Huge Causeway jam as bus drivers strike

Huge Causeway jam as bus drivers strike
A group of bus drivers protesting against the toll increase at the Causeway by the Malaysian authorities yesterday morning. The strike caused massive jams from about 5am to 9am, forcing some commuters to cross the Causeway on foot to get to school or work.

Jostling with hundreds of other commuters, 12-year-old Ee Tung Shuen trekked across the Causeway on foot at the crack of dawn yesterday to get to school after a strike carried out in protest over new Johor tolls brought traffic along some lanes to a standstill.

Taking effect yesterday, the new tolls mean vehicles have to pay about five times as much as before to enter and exit the Johor checkpoint. Buses pay $5.20 for a round-trip at the Malaysian side, up from 90 cents previously.

Unhappiness with the spike in such travel costs led an estimated 200 bus drivers, mostly ferrying workers from Malaysia to Singapore, to carry out what they called a "strike" yesterday, a participant told The Straits Times.

The Malaysian, who wanted to be known only as Ravi, said plans for the strike were spread by word of mouth, with drivers stopping their vehicles in the lanes before the Johor checkpoint to "ask the authorities why they (are) doing this". "The toll is too heavy... we drive in and out three times a day, so the new tolls added together make a very big difference," said the 34-year-old.

The strike took place early yesterday morning and caused massive jams from about 5am to 9am.

Several bus passengers, including those from Ravi's vehicle and some school buses, opted to make the crossing of the 1km-long Causeway on foot.

The congestion eased at about 9am, after Malaysian police intervened, telling the bus drivers they would consider their concerns and giving out Touch 'n Go toll payment cards worth RM10 (S$3.90) each, said Ravi.

"The police questioned all of us, but there was no fighting or arrests," he said. "We ended the strike because the authorities told us that they will review the tolls over one week. We will give them one week and see how."

Malaysia's Public Works Department said the disruption was not a strike but a "small disturbance" which arose from two drivers refusing to pay.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA), meanwhile, stressed that Malaysia's new Causeway toll charges were different from Singapore's Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) and Goods Entry Permit.

As of yesterday, drivers of foreign-registered cars entering Singapore have to pay $35 for a daily permit, up from $20. Drivers of goods vehicles pay $40 for a monthly permit, up from $10.

Fees from those permits "are not intended as revenue generators or to charge vehicles for the usage of the Causeway, Second Link or other roads", said an LTA spokesman. "Instead, they seek to equalise the cost of owning and using a foreign-registered vehicle in Singapore, with that for a Singapore-registered vehicle."

Based on last year's data, the VEP fee increase will affect about one in 10 foreign-registered cars. Buses, taxis and motorcycles are not affected by the increase.

While Singaporeans who head to Malaysia for the occasional leisure trip mostly said they were undeterred, others who go there frequently were worried, especially with Singapore due to match Malaysia's new toll charges.

"There's usually already a long wait at Customs. And now we have to pay even more," said Mr Phil Chia, 44, who runs a signage business and travels to Johor Baru twice a week. He said he may make fewer trips.

This article was first published on August 2, 2014.
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