The issues of crowd management, coupled with physical space constraints were the main factors that pushed ICA into the ASC initiative.
The public waiting area at the Passports Unit can only hold 500 people comfortably at any one time. However, there was a tendency for Singapore citizens to collect their passports at the same time i.e. Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, eves of public holidays and during school holidays. Despite informing citizens through our website and notification letters on the peak periods to avoid, it was impossible to change human behaviour entirely. This resistance to change could be attributed to the fast-paced lifestyles that Singapore citizens adopt, and prefer to collect their passports closer to the weekend. Where some countries may advocate the introduction of daily collection quotas on their citizens, Singapore is unable to adopt this approach as the public service is deemed to be serving the public at large and expected to be customer-centric.
While ICA had introduced multiple channels for submission of passport applications through mail, by drop-in deposit boxes at ICA Building, via the Internet or over the counters, there has been no option for applicants to collect their passports besides service counters at ICA premises. The ASC initiative is therefore necessary in view that the infrastructure and space in the building can no longer take in increasing crowd numbers. Also, the prohibitive cost and the lengthy wait period in constructing another building for passport collection were taken into consideration when exploring the alternatives of ASC, and these were better-suited as mid- to long-term solutions. In fact, 12 March 2010’s incident of ICA’s closing the doors to walk-in customers for passport services at 3.40pm made the team more determined to speed up the implementation of ASC.
Briefly, more than 3,600 queue tickets for passport services were issued as of 3.30pm on 12 March 2010. It was 125% more than the usual capacity of 1,600 customers a day. As the crowd in the passport collection office built up to more than 1,000 in the waiting area, we had to stop accepting walk-in customers. This move to cease the passport service on that day was necessary to prevent overcrowding at ICA’s premises for the safety of our customers.
To worsen matters, the Passports Unit experienced a surge in passport workload throughout 2010 due to convergence in the 10-year and 5-year passport renewal cycles. For 2010, the total workload was a 144% increase from that in 2005. In March 2010 alone, we had issued over 68,000 passports, the highest volume of passports ever issued in a month, in the history of Passports Unit. This amounted to over 2,500 passports issued in a single day.
Apart from overcrowding issues, staff morale might be affected, leading to slippages in service standards. In addition to the perennial issue of crowd management, the staff were pressurised by the ever increasing customer demands of better and faster services. With this in mind, the idea to outsource the collection of ICA documents to trusted partners was mooted.