Relax... Hire a driver for M'sia

SINGAPORE - For a fee, they'll play chauffeur, tour guide and sometimes personal minder when you take a trip to Malaysia.

Car and van hire companies on both sides of the Causeway now provide such services.

And anecdotal evidence suggests that this service is growing, as it provides convenience, security and a personal driver at a reasonable price. Factors like the time of day, where you board and if there was a booking made in advance affect how much it costs.

A one-way trip to Singapore can be as cheap as $14.

In comparison, taxis in Singapore, which will pick you up from your home and drop you off at Jalan Wong Ah Fook in the heart of Johor Baru (JB), cost $55.

You would then have to hire another taxi or bus to continue your journey into Malaysia.

Singaporean Farin Ahmad, 38, says his clients can choose hourly rates, daily (12-hour) rates or even per trip rates. For example, it costs $400 to rent a minibus for 12 hours to Desaru.

He set up his business, Akis Chartered Services, four months ago. Says Mr Farin: "I saw an opportunity. My singing-bird enthusiast friends always had problems finding transport to attend competitions held in different Malaysian states.

"I thought, if I started a business, I would be able to attend the competitions and still earn a living."

Word soon spread and Mr Farin's business improved.

During school holidays and festive periods, Mr Farin is usually booked four days a week.

"It has become busier with the opening of Johor Premium Outlet (JPO) and in September, Legoland in Nusajaya," says Mr Farin.

Aside from sight-seeing and shopping, there are other reasons Singaporeans prefer not to drive their vehicles to Malaysia, says Mr Zali Mahbol, 43, from E. D. Travel in JB.

"Some don't want to get lost on unfamiliar roads or get separated from their vehicle convoys. Others don't want to be carjacked," says Mr Zali, who manages a fleet of four vans, one mini bus and one MPV.

He charges from $250 for a 12-hour rental of a 12-seater minibus.

Mr Zali says that he has seen the industry grow in the last seven years he's been in business. He says in Malay: "There are now more than 30 companies in the trade. And when I do not have the manpower to handle bookings during festive periods, I have to give them to other transport operators.

"So there is a demand (for our service)."

Singaporean Rohana Othman, 53, usually hires a minibus and driver when she heads to Johor. She asks: "How else can you travel as a large family of 12 people?

"Rather than travelling in a few cars, we all can sit comfortably in one mini bus."

On a recent trip to Johor, Madam Rohana's entourage paid about $20 each .

Madam Rohana has been calling the same Malaysian transport operator based in Larkin, JB for the last three years.

The Malaysian driver will pick up Madam Rohana's friends and family members living all over Singapore - from Bedok to Yio Chu Kang.

While prices may vary from one company to another, you get to design your own journey.

Similarly, spending an occasional weekend in Kuala Lumpur (KL) is something retiree K Subramaniam, 76, doesn't do without his personal Malaysian driver.

Mr Subramaniam has known his freelance driver, Mr Ramli, for the last 12 years. They're more like friends now.

Recently, Mr Ramli had to take Mr Subramaniam and his family for a two-night holiday in KL using a Malaysia-registered MPV. The bill came to roughly $600.

Operators from both sides of the Causeway said it is not plain sailing though. They have lost business to fly-by-night unlicensed transport operators. These drivers quote lower prices and advertise in online forums or by word of mouth.

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