SINGAPORE - It is the lunch hour, and the queue at Changi Village stretches almost to the end of the block. But the line is not of hungry foodies waiting for a steaming plate of nasi lemak.
These are drivers, waiting to collect their cars from one of the Housing Development Board's (HDB) new mechanised carparks.
Completed in December, the 195-lot mechanised carpark in Changi Village cost $10 million. It was built to alleviate the parking crunch in the foodie-haunt.
Two other mechanised carparks were also built - in Bukit Panjang and Yishun. Along with the one in Changi, they are part of a pilot project initiated in 2013, to test out mechanised parking systems (MPS) in housing estates.
The carparks in Bukit Panjang and Yishun are meant for season parking, but Changi's is also open to short-term users.
So while the total number of car lots have been almost doubled at Changi - from 183 to 304 - a new problem seems to have arisen.
During peak hours, it can take over 30 minutes to retrieve or park a car at the MPS in Changi Village.
In a media statement on Friday, HDB said peak period wait times ranged between 10 and 15 minutes. The Straits Times, which visited the area four times in the past two weeks, observed much longer waiting times.
"The mechanism is too slow, it's so inconvenient. It's frustrating when your car number remains in the queue but the rest disappear. They don't run in sequence," said Mr James Ong, 50, a sales manager in the pharmaceutical industry.
To park, users have to drive their cars into one of four car lifts, before exiting their cars, and punching in an eight-digit PIN code in the computer terminal outside.
The car lift then closes and MPS automatically parks the car. Cars are retrieved by entering the same PIN code.
A computer screen lets users know when their cars are ready.
East Coast GRC MP Maliki Osman, who was touring the facility during its launch yesterday, said long wait times were not typical in his experience. HDB records indicate that during off-peak periods, it averaged five minutes to retrieve a car.
Dr Maliki added that users might wait a little longer as some of the car lifts might be closed for maintenance.
"I hope the users will be able to understand some of the current challenges to stabilise the system and we need to give them some time to maintain the system also," said Dr Maliki.
Experts told The Straits Times MPS like the one in Changi Village might not be suitable for areas with high vehicle volume and turnover.
"Imagine one car takes three to five minutes to retrieve. If you have 10 cars in the queue, the last car, if quickest, will take half an hour," said Mr Dave Ng, a sales engineer at engineering firm MHE-Demag.
He pointed out that retrieval times also do not take into account time required for drivers to enter their cars and drive off.
"If a driver takes longer than usual the delay can snowball," he said.
But the system in Changi has its fans.
Shop owners say business is up 10 per cent to 15 per cent, while residents say they no longer have to compete with visitors for parking lots.
"In the past, there was a queue to the carpark that stretched out to the road. Now, my customers come back more often because it's easier to park," said Ms Chris Ho, 40, who runs the Tekong Seafood Restaurant.