A few months ago, I wrote about some economy sharing ideas that millennials would like to see being implemented in Singapore.
And out of the list of 10 ideas, I was personally rooting ardently for powerbank and umbrella sharing to happen here because these two are my utmost essentials.
Well, my prayers have now been answered (partly) thanks to Sharella.
Here’s the thing: we Singaporeans tend to take the weather for granted, always assuming it’s going to be sunny (hot and humid rather) all the time; but when it pours, it usually rains cats and dogs.
Because the weather is so unpredictable, we don’t always carry an umbrella with us. And when that happens, we usually get stranded somewhere or end up getting drenched in the rain.
Not A Single Umbrella Was Stolen During Trial
Four final-year Republic Polytechnic students from the Design for User Experience course have come up with a brilliant idea to help others not get caught in the rain.
Called Sharella, this initiative allows users to borrow umbrellas on rainy days whenever they need to cross the road.
These umbrellas are placed in racks on both sides of the road, and users in need of a brolly can simply grab one for free!
This graduation project of theirs was in collaboration with Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) Community Partnership division to aid Singapore’s transition towards a car-lite society.
During a 10-day trial earlier this January, the team of four set up kiosks of 10 umbrellas along unsheltered paths near Woodlands and Admiralty MRT stations.
It received a very good response from commuters, with around 200 people using the umbrellas in an hour.
“We conducted the trials throughout both light drizzles and heavy downpours. There was a 100 per cent rate of return. No umbrellas were stolen,” said team member Chan Min Yi, 21.
This is very surprising, considering that the same umbrella sharing initiative failed in China, with over 300,000 umbrellas going missing in a matter of just three months.
According to Minister Ong Ye Kung, they’ve purposely “made the umbrellas quite ugly, so it’s not something you want to take away.”
Elaborating on this, team member Don Chua, 20, said that they have used stickers to mark the Sharella umbrellas to make it easily identifiable.
“So if any person do not return the umbrella back to where it belongs, everyone will know that he/she has stolen it,” he added.
…But All 20 Umbrellas Went Missing During Official Launch
Despite the good response during the trial period, it was surprising to note that all 20 umbrellas went missing on Sharella’s first day of official launch at Sembawang on July 22.
The next batch also disappeared over a few days.
As a result, grassroots leaders have had to buy a sizeable stash of umbrellas, costing a few hundred dollars, to replace the missing umbrellas.
In hopes of a more foolproof borrowing system, the team went on to build a mechanical prototype that works like supermarket trolleys.
The machine unlocks an umbrella when a $1 coin is inserted, and this money is refunded upon return of the umbrella. This solution has since been rejected however.
“Because Sharella is a community project, LTA feels that it’s better to not involve any money in the project so as to create a more gracious society,” said team member Kishan Kumar Karunamuthi, 20.
They figured that the only way to overcome this was to raise awareness about the sharing initiative.
Volunteers were then stationed at the crossings on weekday evenings and on weekends to educate pedestrians on the project – and it soon took off.
“If we just replenish and don’t educate the the residents, even if we put 1,000 umbrellas, they’ll be gone,” reasoned Mr Goh Pang Hong, chairman of the Gambas Citizens’ Consultative Committee.
In turn, residents began donating their umbrellas, and this greatly helped to keep the project afloat.
Commenting on this, Minister Ong, who also oversees the Gambas division in Sembawang GRC, said that 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,” he wrote in an email to TODAY.
Solving ‘First-World Problems’
Minister Ong lauded the quartet for their idea, citing it as an excellent example of Singaporeans taking ownership of problems and finding their own solutions.
“When we see problems, we no longer ask: What’s the Government doing about it? Gradually, progressively, I’m seeing more and more people doing something about problems they face every day.”
So far, the Sharella team has slated a second launch for the initiative on September 16 at Blackmore Drive, near the Bukit Timah district.
Meanwhile, Minister Ong is monitoring the project further before expanding it to other parts of the constituency.
If successful, he feels that it will help solve many problems and save lots of taxpayers’ money – not just for rain shelters, but in many other areas too.
According to him, 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,” he wrote on Facebook.
Adding on to this, Sharella’s Lim Wayne, 21, is confident that Sharella can be further developed to help convenience fellow Singaporeans.
He also mentioned that other companies have expressed interest in collaborating with them to bring the project to greater heights, though no specific details were disclosed.
Featured Image Credit: Sharella