Trial of MRT priority cabins put on hold due to changed ridership patterns amid pandemic

SINGAPORE – A trial of MRT priority cabins for the elderly, wheelchair users and pregnant women has been put on hold indefinitely due to the coronavirus situation, The Sunday Times has learnt.

A Land Transport Authority (LTA) spokesman told ST that ridership patterns have changed amid the Covid-19 outbreak and new initiatives will have to wait until the situation is better studied.

LTA first suggested the trial in 2019. It was to have taken place on the North-East Line last year.

Cabins near station lifts were to have more signs encouraging passengers to let the more vulnerable commuters board and alight first, keep wheelchair spaces free and give up their seats to them.

This would have come amid Singapore’s efforts to change its commuter culture for the better and to build a more inclusive transport system, with the infrastructure on buses and at MRT stations now mostly accessible to those with mobility needs.

Approached with news of the delay, Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport Saktiandi Supaat said the idea should not be panned.

“Over time, as more people use public transport more (frequently) in this Covid-19 environment, the efforts on trialling and hopefully creating infrastructure and supporting elements towards having priority cabins would become more pertinent,” he said.

“I am supportive of any efforts by the Government to ensure our vulnerable commuters are taken care of rather than them having to squeeze in other cabins during Covid-19.”

He added that the focus might well have been on handling the Covid-19 crisis over the past year, but creating an inclusive transport system should still be a priority.

MRT and LRT rides fell by 41 per cent to 2.162 million a day last year. Another shift in travelling patterns is less pronounced morning and evening peaks, with more people working from home and staggered work hours.

Deputy chairman of the GPC for Transport Melvin Yong said the delay was understandable, and that key assumptions underpinning the priority cabin initiative – as well as others – might need to be relooked as a result of changing travel patterns.

“Telecommuting arrangements and staggered working hours will likely cause some permanent changes to our public transport ridership, which will affect more than just the trial of priority cabins on the North-East Line, he said.

“Key assumptions underpinning the overall Land Transport Masterplan 2040 were based on pre-Covid-19 parameters and projections.”

Separately, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng said last month that commuters with long-term and invisible medical conditions or disabilities can request for a specially-designed card and lanyard at passenger service centres and offices.

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The LTA had trialled the programme with stickers in 2019, and is meant to make it easier for others to notice vulnerable passengers’ needs.

With the lanyard, those with less visible ailments will have their needs – for seats, for instance – made more conspicuous to those around them.

The lanyards will read “May I have a seat please” and, like the stickers, can be collected after commuters bring medical certificates or doctors’ letters to passenger service centres and offices as evidence.

The scheme is likely to help those recovering from stroke or physical injuries, those with chronic pain, heart disease and arthritis, and those undergoing cancer treatment, as well as users of prosthetic limbs, and early-stage expectant mothers.

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