Tuesday 19 June 2012

Spot a problem? Report to town council via phone app

4 councils have introduced such apps for hassle-free feedback
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2012

REPORTING a problem in his neighbourhood used to involve a call - or sometimes several calls - to the town council for Mr Vincent Lim, 42.

Nowadays, he simply whips out his smartphone, snaps a picture, and sends it via an application when he comes across faulty lighting, illegal parking or bulky items which can be fire hazards.

'You can track if your reports are being followed up. For bulky items, all it takes are a few hours, and for the rest, one or two days. There is less red tape, it's quicker now,' said the geomancer, who lives in Sengkang West.

Plans are in the pipeline for all 14 People's Action Party town councils to develop such smartphone apps, which allow residents to report problems or provide feedback in a hassle-free way.

Called urban crowd sourcing, this mode of feedback allows the public to report problems on the spot from a mobile device and get real-time feedback as they are being resolved.

In a recent post on his Facebook page, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that cities in the United States are turning to crowd sourcing to help municipal governments improve services, such as removing graffiti or repairing street lighting. This method is also being tested out in some town councils here, he noted.

Four town councils have introduced such apps - Ang Mo Kio, Marine Parade, Bishan-Toa Payoh and the Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang.

Using these apps, residents can track if the town council has dealt with the problems they highlighted.

They can also view or comment on what other users say - which avoids duplication of reports.

Some apps have additional features. For instance, iConnect@ AMK, launched by Ang Mo Kio Town Council (AMKTC) two years ago, keeps residents informed of the location and timing of the Meet-the-People Sessions based on the postal codes they submit.

About 6 per cent to 15 per cent of the feedback received were submitted via smartphones, said town councils which have launched such apps.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, the MP for Bukit Panjang and coordinating chairman of the 14 PAP town councils, said his team will be getting the rest of the town councils on board to launch their own apps.

A committee will decide on some common features that all the apps ought to have. One suggestion being considered is having a 24-hour live monitoring feature that enables residents to book communal facilities. A few apps already have this function.

Such apps not only make it more convenient for residents to report issues, but they also make it easier for town councils to fix problems.

'With the pictures (sent via such apps by residents), officers can easily determine where and what the problem is and if it requires urgent attention,' said Dr Teo.

'This helps productivity as sometimes you can't discern differences between a hairline or structural crack through descriptions over the phone.'

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