The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is currently studying the feasibility of deploying automated wheelchair ramps on wheelchair-accessible buses (WAB's), as reported in the Straits Times on 12 Nov 2016.
Currently, the WABs in Singapore use non-automatic ramps, so the bus captain has to get out of his seat and open the ramp manually for the user, so it takes a bit more time for the ramp to be deployed. The bus captain has to do this at least twice for every wheelchair; once to board, and once to alight. So if you multiply this by mutiple wheelchairs a day, the time savings could add up and become quite significant to all other commuters.
While this is probably a move in the right direction, I think a 2 key factors need to be taken into consideration:
Technology is good and helpful to us in many aspects of our lives ... that is until it breaks down.
Once you automate the ramp, you will have to add a motor, electronics, wirings, pistons or gears etc. Compared to a manual ramp in which the hinges are probably the most hard-working component, an automated ramp simply has a lot of other things that can break down. So what happens if it stops working halfway during the bus journey?
The bus may not be able to pick up passengers in wheelchairs, who have to wait for the next bus. Or worse, the passenger has already boarded, but is now unable to alight. Or will the ramp get stuck halfway, causing the bus to discontinue its journey halfway because the doors are unable to close?
So from a design perspective, the smart thing to do is to ensure that the ramp has a manual overide. It should be able to open and close manually, even if the automatic mechanisms fail. Hopefully the ST Kinetics engineers take this into consideration.
Bus Captain's Assistance
In the article, Mr Chong Sui Yang, a retiree who uses a mobility scooter, also makes a valid point.
When the bus captain alights to deploy the manual ramp, he or she also helps the commuter whenever necessary, such as reversing the scooter out of the bus. He is worried that with the automated ramps, the bus captains stop doing so.
I think one possible solution to that is to have a set of protocols and guidelines, so that bus captains do assist commuters when necessary.
For example, if the user already has sufficient help from a caregiver, then it's probably not necessary for the bus captain to come out and assist. Such scenarios could include manual wheelchair users who are being pushed by caregivers, or children in strollers who are being pushed by parents.