The misuse of disabled toilets in a suburban mall - including sexual misbehaviour - has prompted its management to install a tap-in system so that only those with validated passes have access.
Jurong Point Shopping Centre started testing the new system - which requires users to tap their Contactless e-Purse Application (Cepas) passes before entering - two weeks ago at one of its 10 disabled toilets.
The system will be rolled out across all 10 disabled toilets in three months' time, and cost a total of $100,000.
First-time users will have to press a call button, and will be instructed to tap their Cepas card on a sensor pad on the wall. Their particulars are recorded on a database so that just a tap is needed to use the mall's disabled toilets in the future.
To ensure that users are legitimate, mall management will verify the user on closed-circuit television when the call button is pressed before granting access.
If a user has forgotten his card, he can press the call button to get buzzed in.
"Shoppers and the disabled gave us feedback that there is misuse of the disabled toilets," said Jurong Point spokesman Camie Chua, who added that about 90 disabled users use the disabled toilets every month. "Able-bodied people were using them and sometimes leaving the toilets in a mess.
"We hope this extra step will help cut down abuse," said Ms Chua, who noted that several voluntary welfare organisations catering to the disabled are tenants at the mall. "We want to make these toilets available to those who really need them."
Last month, a 26-year-old man was charged with committing sex offences with underage boys in various locations - one being a disabled toilet in Jurong Point.
The misuse of public toilets for the disabled seems to be a perennial issue.
Marissa Medjeral-Mills, executive director of The Disabled People's Association, said it receives about three such complaints each month. Grouses include toilets being used by people with no mobility issues, being used as storerooms or even being locked.
But when asked what she thought of Jurong Point's move, she said: "It misses the point.
"It should still be about educating people on why disabled people need to use such toilets and encouraging them to decide against using them," she said. "It's not about locking the public out and them not understanding why."
She suggested that Jurong Point's move be complemented with education to "help change behaviour over time".
When contacted, other mall managers said that they will study the new system.
A spokesman for CapitaLand Mall Asia said the group's 19 shopping malls receive complaints of misuse "only occasionally", but will study the implementation of such a system.
Stephanie Ho, Asia Malls' deputy chief executive, said its six malls get a handful of complaints every year, mostly about smoking in disabled toilets or hogging by able-bodied users.
On the new system, she said: "It's proactive and it's good to learn from other players. We will see if we can adopt it."
Marina Centre Holdings' general manager, Chan Yien Mei, said it would "take into consideration any learning points from Jurong Point's implementation", but pointed out that Marina Square is near hotels and attractions.
"We have a number of tourist visitors who do not have Cepas cards. Implementing such a system would not be user-friendly nor inclusive," she said.
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