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Umbrella-sharing project in Singapore brightens up rainy days

by August 24, 2017 General

Noelle Neo, 13, taking an umbrella from the umbrella sharing scheme, Sharella's stand at Sembawang MRT station. Photo taken on Aug 22, 2017. — Picture by Esther Leong/TODAYNoelle Neo, 13, taking an umbrella from the umbrella sharing scheme, Sharella’s stand at Sembawang MRT station. Photo taken on Aug 22, 2017. — Picture by Esther Leong/TODAYSINGAPORE, Aug 24 — In the Gambas Zone 2 Residents’ Committee office in Sembawang, a stash of about 200 umbrellas represents the hopes and setbacks of residents steering a fledgling umbrella-sharing project.

Grassroots leaders have had to buy a sizeable stash — costing “a couple of hundred” dollars, according to Gambas Citizens’ Consultative Committee chairman Goh Peng Hong — to replace unreturned brollies. But on a sunnier note, they have not had to unleash more of their stock, because of umbrellas donated by the public and ongoing outreach efforts.

The Sharella experiment started last month, and was highlighted by the area’s Member of Parliament Ong Ye Kung last week on Facebook.

Meant for residents to use on rainy days when they need to cross Sembawang Way, the umbrellas are placed in racks on either side of the road.

If successful, the project could be rolled out in “many other areas” and will “solve many problems and save lots of taxpayers’ money”, said Ong in an email yesterday.

Building a linkway across the road was not feasible because the minimum height of 4.5m — for taller vehicles like double-decker buses to pass — meant pedestrians would not be adequately shielded from the rain.

“It will cost millions (of dollars) to build a linkway that may not even be effective in providing shelter,” Ong had written on Facebook.

“This is a problem infrastructure planners faced across Singapore.”

He wrote that he would monitor the scheme before expanding it to other parts of the constituency.

The success of umbrella-sharing is not a given.

“If the rate of loss is more than (the) rate of contribution, the scheme won’t be sustainable,” said Ong, who is Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Second Minister for Defence, via email yesterday.

“But I certainly hope this little project brings to light the importance of us being considerate and kind to others. It will solve many problems and save lots of taxpayers’ money, not just for rain shelters but in many other areas too.”

On Sharella’s first day on July 22, all 20 umbrellas vanished. The next batch disappeared over a few days — despite signs in four languages informing users of the sharing initiative.

Volunteers stationed themselves at the crossing and, in Ong’s words, “an amazing thing happened”.

Residents began to contribute their umbrellas and their donations have helped sustain the project in the last few weeks.

TODAY saw 16 umbrellas — 14 which appeared to have been donated — in the racks on Tuesday, and residents said they were keen to keep the project going.

“I didn’t want it to stop (just) because the umbrellas were taken by other people. I believed that if I started contributing some umbrellas, other people would do the same thing,” said Tan Wai Sing, 34, an IT professional who donated two umbrellas after noticing there were none left in the racks.

Tan was among the residents who had previously requested a sheltered linkway across the road, and was pleasantly surprised when Sharella came along.

One of his umbrellas has disappeared, while the other has been damaged. Although “a little disappointed”, he also feels encouraged by others’ donations.

Volunteers have been stationing themselves at the crossing on weekday evenings and on weekends at 7am, 5pm and 10pm to educate residents about the project, said Goh.

“If we just replenish and don’t educate the residents, even if we put 1,000 umbrellas, they’ll be gone,” he said.

“It’s a ground-up initiative … Over time, residents started donating their umbrellas, some even four or five umbrellas each, which they won from lucky draws.”

Another resident who has chipped in is 55-year-old senior technician Silvanmunisamy, whose umbrella was still in the rack on Tuesday after a few days.

He was confident that it would not be stolen, but other residents such as financial consultant Yvonne Chong, 48, said they were prepared to lose any umbrellas they donate.

“(The umbrellas are) useful for residents here to get to the bus stops,” she said.

To deter theft, field officer Syazwan Suwaji, 31, suggested a deposit system and an app to unlock the umbrellas, while Tan suggested writing “return after use” on the hoods of the umbrellas.

Goh said volunteers have “tentatively” identified a crossing on Sembawang Vista, on the other side of SembawangT, as another spot for the project. — TODAY