The Parking.sg app went live in October 2017 and has since received high praise from the Singapore government and mainstream media for being a “well-designed” and “innovative” cashless payment option for motorists. The app replaces the conventional paper parking coupon system and offers a hassle-free experience through a smartphone.
The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, even introduced the app in his 2017 National Day Rally speech.
“Dozens of other cities have parking apps. Why do we not? So I pushed HDB and URA to go digital. And I am glad that with GovTech’s help, we have now developed an app for street parking – and it is called Parking.sg,” said PM Lee during his speech.
At that time, we did not know that his son, Li Hongyi was behind the development of the app. But later on, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) — an agency under the Prime Minister’s Office — publicly attributed the app’s development to Li and his team with the backing of the Ministry of National Development (MND), the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and the Housing and Development Board (HDB).
Media outlets in Singapore, such as the Straits Times, often report on Li’s achievement of having created the app which forms part of Singapore’s Smart Nation drive.
Li too often gives speeches about his experience developing the app in various conferences and seminars.
In his various speeches, Li speaks about his experience developing the app, which he said started from an observation that people were using too many “annoying” parking coupons, which often led to people rushing appointments so they did not overrun the time they had paid for.
“Just to sort of give you a sense of how these things go. Right here on the left is the earliest concept we ever did for the app. This was done in like 2013 or something like that. And on the right is what we finally launched with at the end of 2017, I believe, October 2017, I think. Yes. And you can see how the UI and everything evolved along the way. Now, this literally was done in PowerPoint. It’s just drag dropped in squares and like text boxes and all that,” he said at a talk during the iMagination Week Singapore 2019.
NYP student’s invention predated conceptualisation of Li Hongyi’s parking app
TOC had previously reported five Temasek Polytechnic (TP) students coming up with a similar idea in 2016. In that report, we noted that GovTech was only established in 2016, and asked who Parking.sg could have belonged to since the app was only conceptualized in 2013.
And till today, we still do not know the answer to that question.
But what we do know now, is that three students from Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) had already developed a similar app called “PP-Coupon” in 2013. This predates the supposed conceptualisation of the Parking.sg app by whichever ministry or statutory board.
The NYP team utilized data provided by government agencies to create a working prototype for the app and won two awards for their app’s functionality in February 2013.
They were even praised by Mrs Josephine Teo, who was then Minister of State for the Ministry of Transport, during the presentation of an award to the team.
Acknowledging the potential of the app, Mrs Teo said: “We don’t want to have to worry about the time limit of our parking coupons during our visits to our families and be unable to enjoy the time with them.”
Following the success of their app, The NYP students then pitched it to authorities such as URA and HDB and had a visit from URA at their polytechnic. While interested, the officials allegedly informed them after their presentation that their project would no longer be feasible as the government was going to roll out the new ERP2.0 system, which would replace the system of coupon payments for parking.
However, four years later, the NYP students were surprised to hear the announcement of the Parking.sg app by PM Lee, which was created with the support of the same agencies that had earlier dashed their dreams of further developing their final year project with the government.
“When I saw the news abt Parking.SG – I was very indignant as I started to question why didn’t URA tell them about the ERP 2.0.? Where is ERP 2.0 that was informed by URA that is abt to phase in? And why is the app so similar to ours?” questioned one of the team members when contacted by TOC.
There is no doubt how Parking.sg has improved the daily lives of motorists in Singapore from the old practice of having to tear paper coupons and being fined for underestimating the time needed for their parking.
It is nevertheless puzzling how the app was developed despite Land Transport Authority (LTA)’s commitment to a new Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)-based ERP system that could facilitate coupon-less street parking, especially considering it works pretty much the same way as the app developed by the NYP students.
Then-Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew had already informed the public in 2013 that the government concluded through a two-year study that a satellite-based electronic road pricing (ERP) system, which can charge according to distance travelled, is likely to be feasible in Singapore. This system would include couponless street parking and dynamic charging for off-peak cars.
While the ERP2.0 was said to be operational by 2020, LTA has delayed the rollout date to 2021 and later to the second half of 2023, supposedly due to the shortage of microchips.
One would wonder why the sudden U-turn in policy, especially given the possible duplication of services when ERP2.0 comes online.
And while the app created by Li’s team has created convenience for motorists in Singapore, it is still sad to know how the students who first came up with their well-thought-out alternative to paper-based parking coupons in 2013 — according to their recollections — were told to give up the development of their project which could have been a “Parking.sg”.