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Bus wheelchair ramps: Is there no better way forward?

Bus wheelchair ramps: Is there no better way forward?

dailydoseofcoffee

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By now we're no stranger to the wheelchair ramp that folds out from the floor of our public buses to make an almost linear connection with the floor of bus stops. The ramp slopes slightly, and in some instances, leaves a small gap in the contact it tries to make. 

Even so, I was heartened when the first wheelchair accessible buses hit our roads in 2006. It was a huge step forward in improving accessibility and enabling mobility for all.

Blog-Entry-8_Pic-1.thumb.jpg.ccae6582de828d4d63f5c2937f47e277.jpg

This was Singapore's first wheelchair accessible bus - the Euro 3 Volvo B9TL CDGE - which was retired in 2023 🥲

18 years later, the manual ramp lives on. 

Like me, you may have wondered at least once about when these tactile surfaced folding boards would be replaced with automated ones. "It could save the bus captains the hassle of deploying the wheelchair ramp repeatedly", was what I thought. 

It's no easy task having to bend over to deploy the ramp on and off, in addition to the responsibility of ensuring that commuters are transported safely. Yet there are good reasons for why the manually operated ramps are still the way to go, for now. 

Blog-Entry-8_Pic-3.thumb.jpg.23c75899d6b2a0c1d8b42c0216af2fa0.jpgThe same consideration also crossed the minds of the authorities. In 2017, automatic wheelchair ramps were trialled in SBS Transit buses for six months. 

The feasibility test, however, yielded longer waiting times for commuters and for other bus services serving the same bus stops. This, according to LTA, was due to the extra time needed to extend and retract the automatic ramp. LTA also explained that more maintenance will be needed owing to the complex set-up of automated ramps. 

So, it seems the trusty human-operated ramps are here to stay. 

Blog-Entry-8_Pic-4.thumb.jpg.b119ba36177a40d409179511a9197e37.jpgApart from the bus captains, one other group of commuters are naturally equally (if not more) affected by the ramp – whether it exists, what form it may take, and how smoothly it operates. The wheelchair users. 

While poking around for my research, I came across this story which I think puts into crystal-clear perspective the fears and anxieties of wheelchair users in relation to riding the public buses.

One point that struck me was how these commuters think they might be inconveniencing others because of their disability. They should not have to feel this way. And if it doesn't already pose enough anxiety for wheelchair users to take the public transport, using the wheelchair ramp only adds to their anxiety levels.

Blog-Entry-8_Pic-7.thumb.jpg.65c76c54b13079f6eb35a200a8e8c6b9.jpgLittle known to non-wheelchair users, the way a ramp is handled can signal a very different message to wheelchair-bound commuters. For example, if the deployed ramp impacts the ground with a 'bang', it can cause the wheelchair user to think that they aren't welcome on the bus.

Speaking from experience, a user interviewed by CNA shared that it requires a lot of confidence to navigate the wheelchair ramp on the public buses. 

A course that's jointly conducted by SPD and transport operator, Tower Transit Singapore, seeks precisely to address this point by helping "people with disabilities regain their confidence in travelling on public buses". 

Blog-Entry-8_Pic-6.thumb.jpg.a01d39ba584a5fb6e197a812214efddd.jpgWheelchair users get practice on navigating, bus captains receive training on assisting with the ramp – these are important steps to bolstering the structural measures already put in place. 

My hope though, is still for an alternative – such as a middle ground – to be found to better the experience not only for the bus captains but also wheelchair users. 

Members of the public, too, can play a part: The Public Bus Confidence Course is free and open to all. With some patience and consideration when taking the public buses, we can (in indirect ways) alleviate the anxiety that wheelchair users have bottled up so they don't think that they're a hindrance to others. It will also help bus captains to carry out their duties more effectively.

Some food for thought though, here's a London Bus with a fully electric wheelchair ramp. 

- Denise

Media from: Adobe Stock, Unsplash, SBS Transit, Tower Transit Singapore, Land Transport Guru, YouTube




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I have seen the ramp being used by some of the handicap commuter before, and the bus captain just need to come out and flip the board over and guide the passenger to the bus.

I think our bus captain is well trained on handling handicap passenger. They will push the passenger to the corner and secure them in a safely manner. 

If I am the boss of SBS or SMRT, I will like all my captains to have this personal touch. With the electric ramp, there will be increased cost for repairing and maybe won't have so many meaningful moments with the passenger. 

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