19 December 2009

Singapore's Carpark Wardens Through The Years - By Peter Chan

Scene 1:
Woman claims she parked at 1.10pm. URA car park warden, Ms. Kamsiah bte Wang claims woman parked at 12.51pm. The woman appeals against fine for the second time, claiming her watch is accurate. She decides to appeal (as a matter of principle and not because of the $30 fine) to the URA “relevant authorities”, only to receive a flat rejection letter. Will she go to Subordinate Court #26?

Scene 2:
A motorist considers it a waste of money to use a 50-cent parking coupon and leaves his car at the kerbside. He claims he can see his car and since everybody else is also doing the same, should be no problem. He goes into the kopitiam for that famous Bak Chor Mee and cuppa of coffee. Then all hell breaks loose as someone loudly screams, “Mata lai lor! Kah pak liak! Chut Saman! You see men (and women) dashing off to their cars leaving their bowls of Bak Chor Mee half eaten.

Singapore is a really “fine” city because we Pay And Pay. We have fines for all kinds of offenses, including a fine for paying a fine late. I guess we need fines to maintain discipline otherwise how could Singapore have got to where it is today? But who is that “Chenghu” (Hokkien for the authority) on the street? It is none other than our URA parking warden whose duty has somewhat changed over the decades.

Photo 1: Left; lonely warden writing on her booklet. A Hock Lee Bus passing by the public car park (circa 1967). Right; two wardens needing to rest their tired bodies against the cars. Notice a lorry double-parking “waiting” for a car park lot (circa 1972).

In the 1960s, the car park warden was responsible for issuing tickets to motorists in public car parks and at kerbside parking. Wearing one of those “Chinese funeral type” straw hats, she could be easily recognized by any motorist.

She had in one hand, a booklet of parking tickets, a stiff cardboard to provide hard support and to prevent writing through the carbon paper. She did not have the non-carbonized paper type but the Pelikan brand which came in black ink. The carbon paper was trimmed to the size of the booklet and inserted between the original parking and the duplicate parking tickets.

The entire process of issuing a parking ticket and making a payment was simple. After a motorist pulled into a parking lot, she walked towards him and asked how long he would be parking. The motorist was given the original ticket whilst the parking warden kept the duplicate. Payment received would be kept it in one of her safari jacket-pockets whilst the small change was kept in the other jacket-pocket. If a motorist exceeded his parking time, he was issued with a pink ticket neatly tucked under the windscreen wiper. All he now needed to do was to walk up to her and make the additional payments. The car park warden checked the time the pink ticket was issued and the time on her wrist watch. Mentally working out the duration, she would tell him the right amount to pay.

A fine occurred when the motorist drove off. The URA sent out letters of demand within 2 weeks from the date of the offence - stating the fine, the amount for the exceeded time and due date for payment. The first letter of demand was in white and the final warning letter was in pink. When the motorist chose to ignore, a visit to the courts was not unusual. You don’t need to guess how come I knew so much. In court, you see a long line of traffic offenders in a queue, each person waiting for the prosecutor to call his or her name to stand before the magistrate. When I pleaded guilty (always a smart thing to do instead of raising your hands or displaying a “boh chap” attitude because this adds to the cost) the compounded fine was S$50/.

Photo 2: Left; One display method (circa 1980), Middle; Parking coupon + computerized fine (circa 2009), Right; Car Park Warden speaks: “Madam I already key into computer. You not happy, you can always write in. I am only doing my work.” Then Madam speaks: “Chi kuan a lang bor tow lor….wah buay tahan. Gor a ji tu buay sai……”

One thing good about yesterday’s parking. You doubled-park your vehicle against a double-white line and wait; allowing your passenger to do errands such as running into the bank to make a deposit or to deliver goods. Surely these errands could take up to 30 minutes but the car park warden never chased you away. You could block other motorists also but as long you move your vehicle, it was alright. All kinds of reasons not to pay were accepted by the car park wardens. Maybe people in the past were more reasonable and forgiving. Try doing the same thing today in front of the Bank of China Building on Battery Road. Did you see in the rear mirror someone taking out his “Weapon of Mass Destruction”?

Things changed with the introduction of self-ticketing parking coupons in 1980, the HDB joining URA later that year. In 1980 there were 658 URA car park wardens employed. When the self-ticketing system was introduced, car park warden duties were changed to enforcement duties at the car parks. They imposed surcharges on the spot when motorists display invalid coupons. The surcharge was four times 40 cents parking if it lapsed within one hour, when more than an hour an additional $10 was imposed.

By this time, URA created a special “Hit Squad”. Enforcement wardens on scooters were sent out to keep a look-out for motorists who did not display valid car park coupons, tampering with the coupons (folding backwards without tearing away the tabs) or cheating on the starting time.

Photo 3: The law on wheels; yesterday and today

I observed that with the implementation of self-ticketing parking coupons, city parking charges went up even faster than before. Consider that in 1965 it was just 20 cents for one-hour, then it became 40 cents for one hour in 1974, 50 cents for one hour in 1980, 60 cents for half-hour in 1985, and now $2.00 for one hour. There were all sorts of variations as shown in Photo 4 that can be very confusing for motorists. Fines also escalated to newer heights.

Photo 4: Motorist woes, government happiness. Left - Early 1970s; Middle - Late 1980s; Right - Today

With coupon parking and Cashcards, it has lead to the demise of the once popular URA car park warden. Now we have the CERTIS-CISCO carpark wardens but they belong to the “Hit Squad”. Thirty meters away, you hear “Vrooom Vrooom, Vrooom”. Then nearer to you, he loudly beeps the scooter horns. You can’t pretend you didn’t see him coming because very soon you see on the driver’s side of the window, a familiar figure in dark glasses starring hard at you. “MOVE!” Sheepishly you crank your engine, move the gears and step on the accelerator. It certainly looks like our car park wardens have “reinvented themselves” so that they can stay relevant in this modern age.


Victor said...

I think the wide-rimmed straw hats and uniform served a very useful purpose. Even in broad daylight, if they parked their bodies like that on a Geylang Street, they might be approached by men asking, "How much per hour?" Not for parking their cars but for... (I don't think I need elaborate any further.)

yg said...


talk about geylang. i went to check out the place on friday. seems the raids have been quite successful. not once was i accosted and i had to search the lanes for the nubile ladies. they are more discreet these days. according to some friends, more of them appear after midnight. however, i did come across 3 men openly peddling illegal cigarettes. victoria kopitam, at the corner of lor 23, used to be crowded with old and middle-aged men with their lady companions. that day, i saw lots of men but without female company.

Lam Chun See said...

Victor. I cannot see your recent comments. Mine also seemed to have disappeared :(

Victor said...

Chun See, yes I noticed too. I think there might be a problem with Blogger.

Andy Young* said...

My problems with URA and the HDB Car Park authorities are as long as my Christmas Songs list. They are one of the worst people to deal with.

I hope some big shot from URA would see your posting and my comment. I'd love to see the people behind the scene.

Just 3 days ago I called an officer to give him some advice.

Andy Lim

yg said...

ura or hdb, they are out to make money, lah. once i had to answer nature's call near the bishan sports complex. i think there are at least 100 lots within the complex. on that day and time, there were only two other cars parked in the open car-park. as i was 'urgent' i did not display a coupon. when i had finished my 'business' and returned to my car i did not see any notice on my windscreen. however, two weeks later, i received a summon in the mail. promptly, i wrote to ura to explain the situation. i think you can guess the outcome - some standard bullshit about regulating the use of the car-park.

Thimbuktu said...

Hi Vic,

This carpark blog by you is very interesting for a long, long years. I worked for over 28 yrs with HDB before I retired with the Finance Dept, but Car Park Dept is directly linked and affected by parking revenue. Learnt more about my former Car Park colleagues and their unattended experience.

In the beginning, public parking meters started with Singapore. Next, someone suggested the use of carpark coupons for a shortlived period when motorists have to write paper forms in pen.

After a while the Straits Times forum reader, the suggested for carpark coupons with card tabs of designed year, day, date, time and hourly parking rates for various area zones the first time ever in the world in Singapore.

The unique Singapore parking coupon should discover the ST Forum reader's name for his invented award and give him for his personal brain thoughts and creative for his brilliant Singapore ideas! Until ECP computerised method then slowly stopped on paperless ways.


Icemoon said...

Victor and Chun See, I have switched over to Blogger's native Recent Comments widget. The old one has broken link for the javascript file.

Thimbuktu said...

Thanks to Peter Chan for a lots of research resources.

The car park wardens (the shy ladies wearing straw hats under the hot, sunny days)...got paiseh!

Anonymous said...

interesting blog post... if I'm not wrong the URA parking wardens (or at least not the white top and black pants certis-cisco ones) are still around, mainly at the residential HDB carparks. They wear some greyish coloured top. I remember seeing some of them (aunties) still wearing the same type of straw hats. It's probably a personal choice, not standard issue...

Victor said...

Thanks for all your comments.

Also thanks to Icemoon, Chun See and I have revived our "Recent Comments" widget. But ironically, Icemoon's "Recent Comments" widget has disappeared.

Lam Chun See said...

I thot this article is written by Peter and not Victor?

I always have my sympathy with the people doing this profession. Needs lots of courage and much hated by the public.

If you drive to Msia, they have different coupons for different towns. Real rip-off.