A recent announcement that an advisory panel has been set up and is looking for recommendations on making the public transport system more family friendly was met with cynicism by many Singaporeans.
The general consensus seems to be: what’s the point of trying to make the public transport system family friendly when it’s got such a long way to go in being commuter friendly, with crushing congestion and frequent delays?
But okay, that aside, anyone who’s tried to take the bus or MRT with a little person in tow knows that the average trip instantly becomes 100 times more challenging when there are kids involved.
Here are six suggestions that can make taking public transport less of a chore for families.
1. Make bus floors level
There’s a reason nobody wants to move to the back of the bus, no matter what Move-In Martin says. That’s because the second half of the bus is often elevated and requires you to clamber up steps to get to.
That’s obviously inconvenient and uncomfortable for elderly people, parents with prams and children in tow and pregnant women, especially when the bus driver thinks he’s a character in Initial D. When it’s time to get off at your stop, you have to totter to the front of the bus and try to clamber down the steps as the bus lurches to a halt. The long bendy buses with level floors throughout are way more comfortable for all of us.
2. Add foldable seats on buses and the MRT
The infamous reserved seats on the MRT have made it to Stomp an embarrassing number of times, but due to overcrowding, they can’t do much to guarantee a seat even for the oldest, most heavily pregnant amongst us.
The scarcity of seats is so great that people giving up their seat to the elderly/pregnant often have no idea which of the 20 old/pregnant people in the carriage deserve it most. To make matters worse, LTA and SMRT had to go and remove the seats in some MRT carriages so more people could be crammed in.
Well, the way to go is foldable seats which can be folded up when the train is full, not removing the seats altogether.
3. Automatic ramps for easier boarding of buses
It’s nice that open strollers and wheelchairs are now allowed on buses. But actually getting on the bus remains a very troublesome and stressful process. Sure, there are wheelchair-friendly buses, but these are limited in number and not available for all bus services. And ramps need to be operated manually by the bus drivers.
Those who are not wheelchair bound but are suffering from mobility issues are still obliged to clamber up the stairs. The dividers at the entrance of buses also make it hard to haul bulky equipment like strollers onto the vehicle. Making entrances wider and easier to board, adding an automatic ramp and getting rid of the dividers would be a good start.
4. In-station restrooms with baby changing facilities
Anybody who’s had to answer nature’s call in an MRT station toilet knows that these are almost always cramped and gross, especially at the older stations. In fact, most people avoid using the MRT toilets altogether, preferring instead to hold it in till they arrive at a nearby mall.
But elderly people or parents with young kids often do not have a choice. This is especially bad for people with a long commute. More in-station toilet stalls, better toilet maintenance, more disabled toilet facilities and baby changing facilities would be much appreciated.
5. Family-friendly fare policies
To be fair, our public transport fares are more than reasonable. But for families, it is often not worthwhile braving the discomfort and longer travelling time of public transport. For the same price it takes for a family of four or five to travel a few stops on the MRT, you could’ve flagged down a taxi along with the convenience and comfort it brings.
Some kind of family discount would help to encourage Singaporeans to travel more often as a family by public transport.
6. Reduce breakdowns and overcrowding, increase coverage
To be honest, many of the factors that turn families off public transport are the very same factors that make Singaporeans complain so much about the system.
Ever been trapped in an airless carriage during yet another MRT breakdown? Sick of standing cheek to jowl with other passengers? Hate the fact that travelling by public transport takes twice as long as a car or cab ride? All these annoyances are multiplied when you have a screaming kid or an elderly family member in tow.
How can public transport in Singapore become more family-friendly? Share your suggestions in the comments!