SINGAPORE: We’ve all done it before – hoist a pram holding an infant or young tot up the escalator even when warning bells go off in our head, reminding us of the dangers involved.
A CNA story highlighted that there were over 350 escalator incidents in Singapore last year, or on average one accident per day.
At KKH’s emergency department, the number of escalator–related injuries among children more than doubled between 2012 and 2016, with more than half of these occurring in shopping centres.
Parents I spoke to say that riding on escalators with prams in tow isn’t their first choice; the common push factors cited are convenience and crowded elevators.
Most would exercise caution whenever they are on the escalator, for example carrying their baby and having someone else handle the pram, or ensuring that both hands are free to hold on tightly to the pram.
But are these strategies enough to prevent an accident from occurring?
MAKING RESPONSIBLE USE A SHARED GOAL
In MRT stations, people seem to abide by the rules more readily. I usually don’t have much trouble getting my ride or down the lift as most able-bodied passengers would give way to an elderly, a disabled person, or a parent with a pram. Also, the elevator doesn’t service as many floors and takes a shorter time to arrive.
Enter a crowded mall, however, and things shift slightly. All of a sudden, it becomes harder to find an elevator when you need it, and when you do find one, it can be chock-full with passengers who all seem to be in a rush to get somewhere.
But the point of this commentary isn’t to point fingers at either able-bodied elevator users or parents who use prams on escalators.
Because if responsible use of escalators and other modes of transport is the end goal, it will take a concerted effort from all segments of society.
THE CHALLENGES OF ‘PRAMMING’ AROUND TOWN
Parents are probably familiar with the logistical challenges of getting around with a pram (plus maybe a speed-walking toddler) in tow. Particularly if you don’t drive.
While there are well-appointed pavements, ramps and sheltered walkways around most housing estates in Singapore, getting on and off the bus can be tricky, especially with multiples.
You’d typically have to fold up your pram and carry it up the bus – which is probably the reason why some of the most popular prams here tend to be lightweight and easily foldable.
Once within an air-conditioned mall, you’d need to use an escalator or lift to access different floors, and the latter can get over-crowded on weekends – making the escalator a practical albeit less safe choice.
EDUCATION AND GRACIOUSNESS CAN WORK HAND-IN-HAND
A friend of mine mentioned that prior to a recent incident involving a stroller on an escalator, she wasn’t aware that strollers could actually get stuck in and dislodge escalator stairs.
Perhaps we need to move beyond just having small signs placed beside escalators warning us not to use prams and personal mobility devices on escalators, to more visual and engaging infographics that can help to educate users and alert them to the possible dangers.
At the same time, apart from increasing awareness and head knowledge, we could also appeal to people’s heart and moral conscience by asking the question, “How can we show greater consideration to other passengers and shoppers, in particular those with needs?”
If the elevators within MRT stations are mostly reserved for the disabled or needy, why can’t it be possible in malls and public spaces?
Granted, one may argue that it’s also easier for people to travel up and down faster on the escalator while in the station, and less people will bother to wait for the lift if it’s just one level.
Graciousness sounds like an iffy nice-to-have concept. But in everyday life, it starts with small thoughtful acts, and spreads out from there like a ripple on a lake’s surface.
It’s been a couple of years but I still vividly recall an incident I experienced at an MRT station while pregnant with my second child. I was waiting for the train to arrive when a lady came up to me and asked for my permission to get a seat for me when the train arrives. I was stunned but nodded my approval.
Once in the train, the lady motioned to the nearest passenger in the reserved seat for the needy, indicating that I needed a seat.
I have never received such first-class treatment on an ordinary MRT train before. And the gratitude that I felt through her act of kindness has stayed with me ever since, reminding me to pay it forward.
PRIORITY ELEVATOR QUEUES FOR THOSE IN NEED
In our modern lives, it is easy to get caught up with our never-ending to-do lists, not to mention technological distractions.
But if we wish to become an inclusive and gracious society, change must begin with us, and with the habits we practise daily.
One possible way of reminding us to be conscious of other people’s pressing needs is to establish priority queues at major shopping mall lifts.
We’ve all experienced priority queues at some point when travelling out of the country or when boarding a plane. Most hospitals and supermarkets also practise this.
It only requires a small area to be sectioned off at every lift landing. And we can start with those malls that are frequented by parents and families, such as heartland malls and family-oriented malls like United Square, and not to forget the latest family destination in town – Jewel Changi Airport.
READ: It’s fast food galore at Jewel Changi Airport. Aren’t parents troubled by our kids’ junk food intake? A commentary
With a relatively small logistical effort, more of our seniors, disabled, and parents can get to their destinations in a faster and safer way. Parents will also have fewer reasons to ride on shopping mall escalators with fussing kids in tow.
It is also an example of how the design of physical spaces can drive desirable user behaviour.
While a potential downside is that some people may try to take advantage of such queues, this is likely to be the exception rather than the rule.
For the rest of us, we may find that it makes the user experience of malls more pleasant and less risky – with fewer prams and young children on escalators.
It could well be the first step forward in resetting some of the ground rules of responsible escalator and elevator use, and pave the way for us to become a more gracious and giving society.
June Yong is a mother of three, an educational therapist and owner of Mama Wear Papa Shirt, a blog that discusses parenting and education in Singapore.