Mobile app that could spell end of parking coupons being tested

Mobile app that could spell end of parking coupons being tested
The plan is to roll out the trial to the public later this year. Photo: Government Technology Agency of Singapore
Published: 4:43 PM, May 15, 2017
Updated: 10:02 AM, May 16, 2017

SINGAPORE — Motorists may soon say goodbye to the hassle of tearing parking coupons, with a new mobile application for the payment of parking fees in the works. 

The app, developed by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech), will be tested among public-sector officers from Tuesday (May 16) to June 16 at selected public car parks in the city that use paper coupons now. The plan is to expand the trial to the general public later this year, the agencies said in a press statement on Monday (May 15).

More than 80 car parks will be involved in the trial, comprising 70 URA car parks in the central areas — such as in the Tanjong Pagar, Bugis and Chinatown areas —  and 14 HDB carparks in estates around Bugis and Tiong Bahru.

If successful, the app — which uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) and is meant to be an alternative to paper coupons — could be rolled out to the public car parks that use paper coupons, which number about 1,150 now.   

The agencies said the app will provide greater convenience for motorists who will not have to return to their vehicles to replenish coupons to extend their parking, for example. Its features include enabling motorists to key in their vehicle number, choose a car park, indicate the duration for which they want to park, and pay via a credit or debit card. The app calculates the parking fees automatically, based on the length of time a car is parked on a per-minute basis. A refund will be given if motorists decide to leave the car park earlier.

The app also allows motorists to monitor the validity of their parking session, and they may extend this at any time. Enforcement officers, who have been trained to “identify digitally parked” cars for the trial, will issue an offence notice for parking without a valid coupon if a parking session has lapsed, for instance. 

The initial trial will involve putting the app through the motions, particularly its payment module, to be “confident of its robustness” before the public test is rolled out. 

“With the feedback gathered from the trial, the agencies will improve the app for better user experience,” the URA, HDB and GovTech said. 

The Republic is not the first to introduce app-based payment for parking. In New York City (NYC), for instance, the local government in December last year introduced an app that allows drivers to pay for street parking through their mobile phones. For drivers who do not want to use the service, however, meters in NYC continue to accept coins and credit or debit cards.

Transport analysts interviewed by TODAY said the app-based system would be more cost-effective than the Electronic Parking System (EPS) installed in some public car parks. In February, then-Senior

Minister of State (National Development) Desmond Lee told Parliament that about seven in 10 public off-street car parks managed by the URA and HDB are operating under the EPS, and the plan is to eventually phase out coupon parking altogether. On-street car parks, such as kerbside parking with site constraints and car parks affected by impending redevelopment, are unsuitable for EPS. Mr Lee, who is now Second Minister, said then that new parking technology was being explored to complement the EPS. 

Dr Walter Theseira, a transport economist at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), noted that the EPS, which requires fixed infrastructure and servicing, likely costs much more than an app-based system. 

Nevertheless, he noted that a large number of transactions in bigger car parks “might justify the cost of installing the EPS”.

Dr Park Byung Joon, also a senior lecturer at SUSS, said that the roll-out of the next-generation satellite-based Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system would render this app “a bit redundant”. Under the new ERP system, which will be operational from 2020, an On-Board Unit — about the size of a smartphone — could also be used to pay for expenses, such as roadside parking fees and checkpoint tolls. 

Nevertheless, Dr Theseira noted that the new ERP system may not have the resolution to capture a car’s location in dense areas, and the app-based system may still be needed as an alternative. 

In a joint response to TODAY’s queries, the URA, HDB and GovTech noted that the next-generation ERP system will “only be implemented in a few years’ time”. In the meantime, there has been “public feedback and requests for paperless payment”, they said. “The digital parking app will be used as a transition step and provide important learning points for us as we move towards the Next-Generation ERP system,” the agencies added.

Even after the paperless payment option is rolled out, Dr Theseira said he expects paper coupons to be retained for “a number of years”, since there will be users who may not take to app-based payment. The agencies said the app is designed to be “as user-friendly as possible”, and this will be improved upon during the trial. Alternatives will also be explored to cater to motorists without a smartphone or data plan, for instance.  

In terms of convenience, Dr Theseira noted that the EPS was “less troublesome” to motorists than the app, since it is fully automated and drivers “don’t have to do anything”.

Motorists said they welcomed the increased convenience but also had concerns over data privacy, and potential technical or network glitches.  

Banking professional Claire Seng, 23, said app-based payment would benefit the more technologically savvy “digital generation”, making it easier to tabulate the amount spent on parking fees monthly. But administrative manager Adeline See, 49, was worried about the security of personal data being shared, noting the trend of systems being hacked. “Sometimes, if the app (or) if the telco fails, how are we going to extend (our parking)?” she added.