disabled.

Unlike students and the elderly, who get ez-link farecard concessions, the blind and physically disabled in Singapore get no official discounts and have to pay the regular fare.

Miss Rethinasamy, a telemarketeer who suffers from adult blindness and has only 10 per cent vision in one eye, takes home $700 a month and spends $500 of it on transport.

She said: 'The disabled are a small group in Singapore. Would it cost a lot to let us travel for free?

'At least, give us a concession.'

About 2,800 blind people are served by the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped (SAVH).

MOST AFFORDABLE

Its executive director Edmund Wan estimated that 80 per cent of SAVH members take buses. He said: 'This is the most affordable mode of transport. There is no alternative.'

To save costs, Miss Rethinasamy, who is an active prisons volunteer, depends heavily on the compassion of bus drivers to get a fare waiver.

She takes two feeder buses and the MRT to get from her Ang Mo Kio three-room flat to her Havelock Road office.

Seeing her with a white cane, most drivers do not insist that she taps her ez-link card.

Instead, they ask her to sit down.

If drivers ask her to pay, she produces her SAVH card to prove she is visually handicapped. And then it is up to the driver, she said.

However, the SAVH card is not an official concession pass.

Mr Wan said: The card is only a form of identification for the visually handicapped to inform the public that they need help.

'But it has been a historical practice that most bus drivers do not insist that the visually handicapped pay the fares.'

On the MRT, some officers have refused to let Miss Rethinasamy through, she claimed.

And when it rains, she has to take a taxi to work, as the slippery floor and rush-hour crowd make it difficult for her to find her way.

With the taxi fare hike, her journey now costs $22.

ComfortDelGro did not comment when The New Paper asked if there were plans to introduce free transport or concessionary travel for the disabled on its transport systems, including SBS Transit buses.

However, Miss Tammy Tan, the group corporate communications officer, said the company has invested $280 million on more than 200wheelchair accessible buses since 2006. The 500 buses it has newly- ordered are wheelchair-friendly too.

She said: 'We are, and continue to be, the only public bus service provider in Singapore to have such wheelchair- friendly buses in our fleet.'

CONCESSIONS SOON?

For two years, Miss Rethinasamy has been writing to the authorities for a concession card for the disabled. Nothing has been implemented so far.

She said: 'In response to my appeal, the authorities sent me a letter saying, 'We cannot put this in practice now.' I was so disheartened that I tore up the letter immediately.'

The SAVH doubts disabled people will ever travel for free.

Mr Wan said: 'We welcome a free transport scheme by operators but doubt this would happen as it would mean offsetting their earnings.'

He recommends a concessionary scheme because the majority of visually handicapped people fall into the lowest strata of earning power.

Such a scheme could be 'just like the one offered to senior citizens', he said.

'Also, the card should not be restricted to non-peak hours as they need to commute to work.

'Concessions will help them meet the rising costs when their earnings do not rise correspondingly. They do need help.'

Miss Rethinasamy said: 'It is tedious for the disabled to get around. High transport costs also keep many at home since we have low-paying jobs or are jobless.'

'We are blind but we don't want to sit at home and brood. We still want to be useful to society, be part of support groups, learn new skills, and we need to travel.'

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WHAT'S DONE HERE AND AROUND THE WORLD: Low fares, friendly features

SINGAPORE

Tactile markers in train stations

100 ComfortDelGro taxi drivers from the CabbyCare Charity Group of have forked out $55,000 from their own pockets to fund taxi trips for the disabled since 2006

Handicare Cab Scheme waives booking fees of trips made by beneficiaries of the Handicaps Welfare Association.

HONG KONG

Comprehensive public transport guide for disabled

Braille plates on add-value machines and lifts at stations

Induction hearing aids for the deaf

Tactile station layout map with voice synthesis device

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA

Lower flag-down rate and meter charges in cabs for the disabled. They get priority when booking cabs, and don't pay booking charges

AUSTRALIA

Free travel permit schemes for the blind on railways, buses and ferries

In Victoria, companions of the blind get free travel, a move to help reduce caregivers' financial burden

ENGLAND

Free bus pass for off-peak travel

Free travel on trams in some areas

Half-price coach travel


Link: The New Paper

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