NTU Canteens lose hundreds of dollars as NETS mobile payment crashes

NETS QR codes like this one at the Big Harvest Ban Mian stall in Canteen 14 are available at most establishments in NTU. Mobile payments have become a common way to pay for food in the university. (PHOTO: Osmond Chia)
  • NETS mobile payment system crashed during dinner time due to a Starhub network disruption
  • Dozens of transactions failed during these hours 
  • Some students mistakenly paid multiple times, and stores were unable to receive payment 

By Osmond Chia

Students who rely on mobile payments to buy their food may want to start having backup cash on hand.  

NTU canteens were thrown into confusion on Tuesday evening after the NETS mobile payment system experienced heavy disruptions due to network issues with Starhub. The fault caused dozens of transactions to fail during peak dinner hours. 

Some diners mistakenly paid multiple times for their meals, while several food stalls also lost hundreds of dollars in revenue because other customers could not pay for their food after it was served. 

One of these affected customers was Jayleen Chen, a first-year MSE student. She attempted to pay for her food via the DBS PayLah app seven times at Canteen 14’s Big Harvest Ban Mian store.  

“The customer in front of me had the same problem too and we were both hogging up the queue trying to get the app to work,” said Chen. She later found a friend who offered to pay for her meal using cash.  

“I didn’t bring a wallet because we would always pay using PayLah and I was used to it,” she added. 

On the other hand, the network disruption affected vendors who could not receive payments from diners. 

Mr Wong Feng Feng, a cook at the Big Harvest Ban Mian store, said he lost over $200 because of the service error, approximately half of what he normally earns during dinnertime.  

Although his NETS machine was not generating any receipts, he would serve the meals anyway since the PayLah app already indicated that money was deducted from customers’ accounts, he said. 

But he said that he was reluctant to reject more incoming payments via the mobile system because many students did not have cash and his stall did not support card payments. As the queues grew longer, he was also pressured to serve the next customers to reduce congestion, he added. 

During the service disruption, Mr Wong repeatedly checked to see if the system was working by transferring small sums of money to his business’ DBS Paylah account.  

The transactions would initially indicate success but would bounce back to the sender only after a few minutes. He said this mirrored what some customers experienced. 

“It makes it very hard to verify if purchases were actually successful. And the customer would have already collected him food and left, so it is impossible for me to trace those who did not pay,” he said.  

pic_01_NETS.jpg
PayNETS QR codes like this one at the Big Harvest Ban Mian stall are available at most establishments in NTU. Mobile payment has become a common way amongst students to pay for food. (PHOTO: Osmond Chia)

Just next door, the Mixed Vegetable Rice store also reported a loss, this time of over $300. The operator, Mr Lee Siew Siong, said many customers did not bring cash, so he told them to return the payment at another time.  

Vendors in food courts like North Spine Food Court and Koufu were less affected, who said they were ordered by their managers to stop accepting mobile payments within ten minutes of the disruption surfacing. Customers were told to pay either with cash or debit card. 

Canteen 2’s Mala Xiang operator Mr Chen Yun Fei, said some students tried restarting the app to see if the payment would be successful. They told him after looking at their payment history that money had been deducted multiple times from their accounts. However, none of these transactions had been successfully received by Mr Chen.  

“Since I am the one who offers the payment system, I would return them the extra money they had sent to me although it was an accident,” he said.  

Mr Chen estimated a loss of over $50 before he ceased mobile payments.  

Mr Wong Wen Hao, a Customer Relations Officers at NETS said that customers who had money deducted because of unsuccessful transactions would be refunded within five working days from Tuesday evening. 

He also said: “Customers should pay with cash if the merchant is unable to receive payment digitally. Merchants should not be refunding customers for unsuccessful payments because these transactions will be returned shortly.”  

The growing usage of mobile payment in the school, with many vendors offering it, is part of NTU’s recent push to become a smart campus.  

This article will be part of a series of stories about technology and digitization in NTU.  

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