The Straits Times (31 December 2019)
Caregivers also use it to learn to help those with mobility issues get into cars
The blue ComfortDel Gro Hyundai Sonata looks just like any other taxi, but it hides a secret.
Pop the bonnet and there is no engine underneath.
After years of ferrying passengers, this taxi is headed for more years of service – of a different kind.
Instead of being scrapped – the norm for all cabs reaching the end of their statutory lifespan of 10 years – it will be donated to Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s (TTSH) Integrated Care Hub building.
There, it will be used for car transfer training for patients with mobility issues and their caregivers.
Patients who need rehabilitation for conditions such as stroke, spinal cord injury or those with prosthetic legs will benefit from this programme, ComfortDelGro said.
For caregivers, transfer training involves learning the proper technique of positioning and then lifting or helping the patients into the vehicle.
Such training is currently done through simulations or in the hospital wards, which is not very realistic, said Ms Florence Cheong, 43, head of the occupational therapy department at TTSH.
Trying to simulate something like a vehicle’s low ceiling is difficult.
With the donated taxi, training can now be conducted more realistically and many times before the patient is discharged, Ms Cheong said.
Every day, some two to four patients at TTSH have to learn how to get into a car, adding up to more than 1,000 each year, she added.
ComfortDelGro has been donating taxis to such causes since 1999, starting with its Toyota Crown cabs, and progressing to Hyundai Sonatas as it transitions from diesel to petrol-electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius.
It has so far donated 27 Crown and Sonata cabs – worth over $90,000 – on request to hospitals and schools for rehabilitation or educational purposes.
Introduced in 2007, the Sonata forms a shrinking portion of ComfortDelGro’s current fleet of 11,000 cabs.
With the new set-up, occupational therapists can better demonstrate safety tips and assess how patients and caregivers are learning, ComfortDelGro said.
Donated taxis are decommissioned in a process that requires approval by the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
First, the taxi is towed to Comfort- DelGro’s workshop in Sin Ming Drive to have its engine and ancillaries removed, fluids like engine oil and coolant drained, and advertisements stripped out.
Once LTA has approved the decommissioning, the taxi’s original licence plate is replaced by a brown one to indicate it is no longer in service.
It is then sent to vehicle inspection firm Vicom to ensure it has been properly decommissioned.
The final touch involves wrapping the taxi with special decals denoting it as a gift.
“TTSH has been developing various technologies to help rehabilitate our patients – from robotics to virtual and augmented reality – but it is important for our patients and their caregivers to be familiarised with real-world environments in a safe way to help them to recover their mobility and regain confidence,” said its chief executive, Dr Eugene Soh, 45.
“We hope to support our patients to get ready for life outside of the hospital so that they may remain active and not homebound.”
TTSH will soon get a decommissioned single-deck SBS Transit bus which, together with the taxi, will be part of the mobility circuit at the future Integrated Care Hub next to the hospital.
Wheelchair user Janetta Tan, 29, whose caregiver is her sister, said that the car transfer training made them confident of taking a taxi, which is convenient when rushing for appointments and on rainy days.