Most of my senior friends still drive. They tell me they would be helpless without wheels. They wouldn’t have a clue how to get from Puchong to Sunway, or from Kajang to Putra Heights in the Klang Valley, for example.
They would also lose the freedom of going where they want and when they want.
They may still have a choice now. But what happens when they reach their 80s or 90s as they surely will one day? Their reflexes then may be slower, their vision no longer as sharp and their memory of directions may be fading. Would they still be driving or hanging up their car keys for good?
Already many seniors avoid driving at night as they easily get confused especially when driving to a place for the first time.
Who can tell whether or when the government may make it mandatory for older drivers to undergo a medical test to renew their driving license? Countries like Japan and Australia have already imposed such a ruling for drivers aged 75 and above. In Singapore taxi drivers must retire at age 75.
Why not be prepared for that eventuality by taking the bus or train the next time you have an appointment or go shopping? Leave your car at home and take public transport. You will find it’s not that difficult or inconvenient.
Think positively. You would save on fuel, parking fees and toll, and help reduce traffic congestion on the roads. Think of the health benefits. You would be fitter from walking more. You would also be getting more Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. Just bring along an umbrella or a hat and a bottle of water, and you are good to go.
Oh, before you set out, wear a pair of good walking shoes.
Improved public services
Our public transport system has improved over the years. Remember the unpleasant rides in the late 1970s on those stuffy, over-crowded pink mini-buses with their daredevil F1 wannabee drivers?
What a relief these buses were discontinued in 1998. Today we enjoy comfortable rides on airconditioned buses and on LRT and MRT trains. The coaches are clean, well-lit and spacious. With the recent addition of Ladies Only coaches, women passengers need not worry about being harassed or molested during peak hours when coaches are jam-packed.
There are also free intracity shuttle buses in KL and PJ. With an expanding network of the rail system, connectivity has improved tremendously, allowing for seamless travel within the Klang Valley.
The only complaint I have about taking the trains is the lack of respect shown to senior citizens.
The priority seats meant for seniors, OKU and pregnant women are usually occupied by younger passengers. They are so busy on their mobile phones they couldn’t care less if an elderly passenger was standing right in front of them! Few would offer to give up their seat.
The biggest plus point for senior citizens is without doubt the 50% discount on all fares. They can apply for a warga emas card at Pasar Seni LRT station, and get it on the spot for immediate use.
I haven’t driven since I sold my Chrysler Alpine in 1998. I depend mainly on public transport, rides from my good Samaritan friends and my two legs to get me to where I want to go.
Room for improvement
As a 75-year-old senior with 25 years of experience taking trains and buses on a daily basis, let me assure seniors out there that they can definitely survive without a car. I can understand their reluctance to opt for public transport when they still have a choice. Their biggest grouse is the dismal lack of information on bus routes. The buses are the weak link in an otherwise efficient public transport system.
I have often found myself clueless at bus-stops in places that I don’t often visit. Most bus stops do not display bus routes and schedule on the notice-boards. If we see any, the info is likely outdated.
Instead, we see advertisements and notices of rooms to let, job vacancies, money lenders and the like. There is also the problem of last-mile connectivity.
Having a bus schedule doesn’t necessarily mean the bus drivers keep to the times stated. If we are lucky, we get to board our bus just as it is about to depart from the station. If we miss it, we may have to wait anything from 15 minutes to 45 minutes.
Instead of getting worked up, I view this positively as time to relax. I have learned to be super patient. It’s good for the heart not to be stressed over things beyond our control.
The newer bus-stops now have a laminated QR-code posted on the notice-board. Commuters are supposed to scan it to view the bus route. Whoever introduced this certainly did not have senior citizens in mind. Not every senior is digital-savvy or owns a smart phone.
Some elderly also may find the bus steps too high and they struggle to board the bus. The bus drivers are supposed to stop close to the pavement so it’s easy for seniors to step from the pavement onto the bus or vice versa. Instead, the drivers stop away from the pavement.
During heavy rain, passengers have to wade through puddles of water to get on or off the bus. Furthermore, not all buses are wheelchair accessible. I have seen only two occasions when the bus driver got off the bus to assist an OKU in a wheelchair board the bus at a bus-stop.
With our population heading towards aged nation status by 2030, it is imperative for the government to address these shortcomings in our public transport system. Every family has elderly members. When their physical limitations and needs are addressed, everyone benefits. Make it easy for our older citizens to travel on public transport.
Do I ever miss driving? Absolutely not! The horrendous traffic jams, parking problems, road bullies and most of all, the high cost of maintaining a car, are enough to deter me from seeking out a good used car dealer.
As I advance in age, the thought of getting behind the wheels again is fast fading. I have let my driving license expire this year. No regrets.
Lily Fu is a gerontologist who advocates for seniors. She is founder of SeniorsAloud, an online platform for seniors to get connected and enjoy social activities for ageing well.