[Review] Marsiling’s Automated Tray Return System

First published on The Blogfather’s Facebook Page here.

Marsiling: this seemingly innocuous estate has seen a bit of drama over the last year, firstly when it quite inexplicably lost its representative Member of Parliament to an unfortunate incident many of us now refer to under our breath with a disgruntled, forceful spray of spittle as the Reserved Presidential Election.

It looks like some of the people managing Marsiling want to keep the momentum going, this time with an absolutely brilliant idea that will surely thrust the constituency into the forefront of Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative, complete with green and pink robots sprouting multiple arms out the sides of their bodies.

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I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the only two-month-old Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre, and to observe for myself how the much-lauded Automated Tray Return System worked.

It didn’t.

No trays. Just everything else.

It isn’t technically broken or anything. As far as I can see, the tray return belts were running, there were cleaners manically sorting and cleaning utensils inside, but having sat there for the entire duration of one Sunday night dinner plus about 15 minutes of idling, no one actually used it to return any trays.

Right next to the tray chomper, they do have “manual” utensil return station. But the whole set-up is just kind of intimidating to the casual user, to be honest.

One wonders why… until one actually buys food from the stalls. Most of them don’t provide trays. And the patrons of those that do, don’t use them, preferring to hand-carry their purchases bowl by hot soupy bowl to their tables.

See any trays? :/

Meanwhile, the tables remain haunted by the remnants of its previous occupants, while the cleaners worked more swiftly than usual to try to keep the otherwise new food court pristine.

The cleaners do try their best when the diners don’t seem to even want to try.

Oh dear. What could have possibly gone wrong? Why is this new, innovative technological approach actually making things worse? And are they really going to implement this incredibly idiotic idea into 23 other hawker centres? Will somebody please stop these NEAncompoops?

In order to demonstrate just how badly this scheme has so utterly backfired on itself three times over, allow me to respond to some fantastic quotes from another CNA article that covers the tray return system specifically.

“With the ATRS, cleaners will be able to focus on cleaning tables instead of having to clear the plates of cutlery left behind.”
Two hawker centres start automated tray return, to charge deposits for trays [29 Jan 2018, Channel NewsAsia]

In fact, the complete opposite has happened. Cleaners are working double-time to clear the cutlery off tables because there are no trays for them to pile the cutlery on and remove in a single motion. and then they clean the tables. And given the circumstances, I really give all my respect tot he cleaners for maintaining the food centre’s sanity despite this. I would add that if not for Marsiling being so ulu in the first place, they would have easily been overwhelmed by the work they had to do to keep the place clean.

“Changing the behaviour and mindset of the public will take time and it will take patience.”
– Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources and Senior Minister of State for Health

Actually, it took absolutely no time at all to change the behaviour and mindset of the public. Thanks to the complete lack of forward thinking in implementing the idea, we all hate it so much that no one is coughing up the deposit for the trays, resulting in patrons not even using them any more. People are even revolting against the idea, returning only the trays but leaving the crockery behind; the news picked up on this just 2 days after Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of oh-you-know launched the thing.

Even worse, there are people who actually want to clear their table themselves and return their trays and crockery, but the System has made it so inconvenient to do so that the considerate ones would rather not come back a second time, even though the food there is really not half bad. And anyone who has encountered elderly people feeling completely and utterly lost in front of ATMs can just imagine how they would feel when facing these tray-eating behemoths, and for what? 50 cents?

Wah. So advanced until people don’t use.

Hawkers aren’t buying into it, either; I mentioned that most of them had given up providing the trays already since their customers weren’t taking them. They could use the extra countertop space anyway. But the idea of charging a tray deposit makes even less sense; despite having an easier time with washing up (which they have to pay more for as well), these stallholders already have to contend with a drop in business on top of higher cost of operations. Who has the time to manage a separate stash of deposit money that isn’t even theirs?

“We need to sustain this and of course, continue to encourage the community to support this.”
– Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of This Is Just Too Long To Type Already

I actually have no problem with the technology itself. I imagine people might have fun watching 2 hawker stalls swallowing copious numbers of trays and crockery. But why do our stat boards believe our people have to be managed with money all the time? Timbre+ did okay with a similar system; their deposited is included into your dine-in meal cost by default, and failure to returns is as good as forfeiting your deposit – h/t Shawn Toh). The food they sell there is so overpriced anyway you barely feel it. Besides, people expect a private enterprise to use money as their language for control. Why does our public sector keep thinking the same language applies to their work?

Dear, dear National Environment Agency (NEA). The solution is incredibly simple, and you even get to keep your dirty-dish swallowing machines (even keep installing new ones) and still contribute productively to the country’s Smart Nation drive. Simply forego the bloody 50-cent/$1 deposit, tape up the coin return component, put the non-automated tray return stations back next to all the pillars keeping the food centre roof up, SUSTAIN your education of the public on the virtues of habitual table clearing, and of course, continue to encourage the community to support THAT.

And please don’t take too long, because Marsiling is making you look really bad right now. And I really don’t feel like visiting Bukit Merah Central either.

I didn’t eat this.