Yishun Park Hawker Centre Crisis: Hawkers Cite Inaccessibility, Automated Tray Return System & Revenue Problems

Yishun Park Hawker Centre —  a next-gen hawker with basically every odd stacked in their favour.

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Home to 43 hawker stalls in a spanking new building, equipped with a smart tray return system, a dedicated app for cashless payment and a snazzy website touting its social media presence.

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Incidentally, they’re also run by the brains behind Timbre+.

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Except, less than a year after its launch to much fanfare, the struggling food centre has resorted to offering free lunchtime parking to encourage Singaporeans to return.

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We take a look at 10 facts about the sad plight of the beleaguered hawker operator, to find out what went so wrong.

1. Eight stalls have left

When 8 out of 43 stalls decide to leave, less than a year after opening last Sep, it’s a clear sign that trouble is afoot.

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Thankfully, 3 out of these 8 spots have since been filled.

Timbre Group is reportedly in talks to bring in a “halal drink stall” — we’re curious what they’ll be serving up too.

2. Teething infrastructure and revenue problems

Despite being touted as a next-gen hawker centre at Yishun Avenue 11, hawkers have raised multiple complaints to management regarding revenue.

Ironically, they also mentioned problems faced by infrastructure issues.

3. Too high tech for elderly residents

Hawkers explained that the automated tray system and mobile app payments were a turnoff.

Especially for elderly residents who struggled to adapt to the new technology.

4. Insufficient footfall

Yishun Park Hawker Centre’s right in the heart of a residential area.

This means it suffers from the lack of human traffic due to next-to-nothing office crowds, during crucial weekday lunch hours.

A hawker described the human traffic as “below par” as compared to similar hawker centres.

5. Was geared towards next-gen hawkers

The struggling hawker centre was intended to be a hot-bed of new tech and innovations, offering creative solutions for next-gen hawkers.

An “incubator programme” for young hawkers in their early 20s, was launched along with their tray return and cashless payment systems.

Of course, it’s clear to see that their efforts have yet to pay off, in light of the worrying exit of 8 hawkers.

6. Hawkers unhappy with discounts via cashless payment

Another reason why hawkers may be struggling to turn a profit includes the discount programme at Yishun Park Hawker Centre.

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Basically, diners get a 10% discount if they choose to pay via their mobile app.

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They’ll proceed to a kiosk to top-up credits within the app, an action that’s considered “troublesome” by some.

Hawker Mr Yeo claimed that this discount “eats into [their] costs” of operations, whereby if 60-80% of patrons use the app, hawkers will eventually have to raise prices to cover their costs.

Additionally, this may deter once-off customers who have to download and transfer credit to the app, just for one meal.

7. Automated tray return system just doesn’t work

Currently, you’ll have to fork out 50 cents per tray. But you’ll receive a refund when you’ve returned it to the automated tray return area.

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Patrons find the tray and app systems “somewhat inconvenient”.

They also cited examples of people who returned only the tray to get their 50 cents back, but left the bowls and utensils behind.

8. Marked up food prices

Predictably, the discounts are popular with families and diners.

But they’ve noticed that the food at Yishun Park Hawker Centre’s more expensive than other neighbourhood joints.

Hawkers explain that rental costs, coupled with marked up prices and low revenue, gave them no choice but to hike up prices.

One even mentioned that “if this carries on, half the hawkers will be gone”.

9. Some remain optimistic

White Bee Hoon stall owner, 41-year-old Mr Chen Wen Kai, retains his optimism about renewed efforts to revitalise the hawker centre.

According to ST, he hopes for a “10-15% increase in business” once they “gain momentum”.

After all, Yishun Park Hawker Centre remains home to honestly delicious dishes.

Hopefully, the good ‘ole ‘got good food will travel’ sentiment of Singaporeans will carry through for them too.

10. Umbrella-sharing, free lunchtime parking to incentivise patrons

In a bid to woo diners back to their premises, Yishun Park Hawker Centre has come up with these initiatives:

  • Free lunchtime parking for 1 hr on weekdays (12-2pm)
  • Grab discount codes
  • Constructing sheltered walkways
  • Umbrella-sharing programme
  • Tray return lucky draw (win up to $500 in credit)

This may seem superfluous to some, but when you understand the problems faced by hawkers, the reasons become a little clearer.

Western stall owner, Mr Yeo explained that “it’s total chaos” when it rains and that “no one can come in unless you drive”.

We’re just not ready yet

Sometimes, a good idea may sound better in theory than in practice.

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We don’t doubt that next-gen hawker centres like Yishun Park Hawker Centre were probably created with the best of intentions.

Unfortunately, daily operations continue to be marred by the unexpected inconveniences faced by everyday users.

Perhaps the real question is — are Singaporeans truly ready to embrace cashless payments and automation in our heartland hawkers?

Or are we simply rushing into things too quickly, for the sake of staying relevant.

Let us know in the comments, how you think Yishun Park Hawker Centre can be improved.

Featured image from Yishun Park Hawker Centre and Straits Times.