Bus announcements for visually-impaired commuters

Asked the Minister for Transport whether LTA will consider using technology to equip (i) bus stops with audible announcements of arriving bus service numbers; and (ii) buses with on-board announcements of approaching bus stops to better enable visually-impaired commuters to travel more independently, safely and conveniently.

Parliamentary Question on 8 October 2014

BUS ANNOUNCEMENTS TO ASSIST VISUALLY-IMPAIRED COMMUTERS

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Transport whether LTA will consider using technology to equip (i) bus stops with audible announcements of arriving bus service numbers; and (ii) buses with on-board announcements of approaching bus stops to better enable visually-impaired commuters to travel more independently, safely and conveniently.

Mrs Josephine Teo (for the Minister for Transport): … Mdm Speaker, LTA is already in the process of developing a central bus management system which will be capable of relaying real-time information to and from buses and bus stops. This system will be implemented progressively from end-2015 and completed in 2017. At that time, we will have announcements of the next bus stop, for example broadcasted on buses, or delivered in a more targeted way through smart-phone applications and other devices. Today, however, the bus operators have separate fleet management systems and do not have the necessary infrastructure and systems in place to support such announcements.

In the meantime, LTA will continue to work with the bus operators to ensure that bus captains are trained to offer persons with disabilities the assistance they need to travel safely and reliably.

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: I really appreciate the assurance by the Senior Minister of State that this system would be rolled out. Can I clarify that with this new fleet management system, it will mean that there will be audible announcements on all buses and will that extend to the bus stops as well to announce the incoming buses so that the visually-impaired commuters will be notified of the incoming buses.

Mrs Josephine Teo: Mdm Speaker, the Member’s clarification is a useful one. Audible announcements being broadcasted on buses is fairly straightforward because only the people in the buses will hear them and so it does not cause much disturbance. For audible announcements at bus stops, it is something that we have to consider more carefully. The reason being that some of the bus stops are located quite near to people’s homes. At busy times of the day where the buses are arriving at a bus stop, sometimes on a continuous basis, can you imagine what it means for people who are living in homes quite near these bus stops?

That is something that we have to look at quite carefully. Now, there are only a very small number of cities in the world that have attempted audible announcements at bus stops and where they have done so, it has not been comprehensively implemented. There are only selected bus stops where they will introduce these audible announcements. What we also know is that typically the preference is for push button, on-demand type of announcements so that visually-impaired persons if they require these announcements can access them. However, these announcements are not made at all times of the day and as and when every single bus arrives.

Those are some of the issues that we will have to look into. But, as I said earlier, in today’s context the infrastructure and systems are not even in place to support such audible announcements at bus stops. We will have to let this new system be implemented and then we will at the same time look at how audible announcements can be made feasible at bus stops as well as on buses.

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: I thank the Senior Minister of State again for the reply. Is it technically impossible to do it or is it just the noise problem? Because I believe all the SMRT bus stops already have visual announcements of the incoming buses. So I do not see why that technology cannot be extended to audible announcements.

Secondly, I do not think the announcement needs to be that loud because visually-impaired commuters would tend to have more sensitive hearing so it does not have to be so loud that it disturbs the residents nearby. And, perhaps, the Ministry could consider some other alternatives. One is to have tactile announcements that use touch rather than sound to announce the incoming buses.

Thirdly, I think what some cities do is that the buses themselves have an announcement when it pulls into the bus stop to inform the commuters about what bus number that is. From my conversations with the members of the visually-impaired community this is a more pressing need than the announcements on board the bus. They could be at an empty bus stop and not have anyone to ask what the next bus number is. They have told me that even when the bus arrives and they ask the bus driver, sometimes the bus driver just gives a nod or shakes his head. So, to the visually-impaired commuter there is no response. I hope the Ministry can look into this. Thank you.

Mrs Josephine Teo: We certainly will. Thank you.

Er Dr Lee Bee Wah: I would to ask the Senior Minister of State since we are buying a new fleet of buses, can we order the buses in such a way that the door is right at the back, so that commuters when they move into the bus, will move towards the back of the bus straightaway? I think the design of the bus will help commuters in moving towards the back of the bus.

Mrs Josephine Teo: Mdm Speaker, I do not see how this has got to do with audible announcements but we thank her for her suggestion. We will take a look at that.

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Source: Singapore Parliament Reports

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.