Rapid Penang – OKU Kena Tipu Lagi

Rapid Penang bus at junction of Chulia Street and Penang Road

On November 26, 2007, I blogged the following:

Is the OKU Card issued by the Department of Social Welfare not good enough? Why is there a need to inconvenience applicants by asking them to get certification from government doctors or the Health Ministry as well? That is not all! Why in heaven’s name do they need a photo showing the impaired anatomy? This is ridiculous. This is disregarding the dignity of disabled people. What? The doctor’s report is not good enough also? The OKU Card is not valid? The people in RapidPenang think the officers in the Department of Social Welfare do not know what they are doing?

Do the people in RapidPenang know what physical disability is in the first place? Can they determine that from a photograph? I am disabled from my chest down. Do I need to pose in the nude to prove it should I intend to apply for the card? Furthermore, why burden disabled people by asking them to incur extra expenditure in getting their anatomy photographed?

If RapidPenang is sincere in giving out concession fare to disabled people, they should make the process as simple as possible. An OKU Card issued by the Department of Social Welfare should be sufficient. I believe RapidPenang’s intention is to alleviate the financial burden faced by disabled people. This noble effort is spoilt by overzealous people that are not in touch with disability issues or have never met disabled persons before. Shame on you RapidPenang for degrading the dignity of disabled people.

After much protest from the disabled community in Penang, Rapid Penang finally revoked the condition for a photograph showing the body part of physical disability. This was conveyed through a mailing list. Rapid Penang also informed members of the mailing list that they have issued a statement to the media regarding this issue but I could not find the news report online. Nevertheless, Rapid Penang still made it mandatory for disabled people who want discounted fares to apply for the concession card.

For two consecutive days since yesterday, The Star published two news reports that senior citizens and disabled people who are registered with the Department of Social Welfare need only to show the OKU card to enjoy half fare on RapidKL and Rapid Penang buses. This should have been the case in the beginning. Who were the smart alecks in the Syarikat Prasarana Negara Berhad, RapidKL and Rapid Penang who imposed the previous conditions that only the concession card holders were eligible for discounted fares? After all that fuss, now all disabled people need to do is to flash the OKU card. What a waste of time and resources for everyone involved in the exercise.

But, do not be mistaken that disabled people can ride the RapidKL and Rapid Penang buses. Wheelchair users are still not allowed to board the RapidKL buses with the wheelchair logo that are running in the streets now. This is because the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) refused to give the go-ahead to RapidKL to endorse the buses due to safety concerns regarding the ramps and wheelchair docking systems. The buses were supposed to be officially launched by a minister on June 1, 2007. So now we have buses that were fitted with accessible features at great cost that wheelchair users cannot use. As far as I know BEAT has washed its hands off working with RapidKL on this issue and prefer to concentrate on AirAsia.

As for Rapid Penang, disabled people were informed that 40 of the 150 buses operated by the bus company had ramps for wheelchair users initially. Unfortunately, according to Rapid Penang, the bus stops were damaging the ramps and they had to be dismantled to avoid further damage to the buses. This is evidence of another slipshod work by the people involved. I believe no study was done to ascertain the condition of the bus stops and other infrastructure before the buses were fitted with the ramps. In addition to that, there is no communication between the bus operators, namely RapidKL and Rapid Penang with local authorities to come to an agreement on the standard design of bus stops and all connecting pathways to the bus stops to make them accessible and complement each other.

There was also talk that Rapid Penang will bring in another 100 buses with facilities for wheelchair users. If I am not mistaken, these buses were slated to be put on the road by the end of 2007. We are already into the second month of 2008 but no such buses are in sight. Disabled people have been disappointed again and again by one too many sweet assurances such as this. Despite all the hard work by disabled people and a small group of concerned supporters advocating for accessible buses in Penang, there is no hint that such buses will be made available in the near future.

Wheelchair users in Kuala Lumpur and Penang are still left out from the public transport system. There is no way to move around conveniently. To put it crudely, disabled people have been conned once again. Lets not talk about a masyarakat penyayang when there was never any sincerity in looking after the interests and welfare of disabled people in the first place. All my entries on RapidKL and Rapid Penang are ample proof of it. So what if I have the OKU card? So what if I can get 50% discount with it? There is no way I can ride on these buses. I would not mind being charged the full fare if the buses are wheelchair-friendly. But none are. Truly, disabled people have been taken for a ride over and over again. Apa macam Pak Lah?

Saturday February 9, 2008
MYT 8:13:36 PM

Show Social Welfare ID to get 50% off on Rapid buses


PENANG: Effective Monday, senior citizens and the disabled registered with the Social Welfare Department need only show the identification cards issued by the department when travelling on Rapid Penang and RapidKL buses to get a 50% discount.

To reduce red tape, the Government has done away with the requirement for them to apply for the Rapid Card, issued by the companies.

“We want to simplify things. It is sufficient for them to show the card issued by the department to obtain the 50% ticket concession,” said Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

He was speaking to reporters at the St Nicholas’ Home here on Saturday.

Rapid Penang chief executive officer Azhar Ahmad, who was with him, said it takes about two weeks for the company to process each card application.

He said about 10,000 senior citizens and 400 disabled people travelled daily on Rapid Penang buses.

Nor Mohamed said the problems that prompted the one-day strike by Rapid Penang bus drivers last Monday had been resolved.

“It is a small problem. When there is a problem, we look at it positively and resolve the matter quickly,” he said.

Thousands of bus commuters rushing for work and last-minute Chinese New Year shopping were left stranded on Tuesday when the drivers brought transport to a standstill.

Sunday February 10, 2008

Hassle-free way to enjoy concessions

PENANG: From tomorrow, the disabled and senior citizens registered with the Social Welfare Depart-ment need only to show their identity card issued by the department to enjoy half fares on Rapid Penang and RapidKL buses.

To reduce red tape, the Govern-ment has done away with the requirement for them to apply for the Rapid Card issued by the companies.

“We want to simplify things. It is sufficient for them to show the card issued by the department to obtain a 50% ticket concession,” Second Fi-nance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop told reporters during his visit to the St Nicholas Home here yesterday.

RapidPenang – Disabled Persons Left Out Again

Is ours a government that cares for the wellbeing of all citizens? I am convinced that they are not. Look at RapidPenang, a 100% government owned company. None of the newly launched RapidPenang buses are accessible. Wheelchair users are left high and dry again.

That was despite several assurances by the top management of RapidKL to the Barrier-Free Environment Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) and the announcement by Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop in the press on March 18, 2007 that RapidPenang’s buses will be “disabled friendly.” Contrary to that none of the buses are “disabled friendly.”

These new buses could be running on the streets of Penang for the next 10 to 15 years. Do disabled persons in Penang have to wait for that long with the hope that the replacement buses will be accessible? Ours is a government that does not make sense. Why continue buying buses that not everyone can use when they are already aware that widely available non-step buses will benefit everyone?

As a wheelchair user who is in dire need of an accessible public transport to move around conveniently and independently, I express my absolute disappointment at the empty promises made by the government and the folks at RapidKL. Ours is a government that does not keep to its words. When the government or its agents make promises but do not fulfil them, is that considered lying? Convince me they are not.

RapidKL Fails To Launch Accessible Buses

Non-step RapidKL bus at 1-Utama
Photo by Wuan.

Rangkaian Pengangkutan Integrasi Deras Sdn Bhd or more commonly known as RapidKL is a subsidiary of Syarikat Prasarana Negara Berhad (SPNB). In turn SPNB or better known as ‘Prasarana’, is the ultimate holding company under Ministry of Finance Incorporated. If RapidKL is a reflection of how Malaysia is being managed, we are all in deep trouble. After 10 months of tinkering with the non-step buses, they still cannot get it right. Wheelchair users are still not allowed to use the buses.

RapidKL Corporate Communications Division Senior Manager Katherine Chew announced on September 24 last year that the bus company would be bringing in 100 non-step buses after the newly-formed Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) organised a campaign to check on the accessibility of bus at the Bangsar LRT Station.

Subsequent to that BEAT met with RapidKL CEO Rein Westra in October 20 and presented him with a memorandum outlining the basic requirements of an accessible bus system that fulfils not only the transportation needs of disabled persons but also senior citizens, pregnant women and adults with prams, among others.

During the meeting, Westra requested to be given four weeks for him to present a proposal to the government on the accessible buses and get back to us. He also repeatedly reminded BEAT not to speak to the press regarding this issue for that duration and threatened to cut all communications with us should we not honour that moratorium. That was the first and last time we heard from him although we kept our part of the deal.

On March 10 this year RapidKL COO Mohd. Ali Mohd. Nor invited BEAT to view a prototype of the accessible bus at its head office in Subang. After testing out the bus, BEAT recommended improvements to the design of the ramp and wheelchair docking system. The edge of the ramp was not flushed with the rest of the ramp and could cause a wheelchair to tip backwards. The docking system was flimsy and could not secure a wheelchair firmly. Moreover, it was not designed to fit all wheelchairs.

During a trial ride of the RapidKL accessible buses on April 26 around the city, BEAT again informed RapidKL of the unsuitability of the ramp and docking system. At the trial ride it was also discovered that there are not many bus stops suitable for the accessible buses due to the extreme differences in height. The lowest the accessible buses can go was 15 inches. The highest bus stops, which forms part of the walkway, was only 10 inches. This mismatched heights made the ramp too steep for unassisted boarding.

On May 4, RapidKL COO Mohd. Ali Mohd. Nor announced at a pre-launch briefing that accessible bus service will be launched on June 1. The event was attended by Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development Parlimentary Secretary Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun, members of the print and electronic media and about 50 representatives from various NGOs working together under the BEAT banner. Again, we informed RapidKL regarding our concerns with the unsuitability of the ramps and docking system.

The last meeting BEAT had with RapidKL was on June 13. Katherine Chew represented the bus company. At the meeting, we categorically rejected the accessible feature of the buses citing safety concerns. Following that meeting, BEAT sent an email to RapidKL with a 4-point recommendation:

1. Improve the gradient of the ramp to ensure safety of the wheelchair users and persons assisting while boarding and alighting from the bus. This can be achieved via various mechanisms that are commercially available for such purposes.

2. The ramp should be of the same level from end to end. Sudden drops or bumps should be eliminated. In the current design the sharper gradient at the edge of the ramp may cause wheelchairs to tip over even with assisted boarding.

3. Install four point strap-type tiedown to firmly secure wheelchairs. The current single wheel docking clamp is insufficient to fully restrain the wheelchair in the event of collision or sudden braking.

4. To include BEAT members in all stages of design and installation of such features to ensure safety and functionality.

All in all, BEAT has informed RapidKL on more than four occasions regarding the ramps and docking system. Until today, nothing has been done to rectify the problems we pointed out. The buses are already on the road picking up passengers. However, as the buses were never officially launched despite what was announced during the pre-launch briefing, bus drivers refused to pick up wheelchair users because according to them, their management has instructed them not to do so.

Reading the chronology of the entire fiasco, I can only come to a conclusion that RapidKL never thought out properly all the factors of an accessible bus system when they hastily announced the acquisitions of 100 accessible buses. The design of the bus stops were never put into consideration at the time of acquisition. RapidKL unilaterally designed the ramps and docking systems according to their own understanding of how these features should be.

Now, RapidKL has 100 non-step buses that were supposed to be usable by wheelchair users but are not. How much money was spent in installing these buses with a non-functional accessible features? The biggest mistake on RapidKL’s part was in not consulting with disabled persons on the design. Disabled persons, especially wheelchair users, were never consulted on the suitability of the accessible and safety features. This kind of attitude goes against the motto of the 2004 International Day of Disabled Persons which was “Nothing about us without us.”

The management of RapidKL must understand that ultimately people in wheelchairs and other forms of disability are the end users. We are the people who will be using these buses everyday. We have no other alternatives to move around conveniently, especially people who have severe disabilities. We must be consulted every step of they way to ensure that the features installed to serve our needs are safe and functional.

The irony of all this is that RapidKL, Prasarana or even the government has no long-term plan to ensure that their entire bus fleet will be fully accessible but at the same time we keep seeing new but non-accessible buses being put into service. While the public transport needs of the general public are continually being improved, disabled persons are still being left behind – marginalised from mainstream society by the tidak apa attitudes of the people tasked with providing public transport with money that came out from taxpayers’ pockets.

The government must shoulder the blame entirely for this debacle. The Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Transport, Minstry of Entreprenuer and Co-operative Development and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, among others, are responsible in part in their respective capacities to ensure an accessible public transportation system. After spending so much money to bring in non-step buses and fitting them with accessible feature, these buses are still not functional due to so many reasons and problems that are associated with so many ministries who are not actively doing their part in solving the said problems. It is time Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi step in to ensure that public transportation problems of disabled persons are settled once and for all.

Pak Lah, we are humbly pleading with you to lift us out of this predicament. Help us solve this where your other ministers have failed. We, the disabled people of Malaysia, needs an accessible public transport system to help us go to school to get an education; allow us to commute to our places of employment; participate in social, cultural, religious and political activities. We need an accessible public transport to become part of society. Apa macam Pak Lah?