Saturday, 29 July 2017

Car park label scheme for disabled revised, taxi subsidy scheme enhanced from 1 August 2017

MSF tweaks taxi subsidies, carpark labels for disabled
Income cap raised for those eligible for taxi scheme, which will include private-hire cars
By Sue-Ann Tan, The Straits Times, 28 Jul 2017

More people with disabilities will benefit from taxi subsidies, while those travelling by car will be helped by updates on the use of accessible spaces.

These changes are a result of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) beefing up the taxi subsidy scheme and carpark label scheme, which cater to people with disabilities. These upgrades were announced yesterday.

Starting next Tuesday, households with a monthly per capita income of up to $2,600 can tap taxi subsidies of up to 80 per cent, depending on their income tier.

This is up from the current parameter of $1,800. With the higher income cap, the number of beneficiaries is expected to rise from 80 to more than 200 by 2021.

The subsidies are available to Singaporeans and permanent residents who are medically certified as unable to take public transport or completely dependent on cabs for travelling to school or work.

The taxi subsidy scheme was introduced in 2014 to provide subsidies of up to 50 per cent to people with disabilities.

Ms Ivy Seah, 53, an assistant transport executive at Handicaps Welfare Association, said: "It (the subsidies) helps to offset the cost, especially since many of our clients have incomes on the lower end of the scale."

With the change, Mr Lim Eng Whatt, 67, a leading customer service agent in the food and beverage sector, will save about $500 on taxi fares per quarter based on his income tier. Previously, he paid about $1,440 for cab fares per quarter after the subsidies. The new scheme will reduce this amount to $900.

"I'm very happy with this change. Almost half of my take-home salary went to taxi fares before subsidies, and even with the subsidies I have now, I still have little money after paying for basic necessities. This increased subsidy will help with my transport," Mr Lim said.

The taxi scheme will be extended to those attending employment-related training supported by disability services and support organisation SG Enable. It will also cover Land Transport Authority-registered private-hire cars under third-party private-hire car service providers such as Grab and Uber.

MSF is updating the carpark label scheme as well, which now lets disabled drivers park in accessible spaces by displaying a blue label. Caregivers of the disabled get an orange label for them to park for an hour.

With the changes, which will roll out from November, only people with wheelchairs, walking frames and lower-limb prosthesis will be eligible to apply for the blue label. Currently, people with crutches and quad-sticks are also eligible.

The labels will be larger with clearer and bigger fonts, and have a tamper-proof hologram. The orange label for caregivers will have a time disc to clearly display the length of time the car has been in the space.

These will help combat the problem of people misusing labels, an issue highlighted by Dr Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills, executive director at the Disabled People's Association.

"Sometimes caregivers use the accessible space even when they're not carrying a disabled passenger. Other times, drivers without the labels use the space for their own convenience," she said.

Over the past five years, the number of carpark label holders has increased by about 30 per cent.

Ms Ainon Abdul Rahman, 58, a receptionist with polio, feels more has to be done to enforce the rules.

"Sometimes I find someone parking in the space without the label and I need to drive around until the person drives away or I find another space," she said. "There is not enough room in a normal space for me to open up my wheelchair."

* Handicapped spaces: Room for flexibility, says MSF, after concerns over new rules
It clarifies that despite tighter rules, it will consider cases based on condition and needs
By Sue-Ann Tan, The Straits Times, 4 Aug 2017

Struck by a tumour at age 22, Mr Kalai Vanen lost his left leg. To get around, he uses elbow crutches.

He was thus dismayed by new tighter rules announced last Thursday over who can use carpark spaces for the handicapped.

Under the criteria, which take effect on Nov 1, only people with disabilities and who use wheelchairs, walking frames or lower-limb prostheses can park in the spaces. Previously, those using quadsticks and crutches were also included.

Last night, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) clarified that it would be flexible in deciding whether those with disabilities are entitled to park at accessible spaces - whatever aids they use.

"Those with medical conditions such as muscular dystrophy, poliomyelitis and cerebral palsy would be considered for eligibility for carpark labels based on their condition and needs, beyond just the type of mobility aids used," it said. It added: "MSF is also prepared to consider any deserving cases... even if they do not fully meet the default eligibility criteria."

This came after worried reactions from the community over the new rules. In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Mr Kalai, 58, said he prefers using elbow crutches but that MSF's new move meant that he would have to use a walking frame to get the carpark label.

"Neither walking aid would allow me to walk and hold an umbrella if it rains nor would they be of any help if I had to carry a bag or two and have to manoeuvre walking around a parking lot," said the personal trainer. "As strong as I am, walking is not easy," he added.

MSF last night said that Mr Kalai would still get the carpark label because of his condition.

President of the Handicaps Welfare Association Wan Fook Wing told The Straits Times: "Many people got anxious and wondered if they would be denied a label. Some of my clients were upset and asked me what would happen because they really need the lots."

Explaining the tighter criteria, MSF noted a rising demand for accessible parking spaces - which will accelerate as the population ages. The number of new carpark label holders went up 38 per cent from 1,273 in 2012 to 1,758 last year.

It said it has been setting aside more parking spaces in areas of high demand as well as more accessible pick-up and drop-off points. But "given our physical constraints, there is a limit to how many more accessible lots we can have".

After consultations, it said, there was general agreement that the parking spaces should be reserved for those who need the extra space.

Disabled People's Association executive director Marissa Medjeral-Mills said: "We know there has been competition for lots, and people have given feedback that labels were given away too easily."

But, she said, there should have been "wider consultation". "We received calls from people who were surprised and didn't understand. "

On the ministry's latest clarification, Mr Kalai said: "It's good to know they have done this so the right people who need it can benefit from the labels."


Working to ensure carpark label scheme helps genuine cases

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has highlighted the recent revisions of two schemes: the taxi subsidy scheme for persons with disabilities and the carpark label scheme (MSF tweaks taxi subsidies, carpark labels for disabled; July 28).

As one of the largest accessible transport providers for persons with disabilities in Singapore, the Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA) appreciates the MSF's enhancements to the taxi subsidy scheme.

This would go a long way towards helping persons with disabilities gain access to affordable means of transport, thereby further empowering them to lead independent lives.

Since the MSF's announcement, many of our members have raised their concerns about the revision to the carpark label scheme and how it would affect them.

Such accessible spaces are scarce in a typical carpark. Hence, it is important that the accessible spaces are provided to those who need them most.

With an ageing population and increasing demand, drivers with disabilities (for Carparking Label 1) and able-bodied drivers carrying passengers with disabilities (for Carparking Label 2) who need additional space to board and alight from their cars safely are currently facing difficulty parking their cars and may find it even more challenging to do so in time to come.

The proposed carpark label scheme enhancements on the use of the accessible parking spaces are but a small step in the right direction, and they should be made more accessible to those who truly need them.

Ensuring that the spaces are properly utilised remains a challenge.

The HWA has given its feedback to the Government via focus-group discussions and other platforms.

We have raised our members' concerns and given suggestions for more accessible spaces in areas of high demand, and the need for stricter enforcement to prevent abuse.

The HWA will continue to work closely with SG Enable to ensure that the carpark label scheme helps genuinely deserving disabled drivers and their caregivers.

Edmund Wan
Handicaps Welfare Association
ST Forum, 11 Aug 2017

Groups call for more handicapped parking spaces
This will ensure availability as society ages and there is rise in those entitled to use them
By Sue-Ann Tan, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2017

Across Singapore, there are at least 6,000 government-run handicapped parking spaces. But this is hardly keeping pace with rising needs as the country rapidly ages, says the community of people with disabilities.

The number of new carpark label holders alone stood at 1,758 last year. This is up 38 per cent from 1,273 in 2012, according to Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) figures.

This means an increasing pool of people are entitled to park at these spaces, which are 11/2 times wider than normal spaces and are usually nearer to the lifts.

The issue of these carpark spaces came under the spotlight after the MSF last month tightened the eligibility criteria, prompting an outcry.

MSF said the reason for the new benchmark - which eliminates crutches and quadsticks as criteria - was "to ensure that those who require the use of accessible lots the most can be better assured that these lots will be available when they need them".

It later clarified it will consider the applicant's medical condition regardless of the mobility aid used.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) said there are now 6,000 accessible spaces in the carparks managed by the Housing Board, Urban Redevelopment Authority and National Parks Board.

MND said it was unable to determine if this number has increased over the years. It was also unable to give the total number of accessible carpark spaces, including those that are privately run.

But it told The Straits Times that the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is looking at the requirements for accessible spaces in carparks as part of an ongoing review of its Code on Accessibility 2013.

The code states that in every car- park, there must be one accessible lot in the first 50 spaces, one more for the next 50 spaces and then one accessible lot for every subsequent 200 spaces or any part thereof .

But getting there is still a work in progress - whether for the public or private sector.

For instance, property manager AsiaMalls said three out of four of its malls follow current BCA regulations. In Tiong Bahru Plaza, there are four accessible lots out of 337 spaces in total. But at Hougang Mall, which was built before 2013, there is just one such space out of 153. The situation is being reviewed.

Sometimes, public carparks fall short too.

Last year, Ms Shee Shu Xin, 35, a volunteer with SPD, an organisation that supports people with disabilities, wrote in to HDB when she found that the open-air carpark near her block in Sin Ming did not have an accessible parking space. Now, the carpark has such spaces.

President of the Disabled People's Association Nicholas Aw said that there are still places where the minimum number set by BCA is not met, and the problem should be rectified.

Beyond the current guidelines, some feel that the rules should be changed to provide for more.

Ms Judy Wee, 56, who is the vice-president of Disabled People's Association, felt the BCA's code should require one accessible space in every 50 regardless of the total number of spaces.

Mr Richard Kuppusamy, 40, a committee member of Handicaps Welfare Association, said one in every 50 is still too few. "In Britain, it is one in every 20 lots. Yes, there is land scarcity in Singapore, but in multi-storey carparks, the footprint is the same. There could be so many more accessible lots built."

The United States federal government mandates one accessible lot for every 25 parking spaces.

Others felt that aside from increasing the number of spaces across the board, certain "hot spot" areas should have a higher proportion of accessible spaces.

Ms Shee suggested that specific places such as hospitals would benefit from more spaces. She said that in the sheltered carpark at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, there were about five accessible spaces. "It is ironic that when I go to hospitals, I can't find lots. Even though there are more accessible lots there, there are also more people who need it."

She added that the government has to assess supply and demand, as there cannot be so many accessible spaces that it will end up depriving able-bodied drivers of parking lots that they also need.

"We can speak up and let the authorities know (where to focus on) so they can add more lots in that area," she said.

Misuse of reserved spaces still a problem despite heavier penalties
By Sue-Ann Tan, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2017

For three weekends in a row, Mr Richard Kuppusamy pulled into the carpark of a supermarket near Tanglin Halt, only to drive off again in search of another place to buy groceries.

The 40-year-old regional digital integration manager has spina bifida, a condition that requires him to use a wheelchair. He has a blue label which allows him to use the accessible parking spaces in carparks.

However, because another car - which he could see did not have the label - was parked in the space, Mr Kuppusamy had no choice but to leave. "If I try to park in a regular space and then someone parks next to me, when I return from the supermarket, I will not be able to get into my car," he explained.

Despite heavier penalties against offenders who misuse accessible parking spaces, the disabled community said that abuse has continued to deprive them of the parking spaces they need.

Urban Redevelopment Authority figures showed the number of summonses issued has dropped, from 237 in 2013, to 175 in 2014, 153 in 2015 and 63 last year. Last year, the Ministry of National Development and Ministry of Social and Family Development also revealed that fines had risen from $50 to $200 for drivers caught misusing parking spaces for the disabled.

However, people with disabilities said that they still witness cases of abuse that deprive them of a parking space.

Mr Nicholas Aw, president of The Disabled People's Association, said: "Sadly, things are still largely the same. There are so many people without the labels for the disabled who park in accessible spaces for a short while to run errands. There are also caregivers who park in the space without ferrying anybody with a disability."

Mr Aw believed, in addition to fines, vehicles parked in accessible spaces should face wheel-clamping. "Clamping the car would be more inconvenient. People may be able to pay fines, but they will think twice about wasting time trying to get their vehicle back," he suggested.

A spokesman for AsiaMalls Management, which manages shopping complexes such as Tampines 1 and White Sands, said that an announcement is made when a vehicle without a label is parked at the accessible space. If it is not removed after 10 minutes, a wheel clamp will be used, with a fee of $200 to release it.

Other malls like Ngee Ann City also have signs above accessible spaces to warn drivers of wheel-clamping if they misuse these spaces.

Ms Judy Wee, 56, a senior manager, said: "Many times I have seen abuse, but things have improved over the years. People just have to understand that if they use the space without actually needing it, they are depriving someone who needs it badly."

Ms Wee was born with deformities in her limbs and is wheelchair-bound. For a driver like her, an occupied accessible space means she has to either wait or drive home and forgo her plans.

Mr Kuppusamy said the solution lies in greater civic consciousness. "There is a bigger picture here. It is about how society treats others and those with disabilities. People cannot just park for 15 minutes and think it is fine. Your 15 minutes is not more valuable than mine. Driving for disabled people and parking in that space is not a privilege; it is a functional necessity."

MSF: Commuting Made Easier And More Affordable For Persons With Disabilities
Car Park Label Scheme for Persons with Physical Disabilities
Taxi Subsidy Scheme

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