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Shops in Johor Baru feel pinch as tolls kick in

Publication Date : 03-08-2014


Shops at a Johor mall popular with Singaporeans experienced a significant dip in business yesterday, a day after tolls went up on the Malaysian side of the Causeway.

Petrol stations also saw fewer Singapore-registered cars as the impact from the higher tolls began to kick in.

Traffic was unusually smooth on the Causeway for a Saturday morning and even more so yesterday, which was the first weekend after Hari Raya Puasa.

"It usually takes up to two hours just to enter but, today, it took us less than an hour," said learning centre owner Fran William, 35, a Singaporean who made the trip yesterday.

This was a far cry from the chaos last Friday morning, when bus drivers on the way to Singapore refused to pay the new tolls and parked their vehicles before the Johor Baru checkpoint, causing a massive jam. Hundreds of bus passengers were forced to continue their journey on foot.

At Friday midnight, the toll for cars entering Johor was raised from 2.90 ringgit (US$0.91) to 9.70 ringgit (US$3.02), while a new charge of 6.80 ringgit (US$2.11) also kicked in for cars returning to Singapore. Tolls for buses, taxis and goods vehicles were also raised.

That prompted the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to announce that it will match the new tolls in the next few weeks.

This means that cars making the round-trip will have to pay about S$12.80 (US$10.27) in toll charges, compared with S$2.30 (US$1.85) before.

With Malaysia also planning to introduce a fee of 50 ringgit (US$15.57) on Singapore-registered vehicles by year's end, businesses there admitted they are worried that more Singaporeans could end up staying away.

For clothing boutique SUB at City Square mall, located just a couple of kilometres from the Johor checkpoint, Singaporeans make up 70 per cent of its customers.

Sales assistant Fariha Razak said the number of Singaporean shoppers dipped by about 40 per cent yesterday.

"We are usually very crowded on weekends, but today is like a weekday - there is hardly anyone," said the 19-year-old, gesturing to an almost empty store. "Maybe it's because of the toll."

At shoe store Summit in the same mall, sales representative Fadziatul Niza Ahmad Jamali, 32, said that there were "not so many" Singaporeans, who make up about 80 per cent of the shop's clientele, yesterday.

"We usually have sales of up to 12,000 ringgit (US$3,736) in one day but, on Friday, we hit only about 5,000 ringgit (US$1,557)," she said. "We're quite worried."

The number of Singapore customers at a Shell petrol station close to the Johor Baru checkpoint has also gone down by about 20 per cent over the last two days, said its cashier Aisya Aishah, 28.

"About 90 per cent of our customers are from Singapore. A lot of them will come every week to pump petrol," she said, adding that she hopes they will return once they get used to the higher tolls.

Singaporeans who made the trip yesterday said it was still "worth it" for now, because of the savings from cheaper food, groceries and petrol.

"I come about once a week to fill my tank and do my marketing," said 49-year-old chauffeur Mohamad Ali Yusoff. "I can save about S$30 (US$24.06) to S$40 (US$32.08) on petrol alone."

William also heads to Johor for his groceries once a fortnight.

"It's just a lot cheaper here. A tin of milk powder for my kids can be half the price of one back home," said the father of two. "Even with the toll increase, we still save."

But with charges set to increase once LTA completes its move, and again after Malaysia introduces the vehicle entry fee, William said he may have to think twice then about making a trip across the Causeway.

"We might come less frequently or just stop coming completely if it gets too expensive."

For those who commute regularly, the financial pinch would be even more painful.

Said businessman Patrick Chan, who drives from Singapore to Johor up to four times a week for work: "I'm worried about the 50 ringgit (US$15.57) - that is significant, about S$80 (US$64.17) more for me to pay each week."

The 45-year-old added: "It will hurt those like me pretty badly."

Malaysia announced its proposal for a vehicle entry fee after Singapore decided to increase its permit fees for foreign-registered cars entering this country.

Starting this month, Malaysia-registered cars have to pay S$35 (US$28.07) for a daily permit, up from S$20 (US$16.04) Drivers of goods vehicles, who used to pay S$10 (US$8) for a monthly permit, now have to fork out S$40 (US$32).

These fees are separate from the toll charges, which have caused plenty of unhappiness among Malaysian commercial drivers.

Said Maggie Hui, the 56-year-old owner of Malaysian school bus service JK Megamaju: "If we have to pay more, we have to pass costs to the parents."

The Johor Lorry Operators Association made a U-turn yesterday after its vice-president, Andrew Chia, first told Channel NewsAsia that if the Malaysian government did not reduce the fares, lorry drivers might stage their own protest this week.

The association's president, Anthony Tan, later told the same news outlet that Chia had no authority to say this and that there will be no strike as "we do not want to create trouble or havoc for other people". Instead, the association will "go through the proper channels" to air any dissatisfaction.

A spokesman for the Johor-Singapore Community Care Association also told The Sunday Times that the new toll charges are "unreasonably high". The association was started by a group of Singaporeans living in Johor to assist those who live and work there.

He said: "(We) would like to see an amicable solution that would not be a financial burden for citizens of both states, as they commute daily, be it to make a living, to conduct business or for leisure."

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