SINGAPORE: Singapore has "zero-tolerance" for any kind of abuse of its public transport workers, and commuters who do so either verbally or physically should “be prepared to face the full consequences under the law”, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat on Monday (Oct 5).
Speaking in Parliament in response to a parliamentary question, Mr Chee noted that the large majority of commuters treat public transport workers and other passengers with respect, although a small number think they can "behave badly and get away with it".
Mr Chee's response comes after several incidents of commuters abusing bus drivers were in the spotlight over the past few months.
“I am very concerned about the recent cases of commuters verbally or physically abusing bus captains. Their actions are wrong and unacceptable," said Mr Chee.
Bus captains have the responsibility of ensuring the safety of commuters. This includes making sure that they wear a mask so as to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, said Mr Chee.
The Government, unions, public transport operators and a great majority of Singaporeans are united in taking a zero-tolerance approach towards abusive behaviour, he added.
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In August, a Facebook user posted a live video of himself threatening to sue a bus driver who had refused to let him board the bus as he was wearing a neck gaiter instead of a face mask.
The SBS Transit bus driver was seen calling his company for help while the man used abusive language on him.
In another case in mid-September, a 52-year-old man was charged with voluntarily causing hurt to a bus driver.
According to SBS Transit, the assailant had boarded the bus without wearing a mask, putting one on only after he was in the vehicle. He later hurled vulgarities at the driver, and attacked him by grabbing him at the neck and collar before the police arrived.
SBS Transit has seen close to 40 cases of public bus transport workers being assaulted this year, more than the 33 cases for the whole of last year, said a SBS Transit spokesperson. Mask-related assaults accounted for about half of the cases this year.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will work with unions and public transport operators to remind commuters of the serious consequences of abusing public transport workers and raise awareness of the responsibilities of commuters, said Mr Chee.
“The best way to protect our bus captains and recognise their contributions is to have the right societal culture, one that is based on respect for our frontline workers,” he added.
“Let us continue to support our public transport workers, so that they can work in a safe environment and provide an essential service to keep Singapore going.”
In a supplementary question, Member of Parliament (MP) Saktiandi Supaat asked if LTA and the Ministry of Transport would be willing to conduct a review on ways to improve the safety of bus captains.
MP Melvin Yong, who is also the executive secretary of the National Transport Workers Union, noted that the union is currently working with public transport operators on resuming trials for the installation of a protective shield on public buses, and asked whether LTA would support the installation of shields across all public buses if the current trial identifies a suitable model.
Adding that LTA and MOT will take feedback from bus captains into account, Mr Chee said: “I think an important consideration when we ask the bus captains for their feedback will be to ensure that the installation of these protective shields will not interfere with the safety when they are driving the buses.
“Previously the trials showed that when you put some of these protective shields in place there was a bit of glare, so I think that affected the bus captains. We will also have to look at that because ultimately I think this is for both the protection and safety of the bus captains and also for the safety of commuters.”