SINGAPORE: The team behind Parking.sg, the mobile app that eliminates the need for motorists to pay for parking using physical coupons, should have put a prototype into end-users’ hands earlier than it did, according to one of the key people behind its development.
Mr Li Hongyi, deputy director of product and engineering at Government Technology Agency (GovTech), shared his reflections on the app’s creation on Thursday (May 3), saying the team’s “biggest mistake” was spending too much time on its features. The app was launched for those driving cars last October, before being extended to motorcycles and heavy vehicles in December.
“When you can get people to touch and hold” the prototype, you can help start them imagining how the service could work,” Mr Li explained, adding their “job is to try and bridge the gap” between imagination and reality when trying to solve existing gaps in the transport sector.
The GovTech deputy director was speaking at a fireside chat on how technology is impacting transport at Seamless Asia, a conference focusing on e-commerce, payments, banking and retail. It was moderated by Ms Piruze Sabuncu, head of Southeast Asia and Hong Kong at Stripe, the vendor that handles payments for Parking.sg.
Mr Li shared similar thoughts during a presentation at the Public Sector Infocomm Seminar in March.
“If you have something concrete that people can touch, feel and give feedback on, that actually speeds things up a lot in terms of getting actual users to your product,” he said in a GovTech article last month detailing his presentation.
More than two million parking sessions have been logged by about 250,000 vehicle users on the app since its launch last October, the Ministry of National Development said in a written parliamentary response in March this year.
USERS’ NEEDS FIRST
He also stressed the need to put users’ foremost in the pursuit of using technology in the area of transport.
Citing Parking.sg again, Mr Li said the team identified two stress points to address: What if the motorist does not put enough parking coupons and is, say, stuck in meeting and cannot add to them? Or what if the motorist uses too many coupons, when it is not necessary?
As such, the team tried to address these two points primarily, and the user interface was designed to reflect this, he said.
Similarly, the decision to have motorists pay for the stated parking duration upfront, and refund them the unused balance, was a deliberate one. This, Mr Li said, is more palatable than for an open-ended parking session, when drivers may forget to end the session and incur high parking fees.
“We had to recognise the psychology of the user,” he added.
Another example of this mentality of users first can be seen in the Beeline app, another GovTech invention.
Mr Li said approaches for transport in Singapore has been about connectivity, rather than efficiency, previously. This means a commuter might have to travel a longer journey in order to reach his or her destination, so as to serve a wider area of commuters, he said.
“But as the country grows, it doesn’t make sense for 10 buses to go everywhere,” he explained.
Enter Beeline, which is a crowdsourcing platform for commuters to “activate more direct, private express bus routes that cater to their travel needs, especially during peak periods”, according to GovTech’s website.
The aim is to be able to bring down travel times from say 60 minutes to 30 minutes, and then further to 10 minutes, Mr Li elaborated.
Ms Annabella Ng, Government Affairs manager at Grab Singapore, who was also on the panel, shared similar sentiments.
She pointed to how Grab had made paying for their rides with credit cards easy for commuters, but this had caused problems for some taxi drivers, who prefer cash so as to pay their daily cab rental.
To address this challenge, Grab went to the various banks here to figure out how to shorten the process of drivers being able to get the money from these credit card transactions. The result? Drivers are now able to cash out twice in a 24-hour window, Ms Ng said.
Grab had also collaborated with GovTech to offer GrabShuttle, a fixed-route shuttle service powered by Beeline, she pointed out.