SINGAPORE-JB TOLL HIKES

Singapore-JB toll: ‘Big setback’ for regular commuters

Singaporean Fahmi Rais, who lives in Johor Baru, drives across the Causeway to drop off three of his children at schools here - Siti Nur Natasya and Mikhael Rais at a secondary school and another daughter at the Institute of Technical Education. With
Singaporean Fahmi Rais, who lives in Johor Baru, drives across the Causeway to drop off three of his children at schools here - Siti Nur Natasya and Mikhael Rais at a secondary school and another daughter at the Institute of Technical Education. With the toll hikes, it will cost him about $260 a month.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Also, some S'poreans who drive to JB to eat and shop will cut down on trips

Every morning at 5.30am, Mr Fahmi Rais packs three of his four children into his Kia Sorento sport utility vehicle and drives across the Causeway to drop them off at school in Singapore.

The journey from their home in Johor Baru to Woodlands can take 45 minutes on a good day, and two hours if traffic is bad.

Mr Fahmi, who is a Singaporean, and his family made the move to Johor 3-1/2 years ago, to escape the higher cost of living here. But when the second round of Causeway toll hikes kicks in today, more of their savings will be chipped away.

From today, private cars will have to pay $6.50 when they leave and re-enter Singapore. Coupled with the RM16.50 (S$6.40) toll on the Malaysian side, Mr Fahmi will end up paying about $13 for a round trip, or about $260 per month.

"I'll just have to absorb the costs," said Mr Fahmi, 46, who owns a branding and training consultancy firm in Singapore. "But the hikes are not justifiable because I still have to deal with the jams at the Causeway."

Those who have to commute to and fro daily said that the toll hikes are a huge setback.

There are over 5,000 Singaporean families residing in Johor Baru and at least a third of them make frequent trips here for work and school, while thousands of Malaysians cross the Causeway each day to work in Singapore.

Malaysian Louis Chen, 35, said that besides the tolls, he also coughs up $35 for the Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) fee for foreign-registered vehicles when he drives to Singapore.

The consultant in a renovation firm, who works a seven-day week, said the new charges today will be "another burden" for him. He will have to pay around $350 a week in tolls and VEP fees.

For some Singaporeans who drive to Johor Baru frequently to shop and eat, the toll hikes will mean fewer trips.

Golf coach Bryan Pereira, 40, plans to reduce his weekly trips to Johor Baru to once every two months.

"I'll make my trips worthwhile when I go in. I must have six to 10 things to do - such as getting a hair cut, servicing my car and going for foot reflexology."

But not everyone is cutting back. Ms Janice Lee, 50, a beautician, said that she will continue to visit Johor Baru twice a month for massages and shopping, but will hitch a ride with friends if possible.

While tolls are not collected from motorcyclists on either side of the Causeway, they are suffering from the spillover effects. They believe the jams have become worse since Malaysia upped the toll fees in August, because of drivers switching from cars to motorbikes for cross-border trips.

Mr Eswaran Paramasivan, 37, has been riding a motorbike from JB to Singapore for 11 years.

"Normally, I take one hour and 15 minutes to reach Tanjong Katong but, since August, it has been two hours," said the restaurant manager of Bruno's Pizzeria, who was stuck in heavy rain near the Causeway during a jam last Wednesday night. "I'm concerned about the Singapore toll increase - it's going to be more jams for motorbike riders," he added.

adrianl@sph.com.sg

marilee@sph.com.sg