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As smarter systems help to regulate parking in Singapore, we take a look back at our purple, orange and green booklets with rose-tinted glasses.

09 Sep 2022


Some grumbling may have been heard a couple of weeks back when HDB/URA announced that the previously-extended grace period for waiting in its carparks would be reduced from 20 to 15 minutes, in light of the post-COVID return to normalcy.

But tucked underneath that headline was a quieter, perhaps more-significant note. Come 19 September, parking coupons will no longer be purchasable from HDB branches. Only petrol stations and authorised merchants, such as Cheers and 7-11, will continue selling them. 

The first signs

Parking coupons - in the lowest denomination of $0.60 (in purple) - are slowly being phased out 
In a new era of parking regulated by cards, smartphones and even smart cameras, the thinning out of these long-standing orange, purple, green and yellow stacks has been a slow, decade-long disappearance in the making. 

Most people now will trace it to 2017 - the year when the Parking.sg app broke cover (debuted by the Prime Minister during his National Day Rally speech too, no less). Officially rolled out later in October that year to provide more convenience to drivers, one can now park for as short - or as long - a duration as desired without worrying about dashing back to their car in the event of a mid-outing change of plans. 

Any driver with a head properly screwed on will not dispute the value of Parking.sg. After it was quickly cleared up that refunds for unused coupons would be allowed, support for the app soared as it quickly found new users. Demand for the coupons, unsurprisingly, dipped in tandem.

The convenience provided by Parking.sg has largely spoken to Singaporean motorists
To put this into numbers, 180,000 booklets were sold in October 2017. Just over a year later, in December 2018, that number had dropped to 50,000. Don't be surprised if figures are far lower now; HDB's earlier-cited press release mentions a 99% plunge in sales in recent years.

Beyond convenience, however, the other incontrovertible upshot is that the app quashes the need to compartmentalise parking durations in blocs of 30 minutes - and thus reduces our expenditure slightly - by offering refunds on any 'unused' parking. Popping into Amoy Street Food Centre for 10 minutes to grab some takeaway before heading home to share all that good food with the fam? No problem. 

But while the birth of Parking.sg undoubtedly helped to accelerate the demise of parking coupons, the implementation of the Electronic Parking System (EPS) was more likely the actual first sign that the days of print would soon be in our rearview mirrors. These red and white barriers have been with us for far longer - since 2004 - and their spread has been steady and exponential. Today, orange gantries now perform sentry duty at nine out of 10 HDB carparks. 

For the millennial/Gen-Z petrolheads: Anecdotes from the past, and technologies for the future

The hassle didn't end once you parked; you'd have to return to your car if you misestimated the amount
While we're not really mourning the loss of parking coupons (anyone who thinks otherwise can talk to the figures above), the realisation that the days are numbered for what was such a huge part of driving in Singapore inevitably evokes some nostalgic reflection on the past.

We were perhaps slightly better at both quick Math and squinting back then. One had to factor in extra time for calculating parking duration, laying out the correct permutation of values, and then depressing the circular perforations, before actually getting out and carrying on with their day. Dashboards were unlikely to remain in their factory-fitted colours too; they were multi-coloured half the time - in green, purple and orange.

Cashcards are now the default mode of payment for parking, but are they, too, becoming obsolete?
My family only started driving in mid-2016 - when a large proportion of HDB carparks had already gotten the EPS treatment. Before we could even finish getting through our third (or was it fourth?) batch of coupons, standard charges had already been revised from $0.50 to $0.60 per half hour at most public areas, necessitating an exchange for the updated version. So given that my experience with the stack-purchasing/collecting was quite limited, I got some of my older more seasoned colleagues to weigh in on how life was like when parking coupons were the only option.

As an intriguing example specific to the motoring industry, we take quite a number of test car homes every month, and the parking fees incurred in between are borne by the company. In the pre-IU, pre-Cashcard days, there was no easy way about this. Torque's Editor, Jeremy, tells me that every month-end saw the brandishing of an entire stack of punched-out coupon slips that had to be carefully counted, and then handed over to the HR department for claims. Inked on the back of every single slip was the model of the test car for which the coupon had been utilised. 

The implementation of the EPS in HDB carparks was the first nail in the parking coupon's coffin
According to some anecdotes, the carpark may have just been a slightly livelier place too - in a disoriented sort of way. 

For one, the grass patches and concrete would semi-regularly get a shower of white confetti - in the form of circular cut-outs. Awkward conversations also took place for different reasons. In some cases, a forgetful driver had ran out of parking coupons; in others, someone had over-estimated their duration of stay, and was either hopeful for a slight recoupment by offloading the remaining coupon(s) to another driver, or simply wanted pay it forward to another driver. 

Still, Parking.sg isn't where the march towards more convenience halts.

As part of [email protected]'s smart systems, smart cameras have replaced barriers at gantries
As the next frontier in how parking is regulated on our shores, smart systems - housed under a new initiative called [email protected] - are being rolled out at HDB carparks promising yet more seamlessness. 

Now, even the fear of getting stuck behind a malfunctioning, non-raising barrier should dissipate - because the barriers themselves won't even exist. Instead, smart cameras register your car plate when you drive in and out of the carpark to calculate what's owed. Furthermore, in yet another twist catalysed by the new tech, the existence of the Cashcard is now under threat because automatic payments can be made via debit and credit card through a new app under the initiative, which is integrated with the entire smart ecosystem.

Automation, of course, isn't entirely perfect.

Using the paired app will also allow for payment via debit/credit card (and related notifications)
I unknowingly wandered into one of these smart car parks earlier on this year, thinking that the gantries were simply not in operation yet, and didn't slow down sufficiently enough for the cameras to scan my car plate when heading out. It wasn't until a few hours later that a text came in, saying that we had failed to pay the parking charges.

Most of us should also have our own stories to share about faulty or value-less cashcards - and the resultant mess of a reversing situation, involving frantic and apologetic waves to the drivers behind. Finally, the enduring presence of 'summon aunties/uncles' is evidence that even the most fool-proof app cannot get rid of penny-pinching tendencies exhibited by some. These are nonetheless minor gripes to have with a system of regulation that's made life much easier than before.

Nostalgia speaks 

Despite his limited experience with them, our writer can't help but remember the first car he lived with when thinking about parking coupons
Why bother reminiscing about something as insignificant as the parking coupon, some may ask?

In truth, there is no objectively sensible answer.

Considering all the inconveniences it brought along (and the litter that estate managers in HDB carparks had to deal with), the digitalisation of parking regulation is overwhelmingly meritorious. The only concern is that a minority of older motorists may not be as adept in navigating the new smartphone-centric systems. Since there is no plan yet to stop the sale of coupons entirely, it appears that the authorities are well aware of this.

Yet this intensifying high-tech transition comes at a time when the modern car industry in general feels like it's in a state of significant upheaval; when many imperfect, but nonetheless highly palpable and unforgettable things - metal keys, physical buttons in cars, stick shifters and even combustion engines  - are fading into our history books. 

Call it nostalgia by-association, perhaps. But one day in the future, after stepping out of your soundless, touch-interface dominated electric vehicle, the thought of a purple booklet may just call to mind your first car - a 2007 Honda Fit - and the sound as you stuck the key in, cranked the ignition, and heard its engine sputter to life.

While you're here, check out this interesting video on parking coupon moulds put together by the Singapore Memory Project a while back! 



And here are a few other articles that may interest you!

Why COE prices might never go down again

Essential items to bring with you on your very first road trip

"Bricks and clicks": While you weren't looking, your car-buying experience has been changing. Whether we benefit depends on your perspective...

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parking coupons  parking app  hdb  parking  history