Sunday 15 July 2012

Disabled-friendly cabs: 3 seek grants

Handicaps Welfare Association also keen to get funding from ministry
By Leslie Kay Lim, The Straits Times, 14 Jul 2012

THREE taxi operators have submitted proposals for a grant to provide wheelchair-accessible cabs.

The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) said in response to queries from The Straits Times this week that it has received the proposals.

The Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA), a voluntary welfare organisation that offers van service to the disabled, said it has also approached the ministry for special funding to cover its costs.

The Wheelchair Accessible Taxi Grant was created by the ministry in May following news that the London cabs - the only type of taxi in Singapore that can take riders in large wheelchairs - would soon be phased out.

With a proposed budget of about $3 million, the grant will help taxi operators cover the costs of bringing in and adapting 30 new vehicles that can carry passengers in large, high-backed and motorised wheelchairs.

These costs include registration fees and certificate of entitlement premiums for wheelchair-accessible taxis, which can be as high as $60,000 for a cab.

Two taxi operators confirmed that they had submitted proposals to the ministry to receive the grant.

One is SMRT, which operates the 15 London cabs in service. These were supposed to be phased out in March this year, but were given a one-year reprieve by the Land Transport Authority after a public outcry about the lack of transport options for the disabled.

The second is TransCab. When asked, neither SMRT nor TransCab would give details of their proposals as they were under review by the ministry, their spokesmen said.

The ministry declined to answer queries about the third operator which submitted a proposal for the grant.

ComfortDelgro and Premier, two of the largest taxi operators, declined comment when asked if they had applied for the grant.

Car models in the market being considered may include the new London cabs and Renault's modified Kangoos.

A Wearnes Automotive spokesman confirmed that it was in talks with some taxi operators over its wheelchair-accessible Kangoo.

The ministry, which had called for the proposals in late May, said it will announce its decision regarding the bids next month.

The Society of the Physically Disabled's executive director Abhimanyau Pal said government aid would help to reduce the burden on welfare groups to provide transport options to those who need special services.

HWA's president Edmund Wan said that it had hoped for more support from the Government, as demand for its subsidised car service has been on the rise.

Last year, the association offered 42,000 rides - or about 800 rides a week - to the disabled, up about 10 per cent from the previous year. It operates 20 vehicles that are wheelchair-accessible, and charges between $8 and $20 for a one- way trip. A 20-minute trip in a London cab, which runs by meter, costs about $45.

'We can't cope with the demand,' said Mr Wan, adding that the group has had to turn some people away.
Ms Wong Pui Kheng, 44, who works in finance, uses HWA's service to get to work daily. She said it has become harder to book rides recently. 'The chances of getting a ride are lower now. Without work, I'd have to rely on my family to take care of me,' she said.

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