Time to increase service

A large group of people waiting to buy their train tickets at KTMB counters at the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex in Johor Baru.

I have been based in Johor for some time but recently I decided to take the train into Singapore after receiving a lot of complaints about tickets always being sold out.

Many people blamed the touts for buying the tickets en-bloc and then selling them to travellers, especially workers rushing to beat the morning traffic along the Johor Causeway, which can sometimes last up to several hours.

The touts, who operate at both sides, earn good money as the normal RM5 train ticket was being sold for up to RM10 while the return journey S$5 (RM15) can cost up to S$8 (RM24).

It was a weekend and I was at the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex early to catch the train at 7am.

As usual there was a board on the KTMB counter stating that the tickets were all sold out. But I managed to get a ticket for the 8.30am train.

I was expecting a huge crowd all cramped in a poorly ventilated area and rickety seats after passing through immigration.

However, to my surprise there was a nice seating area provided for those waiting for the train at the departure area while the train coaches were cold, comfortable and clean.

I was in Woodlands train station in Singapore within five minutes of departure.

As soon as all the people alighted from the train, Singapore security personal with sniffer dogs started combing around the coaches before the train was allowed to move to another area to pick up returning passengers from Singapore.

I was cleared at the Singapore immigration within 10 minutes as many counters were open on that day.

I proceeded to the nearby hawker area to have breakfast and to speak to people about the touting problems.

Since The Star highlighted the issue at the end of last month, KTMB has introduced several measures to curb the problem.

The Tebrau Shuttle, which just started last year with some 14 trips daily between Johor Baru and Singapore, has now grown to 24 trips daily between 5.30am until 11.20pm daily.

Presently each train can only take in about 320 passengers.

That means if all the 24 trips are full, only about 7,680 people can use the train between Singapore and Johor daily.

This is a tiny number compared to the tens of thousands commuting daily between the two countries via the Causeway and Second Link.

The time has come for KTMB to increase the frequency of the service including the possibility of the service starting as early as 3am or 4am and ending at midnight or 1am.

KTMB should also continue to make trips every 30 minutes and look at the possibility of adding on more coaches or remove all the seats and get everyone to stand during the five minutes trip.

Maybe they can allocate a few seats just for the elderly and the disabled.

This way many more people can travel by train daily.

The Malaysian Government should also convince its Singapore counterpart, especially during their joint-ministerial retreats, on the importance of increasing mobility between the two countries as the two land crossings were already operating at their maximum capacity.

The issue of immigration not being able to cope with a huge influx of people should not arise as based on my observation, both sides have ample immigration counters and Singapore has a huge arrival hall.

Meanwhile, to check on touts, KTMB should limit the number of online tickets a person can purchase and get everyone to key in their passport details or show their passports at the ticketing counters before buying tickets.

They should also instal a computerised system to scan all tickets instead of the manual tearing ticket system to prevent abuse.

Based on my experience, taking the train is a great alternative to those who want to commute between Johor Baru and Singapore.

For KTMB, this can be a lucrative route, which can add to its revenue.

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