Out of step

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 February, 2005, 12:00am

I have long wondered whether steps are supposed to bring you good fung shui, whether they are a disguised way for the government to force me to exercise, or whether town planners just do not think about how inconvenient they can be for the disabled and the owners of pushchairs alike. But Singapore is just full of them.

How such a modern city can be so unfriendly to the disabled puzzles me. Be it in the street, where access to shopping centres and offices often requires mounting some small steps, or with public transport, where buses are completely off limits for the disabled, it is often very difficult to get around. Even when the authorities put in escalators to access overhead walkways, they still manage to build in a few steps as well.

To be fair, things have been improving. In the last couple of years, several MRT stations have been fitted with lifts that allow easy access to and from the street, as well as on to the platforms. Some ticket gates have also been widened, making it easy to get through with shopping bags, a suitcase or children. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the renovated Wisma Atria shopping centre on Orchard Road had put in an outside escalator to facilitate access, although many would consider it ridiculously small. Yet at another shopping centre, further down the road, there is still an access ramp that ends with a step.

Ever since Lee Hsien Loong took over as prime minister last year, he has been advocating an 'all-inclusive' society where no one would be left behind, and in typical Singaporean style, once a policy has been decided, things move quickly.

In parliament, MPs have been debating bus ramps for the disabled once again. 'We should take a leaf from Korea, where pavements are disabled-friendly for both the blind and wheelchair bound,' one said.

Last year, these bus ramps were rejected because of costs and boarding delays. Yet, in about 25 years, one in five people in Singapore will be aged 65 and older. Add to this the fact that the government is advocating couples should have more babies, and it is clear that easy access to public transport is a must.

One feedback group has suggested that the authorities should waive two days of Electronic Road Pricing charges to the bus companies which would represent the money needed to instal each ramp.

Meanwhile, the Society for the Physically Disabled has been pointing out in the local press that the dominant bus operator tripled its net profit in the first nine months of last year. Therefore, the society argues, it must already have some spare cash to make the life of many Singaporeans easier.