JOHOR BARU: From August 1, travelling into Singapore via the Johor Causeway is a costly affair.
A person driving into Singapore will now have to fork out RM22.50 in toll (RM16.50 Malaysian side and S$2.40 (RM6 Singapore) instead of the old charges of RM8.90 (RM2.90 Malaysian side and S$2.40 (RM6) Singapore).
Apart from the new toll charges, motorists using Malaysian cars will incur higher costs as Singapore has also increased its vehicle entry permit (VEP) on foreign-registered vehicles by 75% from S$20 (RM50) to S$35 (RM87.50).
This means travel to Singapore via the Johor causeway, touted as the country’s busiest land crossing with an average of 50,000 vehicles commuting daily, will easily cost a local car driver more than RM100 per day for toll and VEP charges.
However, motorcyclists are not affected by these changes as they only pay S$4 (RM10 on the Singapore side) per day.
The new toll rates were supposed to be imposed two years ago after the construction of the 8.6km Eastern Dispersal Link Highway (EDL), which connects motorists from the North South Highway directly into the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex and into Singapore directly.
However, there was a huge uproar among the locals in 2012 and toll collection was subsequently deferred following Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s visit to the state and talk that the Government would buy over the project from the concessionaire.
However, according to sources, the Government after considering all the options, has decided not to acquire the highway.
The concessionaire, which forked out RM1.4bil to construct the highway, has been pumping RM12mil a month for the past two years to maintain the highway and pay for financing costs. (The Government has also been compensating the concessionaire with RM11mil monthly for the past two years).
The source said that it was unfair to the majority of Malaysian tax payers if a large sum of money was used to acquire the EDL in order to benefit a small minority of EDL road users.
Since the highway opened two years ago, driving into Singapore has been made more convenient as motorists from the north need not enter into the perpetually congested city roads such as Jalan Tebrau or Jalan Skudai to get to Singapore.
The project is a six-laned elevated road with at least four interchanges with concession of 34 years including four years for construction.
Statistics show that at least 220,000 vehicles use the EDL daily with at least 180,000 drivers enjoying the highway for free to get into the city.
However, for those travelling into Singapore, they have no choice but to pay the new toll rates even if they do not use the EDL at all.
Unlike other tolled roads in Malaysia, this highway uses an open toll system whereby the cashless collection system using Touch ‘n Go, is done at the Immigration counters inside the CIQ building.
Anyone driving a vehicle other than a motorcycle into Singapore, from other trunk roads into the CIQ, will also have to pay for the toll as there are no other alternative routes.
This has created a furore among drivers here especially factory buses plying the route daily.
Johor Indian Business Association (MIBA) chairman P. Sivakumar Baru feels that the present toll collection method will have negative effects on business growth in the state.
”I think people will not mind paying the toll if the booths are located on the EDL itself and not inside the CIQ. This means those who use the other trunk roads into the CIQ need not have to pay,” he added.
He said the EDL started as a noble idea to help ease travel into Singapore via the North South Highway but has since become a controversy due to the way all motorists were being forced to pay toll.
He urged the Government to reduce and only charge toll during peak hours.
Although the new toll rates at the Johor causeway will still be cheaper than using the Second Link, a better toll collection system needs to be looked into that is fair to all parties including the public, the concessionaire and the Government.
One way to minimise the economic impact on drivers is to give them alternatives including improving the public transportation system to allow for people to take the bus into Singapore.
More public carpark facilities should be set up offering park and ride facilities in Johor Baru.
Special train services between Johor and Woodlands during peak hours can also be looked at. The time has also come for the government to consider building pedestrian walkway as an alternative for people to be able to walk across the Johor causeway.
The sudden hefty toll charges and lack of proper explanation make the whole deal difficult to swallow for many, especially when it hits too hard at the pocket.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, a Johor-born himself, had announced that he had directed the Works Ministry to go to the ground and conduct a study of the matter following the public uproar.
The Government, he added, wanted to ensure that road users were not burdened with the toll rate hike.
Hopefully, this issue can be resolved soon with a “win-win” situation for all parties.