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Problems at new Yishun hawker centre hard to swallow for diners

SINGAPORE — Barely a week after it opened, patrons at Yishun’s newest hawker centre are already grumbling about its design and user-friendliness, while hawkers are grappling with teething problems linked to the cashless payment system.

Yishun Park Hawker Centre which opened on Sept 20, 2017, at 51 Yishun Avenue 11. Photo: Esther Leong/TODAY

Yishun Park Hawker Centre which opened on Sept 20, 2017, at 51 Yishun Avenue 11. Photo: Esther Leong/TODAY

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SINGAPORE — Barely a week after it opened, patrons at Yishun’s newest hawker centre are already grumbling about its design and user-friendliness, while hawkers are grappling with teething problems linked to the cashless payment system.

Patrons who spoke to TODAY welcomed the extra dining option in the neighbourhood, but said that the 800-seat Yishun Park Hawker Centre — managed by Timbre Group — is in need of improvement.

Among their grouses is the sole drinks stall at one end of the hawker centre, which sees long queues during peak dining hours with waiting times of 20 to 40 minutes.

Freelance designer James Chen, 30, told TODAY that these often occur during lunch hour “when everyone is buying drinks at the same time”.

Some patrons felt that the stall could have been placed in the centre of the building, or that there should be another drinks stall at the other end of the hawker centre.

Meanwhile, older diners say they are not used to the cashless payment or tray return systems, the latter of which operates using radio frequency identification.

Customers pay a dollar deposit when they get a tray from hawkers to carry food items to their tables.

When they return the tray at the designated return point, an automated system will dispense the dollar deposit to them.

Customers who do not need trays will not be charged the deposit.

This system is already in use at the Timbre+ hawker centre in one-north, which is also managed by Timbre Group.

Diners can pay for their food and drinks using either cash or a mobile application which stores credits.

Those using the app currently get a 10 per cent discount on their bill.

Retiree Madam Ong, 68, said she struggles with technology, so the cashless payment mode “took some getting used to”.

Diners had mixed feelings about the tray return system, with some wondering whether it is effective in encouraging patrons to clear their tables, given that it is situated at the far end of the hawker centre.

Hawkers told TODAY that customers have been asking them why a dollar is being added to the cost of their bills and so they are having to constantly explain how the system works.

While the tray return system aims to reduce the cleaners’ workload, hawker Sax Peter Choa said there have been times when customers left their plates and bowls behind and only took the tray to the return point to get back their deposit.

The hawkers also said there were glitches in the cashless payment system when the hawker centre opened on Sept 20.

Over the first few days of operation, there were instances when the system could not scan the QR code properly and transactions were not registered.

Hawkers told TODAY that cashless payments have formed up to half of the payments made so far.

Mr Louis Ng, Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC who is overseeing the ward where the hawker centre is located, is taking the complaints in his stride.

He noted that this has been a “teething period” for the hawker centre before its official opening, adding that it is “important” that residents and patrons give feedback about the operations.

No official opening date has been given yet.

In the coming weeks, Mr Ng will be meeting residents again to gather their feedback.

Representatives from Timbre will also be present.

Mr Edward Chia, managing director and co-founder of Timbre Group, told TODAY that the company is working on making improvements based on customer feedback.

He explained that a second tray return point, to be located at the other end of the hawker centre, will be ready by the middle of next month.

It was included in the initial plans but had to be pushed back due to modification and fabrication works.

Timbre Group is also looking to improve the notices at tables to explain the tray return system in a pictorial format.

As for the cashless payment system, Mr Chia said that the mobile app is “first and foremost … a loyalty programme”, but it can also be used to make payments or take orders remotely.

In the long run, there is the potential of offering birthday treats and discounts for members at the hawker centre, he added.

The mobile app has been downloaded 5,800 times since the centre’s soft opening on Sept 20.

The hiccups in the system experienced on opening day were due to Internet connection issues, he said, adding that they were resolved the next day.

Mr Chia is also aware that there is just one main access route to get in and out of the hawker centre, and “people bash through the plants and bushes up the slope” to enter the place.

Acknowledging that this “could be a safety concern”, he said that Timbre would continue to discuss with the authorities how best to mitigate the situation.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) picked Timbre out of five contenders to handle the hawker centre’s operations.

The NEA said in June that Timbre’s proposals “showed a strong emphasis on social objectives, had various productivity measures, and comprised innovative solutions to ensure the vibrancy of the hawker centre”.

Yishun Park Hawker Centre has served at least 5,000 customers a day since its opening, and Mr Chia said he was “thankful that the initial patronage has been good”.

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