Transport Minister, is pragmatism more important than values?

"Public transport concessions are given to different groups of individuals such as students, senior citizens and males serving their National Service. Such concessions are presently not provided to persons with disabilities. To promote independence and participation of persons with disabilities in activities and to facilitate social inclusion, the Committee  requests public transport operators to provide transport concessions for persons with disabilities as a demonstration of their corporate social responsibility. These concessions would also help persons with disabilities to defray the rising transport costs."

This recommendation of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, found in its 'Enabling Masterplan 2012 – 2016', raised our hope that perhaps now, after waiting for more than 13 years, people with disabilities will be given subsidies on public transport.

The Transport Minister however dashed this hope by deciding to maintain status quo and not give concessionary fares to people with disabilities.

"… I am sympathetic to…the disabled…(but) not all of these requests (for subsidies) can be addressed immediately or entirely within a single Fare Revision Exercise…while sympathetic to all these requests for concessions for the disabled…(we) cannot accede to these requests immediately or entirely within a single fare adjustment exercise." – Speech by Transport Minister in Parliament dated 7 Mar 2012

By rejecting the requests by various Members of Parliament to give subsidy in public transport to people with disabilities, the Transport Minister has clearly sent out a signal that pragmatism is more important than values. That is quite regrettable.

The subsidy if it had been given, would have enabled us, the more vulnerable in society, live more useful, active and engaged lives. Now, we have to wait and hope for the subsidy to come in the next public transport fare revision.

While this may not mean much for most people, it certainly means a lot to people with disabilities, who (if employed) earn a meagre amount and usually spend more than a third of that income on transportation. It is even more unfair for those that are not employed and their caregivers.

At this stage, we think it is important to also acknowledge the various people who have advocated our cause. Ms Sylvia Lim who first raised our concerns in Parliament in March 2010;  Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef who asked the Minister of Transport recently in Parliament if 'concessionary fares can be extended to the disabled using public transport'; Mr Ravi Philemon, who has persisted in helping to ensure that our voices are heard; and all our well-wishers that signed our petition.  

Reena Rajesvari
Citizen of Singapore with disability