Motorists still throng Causeway but the hike may take its toll

THE higher toll which kicked in yesterday saw traffic volumes on the Causeway remaining high during the morning peak period but easing slightly in the evening.

Morning commuters said that even though charges are now five times more, they had little choice but to use this route to get to work or to school.

The charges were raised by Singapore at midnight yesterday to $3.80, up from $1.20, for cars leaving the country. And while it was previously free to enter Singapore, it now costs $2.70.

Coupled with the increase in Malaysia's toll on Aug 1, commuters using the Causeway will spend about $13 for a round trip between Singapore and Johor Baru.

Singaporean businessman Muhd Shawal, for example, who lives in Johor, takes his two children to school at around 5.30am before heading to work as an importer of food and equipment.

"What can I do? I just have to accept it. I still have to send them to school and do my business," the 40-year-old said.

Another daily commuter, Mr Gan Chit Kiong, 34, said he finds the charges unreasonable and will consider moving back to Singapore if Malaysia decides to increase its Vehicle Entry Permit fee too.

Since Aug 1, drivers of foreign- registered cars entering Singapore have to pay $35 for a daily permit, up from $20.

"The burden will be too much to bear at that point," said the roof construction worker.

To cope with the toll hike, some commuters have made adjustments to their commute.

Mr Saravanan Subramaniam, 43, decided to leave his car a short distance away from the Johor Baru Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex. He then takes bus service 950 into Singapore.

"I've been working in Singapore for 15 years, and working in Malaysia is out of the question. The best I can do is to reduce my cost significantly by taking the bus," said the Malaysian technician.

Similarly, Mr Melewa Mokhtar, 48, a freelance rock-climbing instructor, now takes his grandchildren to a childcare centre in Woodlands by bus.

He sold his car following the Aug 1 hike.

"I hope that both governments can talk it out and make the increases less substantial," he said.

Commuters heading home between 4pm and 7pm were, however, pleasantly surprised to find their ride rather smooth.

Technical support officer Nelson Chong, 26, said he took 15 minutes to clear the Causeway around 4pm, instead of the usual half an hour. The Singaporean was on his way to a relative's home in Johor for a meal, a fortnightly routine.

Transport researcher Lee Der Horng found the difference in traffic volumes between the morning and evening commute puzzling, but attributed it to behavioural economics.

"It is possible that (commuters) don't want to accept the higher charges and are delaying the impact... The congestion could come much later in the night," he said.

Businesses in Johor yesterday also found that many day trippers were put off by the higher rates.

The Shell station located just after the Causeway saw fuel sales drop by 20 per cent compared with previous weekdays.

"The station is usually full, but today it's quite empty, (with) space to play football," said the station's supervisor, who did not want to be named.

Overall, the implementation of the toll hikes yesterday went smoothly, with little confusion.

This was unlike that on Aug 1, when 200 bus drivers went on strike to protest against the hike. A spokesman for the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority said it will work with the relevant agencies at the land checkpoints to monitor the situation and ensure that travellers are cleared smoothly without compromising security.

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