By Cassandra Yeo
We travel to Singapore every couple of years to see family. While Singapore has been talking about island-wide connectivity and being a smart nation for a long time, our experience as visitors are anything but. Our last visit is very much a case in point.
The following examples are experiences from our last visit.
1. Hospital can't email invoice
Very unfortunately, my husband had to be hospitalised while we were in Singapore. At his discharge, we were told the final invoice would be mailed to a Singapore local address. When I enquired if they could mail that to our address overseas or email the invoice to us, I was told the hospital cannot post things overseas nor can it email.
I find this baffling as emails have become the norm for communication, and sending and receiving even official documents.
As I pleaded unsuccessfully with the customer service officer to accede to our request to email the invoice as we were leaving Singapore in the following days while the invoice would take 3 to 4 weeks to be ready, I was told to lodge a complaint through the hospital website's feedback tool. The happy (or unhappy??) ending was that we had the invoice emailed to us after lodging a complaint upon returning home. I'm puzzled a hospital would rather receive complaints and waste resources addressing those when there are simpler and quicker ways to resolve issues.
By the way, you are absolutely not allowed to give a foreign address. You MUST provide a local address before discharge. For tourists who have no friends and family locally, how would they be able to provide a local address, or would they then not be discharged? How is not allowing invoices to be emailed in today’s highly connected digital-tech environment “smart”?
2. Shops don't accept cards
Many local, small businesses cannot accept plastic transactions be that debit / credit cards or even the local bank card (NETS). In coffee shops, markets, and many heartland stores, you can only transact in cash. This poses a huge inconvenience as people would still need to carry a fairly large amount of cash when moving around and exploring the heartlands.
In most advanced countries, even sweatshops accept cashless transactions, and one can pay for items of $1 using facilities equivalent to NETS. Speaking to a vendor, I found out it was too expensive for small businesses and their customers to go cashless due to prohibitive administrative costs.
While being a cashless society is one step closer to harnessing technology to make life more convenient, and safer, it must be viable and practical to encourage wider adoption.
3. SG Wireless doesn't work
SG Wireless does not work for travellers. While there is a “sign-up” page using one’s foreign mobile number, nothing happens from that apart from one receiving a code. There is no where you can use the code to activate connectivity. The convoluted process leaves one frustrated and lost, and still unable to enjoy the much touted SG Wireless.
Being connected to wifi allows travellers to search places of interest and use the mobile GPS to get around. When travelling to several Asian countries, I was impressed with the ease of connecting to wifi in most spaces, even on buses, adding to the quality of the travel experience.
4. No change given at SMRT machines
The SMRT top-up machines cannot give change. I tried to top up my MRT card at a station. I had only $50 notes but only wanted to top up the card to $20 as we were only in Singapore for a few days. I found out the machine cannot dispense change. I ended up not being able to top up the card that time.
I find it hard to believe smart machines today cannot dispense change when they can already dispense hot food, or receive and dispense cash.
Overall, I did not find this “smart nation” convenient for transacting, for connectivity and for empowering one to manage one’s affairs where needed. Perhaps the Smart Nation initiative is for locals only, but that would fly in the face of this island nation that is building more terminal airports and working so hard to attract more tourists each year.
Perhaps the relevant organisations for developing the smart nation vision will seriously evaluate how they are harnessing the “advances in digital technology (to) enhance the way people work, play and interact… (so that) at the heart of the Smart Nation vision is people, not technology (https://www.smartnation.sg/about-smart-nation).
Editor's note: Top-up machines are run by TransitLink, not SMRT. This is, of course, a technical difference since TransitLink is ultimately running the machines on behalf of SMRT when they are placed in MRT stations.