All SMRT frontline employees to be trained to help commuters with special needs

Ms Parvinderjeet Kaur
SMRT senior assistant station manager Kurinjich Chelvi assists Junaidah d/o Ramli, 46, who is blind, into a train during a media demonstration on Jan 25, 2018. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

SINGAPORE — By July, all 1,400 frontline employees with transport operator SMRT will be trained in skills to better help commuters with special needs, including the elderly and the visually and hearing-impaired.

For now, 350 staff members have undergone the “inclusive service delivery” programme, which kicked off in October last year, the transport operator announced on Thursday (Jan 25).

Frontline employees, including those working in train stations and bus interchanges, are trained to help commuters who use wheelchairs to board trains, buses and taxis, and those on crutches get up ramps, for example.

The all-day training programme comprises classroom and hands-on sessions, which are “highly contextualised to SMRT trains and buses to make the training relevant and authentic”, SMRT said, in order to improve the learner’s understanding of the needs of “priority passengers, inclusive transport service infrastructure, practices and services that benefit priority passengers”.

NTUC Learning Hub, Lien Foundation and Jurong Health are partners in this programme.

SMRT president and group chief executive Desmond Kuek said: “With this training, our staff are better equipped with the necessary skills to respond to situations when dealing with the needs of the elderly, visually impaired and passengers with mobility needs. We hope they will show the way for a more inclusive transport network and society.”

While all SMRT employees are receiving training in "service excellence", Mr Kuek added that the new programme would help frontline crew “better identify and support those with special needs”.

Speaking to reporters during the programme launch at Ang Mo Kio MRT Station, Mr Kuek was asked about a report by The Straits Times published last week that he is expected to step down. He dismissed it as “purely speculative”.

On the same day the programme was launched, the Public Transport Council unveiled a raft of recommendations, which included suggestions to make the public transport system more accessible for those with special needs, and to improve commuters’ experience.

The council proposed, for instance, having a mobile application that provides hearing-impaired commuters with information on train disruptions, as well as for bus captains to make arrival announcements at the bus stops to help visually impaired passengers know which bus has arrived.

For commuters who are visually impaired, their feedback prompted the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped to approach SMRT three years ago, to help train some of its employees. Mr Francis Tay, the association’s operations manager, said: “Our clients told us that sometimes, when they took the trains … the staff members weren’t able to give them proper instructions… and would say ‘there, there, there’. For a blind person, it’s difficult to know where is ‘there’.”

As part of the new programme, the association gave tips to SMRT employees on helping this group of commuters, such as holding out their arms for support. “At least now, we realise the staff will approach (the commuters in need) and lend them a hand,” Mr Tay said.

Madam Rukiah Mardan, 50, an SMRT service ambassador at the Bukit Panjang Integrated Transport Hub, attended the programme held at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital earlier this month.

She told TODAY of what she learnt about helping commuters move from wheelchairs to taxis, for example. “There is a tactic through which we can handle them very easily. We hold the body and the back of the pants, so that the weight will not be so heavy.”

Mr Gary Tan, 55, SMRT’s station manager at Botanic Gardens MRT Station on the Circle Line, offered this advice from his experience: “We need to pay attention to (the special-needs commuters) by listening to them, rather than telling or instructing them what to do.”