(This is DPA’s media statement in response to the release of the Fare Review Mechanism Committee’s report on 5 November 2013)
The Disabled People’s Association welcomes and supports the Fare Review Mechanism Committee (FRMC)’s recommendation to grant concessions to people with disabilities for public transport fares, and that such subsidies are to be funded by the government. A transport fare concession, after all, has been a long-standing request of the local disability community.
We note that the government will only be replying to FRMC’s report next week, but we are optimistic that the government will be adopting most of its recommendations, in particular the one pertaining to subsidies for people with disability.
In view of the above, and in reply to queries on this question, DPA wishes to state that we strongly feel that all persons with disability – whether physical, sensory, intellectual, neurological or mental in nature – should be eligible for subsidised fares.
As Singapore lacks a national disability registry, how then should we decide who are eligible for the concession? The initial and obvious step would be to grant it unconditionally to clients in the recognised disability VWOs such as ARC, SAVH, SADeaf, MINDS, APSN, HWA, MDAS, SPD and so on.
It is, however, important to note that not all persons with disabilities are registered clients of the disability VWOs. Hence, we need measures to ensure that those who have disabilities, but are not officially registered as such, are able to verify their status and eligibility without prolonged delays or getting entangled in excessive paperwork.
The next step, for the mid- to long-term period, would be to set up an official national registry for people with disabilities, as recommended in the Enabling Masterplan and as mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This will make it much easier for the government and transport authorities to know who are eligible for the concessions.
We also acknowledge there are disabled people who are from more well-off families or earning good salaries, and who do not need or even want such financial assistance – the question will then arise as to why they are entitled to subsidies simply because of their disability.
Our stance is: The alternative is to implement means testing, which might not be cost-effective due to the challenging assessment and administration work involved.
Furthermore, the disability community, as a whole, is a disadvantaged one – it is safe to say the majority of disabled people lag behind their non-disabled peers in terms of educational qualifications, income level, job opportunities and employment rates.
It is also accurate to assert that their diminished socio-economic status is largely a direct or indirect result of their relative lack of access to education, information, accommodation and employment, as well as widespread discrimination and bias towards them.
As such, the government and society have a responsibility to give a helping hand and provide a more level playing field for the disability community at large.
Finally, DPA would like to highlight that subsidised transport fares is just one factor, albeit an important one, in assessing the physically disabled’s degree and ease of access to public transportation and independence of movement.
We have had feedback from wheelchair users of bus captains refusing to stop for them, of being squeezed out of lifts by non-disabled commuters at MRT stations, and of the difficulty of hiring wheelchair-accessible taxis.
Hence we urge transport providers to take steps to ensure their drivers and staff are aware of, knowledgable about and trained to cater to needs of those with physical disabilities when using taxis, buses and trains.