Singapore's 1980 parking fee shift from attendants to pre-paid coupons
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Brief summary of this reform
Singapore adopted pre-paid parking coupons for parking payments, both in the streets and in government-owned off-street parking facilities. This replaced the older system of parking attendants issuing paper tickets, which had become too labour-intensive for Singapore by the late 1970s. In recent years, a phone parking app has become an alternative to coupons and will probably replace them completely at some point.
Why should you care?
This is a reminder that there are many cities where parking meters have never been used for on-street parking payments. Pre-paid parking coupons (or cards) are a parking payment method that has been widely used in Brazil, Malaysia, Ireland, Israel and Singapore. They have some advantages over older parking meters.
Today however, even low-income or middle-income cities should probably consider jumping straight to phone-based parking payments (plus payments via vendors as backup). Singapore is making this transition and Tel Aviv, Sao Paulo and Penang have already phased out coupons and shifted entirely to mobile payments.
Key actor type
URA Car Park Division
Is it a model or a warning?
Main parking category
Main parking paradigm shift
Helpful for park-once-and-walk approach
Adaptive Parking thrust
P: Price parking in the right ways and with the right rates for each place and time
Goals of the reform
The main goal was to find a payment mechanism for parking in the open (on-street or in government lots) that was low-cost, convenient, reliable and with low labour requirements.
Impetus (what problem, campaign, opportunity or event prompted action?)
Paying for parking to attendants was convenient for motorists but was very labour-intensive and required strong mechanisms to reduce the risk of leakage. By the late 1970s, the increasing cost of labour prompted a search for another approach. Parking meters were considered but were found to have high capital and maintenance costs and be prone to vandalism. There were also concerns about street clutter.
Detailed description of the reform
Singapore adopted pre-paid parking coupons for parking payments, both in the streets and in government-owned off-street parking facilities. This replaced the older system of parking attendants issuing paper tickets.
Singapore parking coupons come in several values. The coupons use tear-away die-cast tabs and motorists must tear away the appropriate tabs to indicate the date and time of the parking event. Enough coupons (with tabs torn to indicate the right sequence of times) must be displayed to pay for the duration of parking anticipated.
Under the old attendants-based system, when a car parked an attendant would place an 'advice note' on the car. When the driver returned, they would have up to seven days to pay the fee either to an attendant, at a parking kiosk (the attendants' home bases across Singapore), or at the URA Parking Division office. This was relatively convenient for motorists but was a labour-intensive approach.
Singapore's adoption of pre-paid parking coupons was modeled on the parking cards used in Isreali cities and in Lyon, France. Singapore sent a delegation to study these in 1979.
Results or impacts
The number of parking spaces per staff person increased from 15-20 to 150. The system has been used relatively successfully since 1980. It had low capital cost and relatively low operation costs. It is low-tech although anti-counterfeiting effort is necessary.
There are some drawbacks however, such as the following: motorist error is common, leading to fines; motorists must predict their parking duration when placing the coupons (or return to the vehicle to extend); motorists risk overpaying if their parking ends earlier than anticipated; paper coupons provide no data stream or information on where paid parking takes place; minor cheating (indicate arrival later than actual for example) is common; the enforcement cost is significant since wardens must peer in at coupons on dashboards; and there may be occasional cases of counterfeiting.
Digital phone-app-based payments are currently gradually superseding the coupon system, with high percentage of motorists having switched. The app overcomes many of the drawbacks of coupons, while retaining their key advantages.
Sources and acknowledgements
Most of the information in this case is based on: Azhar Ghani, March 2011, "Success Matters: the Parking Coupon System", IPS Update,
25 Mar 2021