Promising days ahead

Back to shopping: Visitors seen strolling at a Johor Baru mall following the introduction of VTL-Land travel scheme. — THOMAS YONG/The Star

With more than 11,000 people crossing the Causeway via the VTL-Land scheme in its first week, business groups look forward to seeing Johor’s economy flourish again and hope other modes of transportation will be included soon.

THE business community in Johor is expecting the state’s economy to bounce back next year following the move by Malaysia and Singapore to allow travellers to cross the Causeway.

Johor Indian Business Association president P. Sivakumar said the business community lauded the implementation of the land Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL-Land) scheme which began on Nov 29.

Under the scheme, currently only two bus companies are authorised to ferry passengers between the countries.

He urged the two governments to permit other ways of travel between Singapore and Johor Baru.

“The effect of VTL-Land has not been felt yet by businesses here, especially those who rely on visitors from Singapore because the number of travellers under the scheme is still not that many,” he said.

Besides allowing public buses to travel between Singapore’s Queen Street Terminal and Johor’s Larkin Sentral Bus Terminal, Sivakumar suggested that other travel modes be included under the VTL-Land scheme.

“With VTL-Land proving to enable a safe way of travel between Singapore and Johor Baru, it is time both governments allow other modes of transportation,” he urged.

He said both governments should consider allowing private vehicles to cross the border as well as passengers on trains.

“It is an encouraging sign that the two governments have given their assurance that they are studying other transportation options under VTL-Land,” he added.

Sivakumar said VTL-Land would help spur economic growth on both sides, especially Johor Baru city centre which had been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We expect faster revival of the state’s economy with the VTL-Land in place and Johor being in Phase Four of the National Recovery Plan (NRP),” he added.

South Johor Hawkers and Petty Traders Association chairman Datuk Yow Boon Choon said the VTL-Land scheme would help ease economic problems that began since the border closed on March 18, 2020.

He said there were more than 10,000 traders operating in morning and night markets around the state, with the majority in Johor Baru and Kulai.

“With the border slowly opening up in stages, traders are looking forward to seeing their businesses grow again as most of their customers are either Singaporeans or Malaysians working in Singapore.

“We are grateful that both governments have allowed people to travel again via the Causeway as it will help revive the state’s economy,” he said.

Yow expects the travel scheme to benefit many, particularly traders, but said it would take time for the economy to return to pre-pandemic state.

“Many traders are facing financial difficulties because they have not been able to operate during the movement control order period.

“But with the VTL-Land scheme, thousands of people can now travel back and forth between Singapore and Johor, which will help improve the situation here tremendously,” he added.

Johor Indian-Muslim Entrepreneurs Association secretary Hussein Ibrahim said that businesses, in particular money changers, were opening up following the VTL-Land implementation.

He said not many money changers were keen on opening shop during the MCO but were required to do so under Bank Negara regulations.

“At the time, foreign workers from Bangladesh and Nepal were the ones wanting to change currencies.

“But with VTL-Land, all money changers, especially those in the city centre, are operating again following the return of Malaysians working in Singapore and Singaporean visitors,” he noted.

Hussein said this was a good sign as many businesses — including restaurants, sundry shops and money changers — were now seeing a 20% increase in profits compared to the period when the border was closed.

He, however, said the group was concerned that the Covid-19 variant Omicron could cause the border to close again, thus impacting businesses.

He said many businesses could not afford another closure as it would definitely put them under tremendous pressure and they would risk going out of business.

“Initially, we could not open for six months and had to close for another six months.

“But we are glad that both governments are looking at ways to keep the new variant under control.

“Furthermore, many people are adhering to safety protocols and we hope the strict checks at both the Malaysian and Singaporean checkpoints will keep us safe,” he added.

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