Sunday 14 September 2014

Singapore matches Causeway tolls from 1 Oct 2014

By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 13 Sep 2014

DRIVING to Malaysia via the Causeway will cost substantially more from Oct 1 as Singapore raises toll rates to match Malaysia's fee hike.

The Land Transport Authority announced the new rates yesterday - just days after Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo told Parliament on Tuesday that Singapore would match Malaysia's increase "in due course".

Charges will apply for vehicles entering Singapore via the Causeway as well, up from no charge today. The two-way toll for a car will amount to $6.50 - more than five times the $1.20 charged today. The new rate is on a par with the toll at the Second Link, which remains unchanged at $6.40 for a round trip by car on Singapore's side. The Malaysia toll at the Second Link is RM7.50 (S$3).

The charges for all other vehicles except motorcycles - which will continue to have toll-free use of the Causeway - will also increase by around five times the previous rates.

Light vehicles will be charged $9.80, up from $1.90, and heavy vehicles, $13, up from $2.60. Taxis will be charged $3.30, up from 60 cents, while the toll for buses will be $5.30, up from $1.

With the higher fees Malaysia introduced on Aug 1, the toll for cars going to Johor Baru and back will be around $13 via the Causeway. This is expected to put off some but not all travellers.

Mr Chris Quek, 53, who runs driving-holiday company Wheels For Fun, said: "I don't think it will affect those who drive up country... perhaps only those who go to JB to buy petrol."

Since the toll hike on the Malaysian side, he said he has noticed that "traffic had lightened a little" on the Causeway.

Singapore businessman Fran William, 35, who goes to Johor Baru every fortnight, said he will cut down on his trips. "Maybe I'll go once every month or three weeks," he said. "I go there mostly to buy groceries."

Businesses in Johor Baru also expect a slowdown.

Mr Chook Jack Seng, 41, of Malaysian pharmacy chain My Pharmacy, said the increase is likely to dampen sales.

Many Singaporeans go to Johor Baru for medicines and health supplements as the price difference is substantial.

Mr Chook said the August hike had hit business, though he could not give an exact figure.

"We've not assessed the impact across our stores - we have 15 outlets in JB," he said. "But I think the bigger impact will be on transportation companies... especially those moving goods."

But Singapore vegetable wholesaler Yeo Thong Huat, 60, said the hike is unlikely to translate to any tangible increase in vegetable prices. He said this was because when divided by the load per lorry, it is negligible.

Each big lorry can carry up to 20 tonnes of vegetables.

Johor seeks hourly train shuttle to Singapore
State official says frequent service can help commuters hit by Causeway toll hikes
By Shannon Teoh Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Sunday Times, 14 Sep 2014

Johor has called on rail operator Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad to increase its service frequency across the Causeway to hourly trips as an alternative for commuters faced with surging toll fares.

Johor Tourism, Trade and Consumerism Committee chairman Tee Siew Kiong said yesterday that a more regular train service would give those who drive daily to work an opportunity to switch to public transport.

"This could also have a positive impact on traffic congestion at the Causeway as there will be fewer cars," he said at a press conference, according to The Star newspaper.

Singapore's Land Transport Authority announced last Friday that it would match the Malaysian levy on the bridge, bringing the cost of a round trip for a car on the 1km road to about $13 from Oct 1.

The news caused concern across the border, with businessmen and politicians bracing themselves for a blow to the economy, as it meant a more than tenfold increase in two months for commuters after Malaysia first introduced a fee of RM16.50 (S$6.50) for cars on Aug 1.

A train ride from transport hub Johor Baru Sentral to Woodlands costs RM5 per adult.

Better public transport service would be welcome news for businessmen, including Mr Teh Kee Sin, president of the Small-Medium Enterprises Association of Malaysia and head of its South Johor chapter.

"Without viable alternatives, people who use the Causeway will be forced to adapt. But we will never forget these decisions by both governments," he told The Sunday Times.

He added that business owners could raise prices by up to 20 per cent as the long-term impact of the toll hikes makes its way along the supply chain.

The latest toll increase comes on the back of Singapore's decision to raise the Vehicle Entry Permit fee from $20 to $35 per day, from Aug 1. The Goods Vehicle Permit fee for foreign-registered vehicles also increased from $10 to $40 per month.

The implications of the toll increases could sound the death knell for the ambitious Iskandar economic zone, said Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong.

"With this tit-for-tat move, it is as though a wall has been erected on the Causeway to separate the two neighbours," the Democratic Action Party Johor chief said in a statement yesterday.

"Iskandar, which is heavily relying on its proximity to Singapore investments, is as good as gone."

Even leaders from the ruling Umno party agreed.

Pulai MP Nur Jazlan Mohamed told The Sunday Times: "Both governments have to decide if they want Iskandar or not because instead of promoting it, they are imposing a de facto tax."

While Singapore said it is merely adhering to a policy of matching its neighbour's levy, Malaysia insists its collection is not a Causeway toll, but to pay for the Eastern Dispersal Link, which is an elevated highway that connects the Johor Baru immigration complex to the North- South Expressway.

If Malaysia reduces or removes Causeway toll charges, Singapore will follow suit: LTA
Channel NewsAsia, 24 Sep 2014

The Land Transport Authority on Wednesday (Sep 24) reiterated that should Malaysia reduce or do away with the toll charges, Singapore will do the same.

A LTA spokesperson said Singapore's long-standing policy is to match Malaysia's toll rates as "this reflects the shared nature of the Causeway".

The spokesperson also clarified that recent media reports suggesting that only motorists using the Eastern Dispersal Link (EDL) highway would pay the increased tolls when they enter the Malaysian Causeway Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex (CIQ) were inaccurate.

"On the other hand, motorists who use the EDL highway but did not pass through the CIQ do not pay tolls. This means that the increased tolls are effectively Causeway tolls."

Second Link traffic 'likely to increase'
Higher Causeway tolls starting next Wednesday may drive vehicles away
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2014

TRAFFIC volume on the Second Link is likely to rise when significantly higher tolls on the Causeway kick in next Wednesday.

But observers said this is not just because the Second Link will then have cheaper toll charges (about 30 per cent lower). Rather, those who have been using the Causeway previously because it was much cheaper than the Second Link will no longer have an incentive to do so.

In a move to match Malaysia's August hike, Singapore will raise Causeway charges from Oct 1.

Together with tolls levied by Malaysia, a two-way trip by car via the Causeway will cost around $13.10. With the revision, the Causeway becomes costlier than the Second Link, where charges for a similar round trip remains unchanged at $9.40 for now.

Mr Chris Ng, who runs driving holidays organiser Footworks, said people who will be most affected are those who drive to Johor Baru for groceries and petrol.

They are unlikely to take the Second Link because it adds around 60km to a two-way journey. People who drive farther up north for a holiday will not be affected, he said.

"If they are not frequent travellers, they don't mind paying. I have an upcoming drive to Cameron Highlands on Oct 4. I thought I would sell 20 rooms, but I got 25."

But whether drivers who previously took the Causeway will now choose the Second Link "is a big question mark", said Mr Ng, 60.

The Land Transport Authority does not have the number of Singapore vehicles using the two crossings, but said the Causeway accounts for 70 per cent of the 54,000 foreign vehicles entering Singapore daily. Of that, 70 per cent are motorcycles.

It would not say how the toll changes might affect traffic patterns.

Retired traffic engineer Joseph Yee, 69, ventured that any increase in the Second Link volume will be "marginal".

"The decision to use either will be destination-based, and not cost-based," Mr Yee reckoned. "If you are driving to Kuala Lumpur, it makes sense to use the Second Link, as the connection is more straightforward.

"But if you are going to JB for seafood and petrol, you will still use the Causeway.

"The toll is not going to be much when you have four or five in the car."

But Mr Ng said he hopes more traffic will move to the Second Link.

"This may just clear the Woodlands side a bit," the Yishun resident said, adding that the Causeway is closer to his home.

Motorists still throng Causeway but the hike may take its toll
Commuters say they have no other way to get to work or school
By Samantha Boh, Melissa Lin and Cheryl Wee, The Straits Times, 2 Oct 2014

THE higher toll which kicked in yesterday saw traffic volumes on the Causeway remaining high during the morning peak period but easing slightly in the evening.

Morning commuters said that even though charges are now five times more, they had little choice but to use this route to get to work or to school.

The charges were raised by Singapore at midnight yesterday to $3.80, up from $1.20, for cars leaving the country. And while it was previously free to enter Singapore, it now costs $2.70.

Coupled with the increase in Malaysia's toll on Aug 1, commuters using the Causeway will spend about $13 for a round trip between Singapore and Johor Baru.

Singaporean businessman Muhd Shawal, for example, who lives in Johor, takes his two children to school at around 5.30am before heading to work as an importer of food and equipment.

"What can I do? I just have to accept it. I still have to send them to school and do my business," the 40-year-old said.

Another daily commuter, Mr Gan Chit Kiong, 34, said he finds the charges unreasonable and will consider moving back to Singapore if Malaysia decides to increase its Vehicle Entry Permit fee too.

Since Aug 1, drivers of foreign-registered cars entering Singapore have to pay $35 for a daily permit, up from $20.

"The burden will be too much to bear at that point," said the roof construction worker.

To cope with the toll hike, some commuters have made adjustments to their commute.

Mr Saravanan Subramaniam, 43, decided to leave his car a short distance away from the Johor Baru Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex. He then takes bus service 950 into Singapore. "I've been working in Singapore for 15 years, and working in Malaysia is out of the question. The best I can do is to reduce my cost significantly by taking the bus," said the Malaysian technician.

Similarly, Mr Melewa Mokhtar, 48, a freelance rock-climbing instructor, now takes his grandchildren to a childcare centre in Woodlands by bus.

He sold his car following the Aug 1 hike.

"I hope that both governments can talk it out and make the increases less substantial," he said.

Commuters heading home between 4pm and 7pm were, however, pleasantly surprised to find their ride rather smooth.

Technical support officer Nelson Chong, 26, said he took 15 minutes to clear the Causeway around 4pm, instead of the usual half an hour. The Singaporean was on his way to a relative's home in Johor for a meal, a fortnightly routine.

Transport researcher Lee Der Horng found the difference in traffic volumes between the morning and evening commute puzzling, but attributed it to behavioural economics.

"It is possible that (commuters) don't want to accept the higher charges and are delaying the impact... The congestion could come much later in the night," he said.

Businesses in Johor yesterday also found that many day trippers were put off by the higher rates.

The Shell station located just after the Causeway saw fuel sales drop by 20 per cent compared with previous weekdays.

"The station is usually full, but today it's quite empty, (with) space to play football," said the station's supervisor, who did not want to be named.

Overall, the implementation of the toll hikes yesterday went smoothly, with little confusion. This was unlike that on Aug 1, when 200 bus drivers went on strike to protest against the hike.

A spokesman for the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority said it will work with the relevant agencies at the land checkpoints to monitor the situation and ensure that travellers are cleared smoothly without compromising security.

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