SINGAPORE-JB TOLL HIKES

Singapore-JB toll: Businesses fear sales slump with fewer S'porean visitors

Malls, hotels, auto workshops and petrol stations in Johor Baru are bracing themselves for another sales slump when higher Causeway tolls come into effect today.

There was already a marked drop in Singaporean visitors when the tolls went up on Aug 1, in the first round of hikes, according to several shopkeepers interviewed at three malls in the Johor capital. With the tolls for private cars rising further to $13, they fear their sales will only plunge further.

The toll rates vary, depending on the vehicle.

The toll cost of a round trip in a private car passing through the Singapore and JB checkpoints rose from $2.35 to $7.70 on Aug 1. From today, this figure will rise further, to $13, when Singapore's new toll rates come into effect.

Mr Alex Ngio, a manager at a watch shop in City Square mall, which is popular with Singaporeans, claimed that the number of Singaporean customers have dwindled by 40 per cent since Aug 1, when Johor raised the tolls.

"They raised the tolls too steeply and too fast, but what can we do? My business from Singaporeans is down by 40 per cent," said Mr Ngio at Million Precision Time, saying he expects to take another knock now.

Singaporeans and Malaysians working in Singapore form a big chunk of customers at the huge malls and hypermarkets in JB, with several shop owners saying half of their clientele is from Singapore.

Said Ms June Leong, a salesgirl at a booth that sells phone accessories like power banks and phone cases: "The August rise in tolls has hit us badly. I am worried things could become worse."

At hotels, car repair workshops, nightclubs and petrol stations, which also see regular Singaporean customers, the mood is cautious.

"We have been affected but so far not so much. I hope that doesn't change after Oct 1," said a supervisor at the Ah Wee Auto workshop which is located beside Holiday Plaza. She declined to give her name.

The fortnightly or monthly visitors, who drive into Johor with their families to eat, shop, top up petrol or visit their second homes across the Causeway, will arguably be less hard hit.

Shops selling luxury goods should also not have to worry, said Mr Kenny Kou at the Love & Co jewellery store in City Square.

"If they want to buy these items, the tolls are not a factor," he said, waving at rows of wedding and engagement rings made of white gold and platinum.

Johor's property market, which banks on Singapore buyers, also does not expect the toll hikes to impact sales. Property agents say those who bought condominiums and landed homes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars will not be deterred by the $13 round-trip fees.

"People who bought in JB are buyers with money, so I don't see a problem," said Mr Andy Liew of GS Realty, which has a booth selling two blocks of D'secret Garden condominiums at KSL City mall.

Johor Baru MP Shahrir Samad was quoted in the Malaysian media as saying last week that renting or buying a property in Johor is still cheaper than renting or living in Singapore, even after the hike in toll fees.

Still, there has been concern in Malaysia over the impact on workers who travel daily to Singapore.

On a more positive note, comments by a Singaporean who bought groceries at KSL City mall last week with his wife may assuage some of the concerns.

"I might have to reduce the trips from three times a month, but I will still come often. Shopping only in Singapore could be boring," said Mr A. Joni, 68, a retired civil servant.

reme@sph.com.sg