CLEARING THE CAUSEWAY
Johor’s promise of a smoother journey, by any means necessary
More than 300,000 Malaysians travel across the Johor-Singapore Causeway every day, making it one of the busiest overland border crossings in the region.
The majority of the travellers are Malaysians who work in Singapore, lured by a favourable exchange rate.
The price is an often tedious wait in traffic and the need to wake up before dawn to beat the rush-hour jam. Officials estimate that about 145,000 vehicles pass through Johor Bahru’s Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex daily.
On weekdays, the commute from Johor Bahru across the 1 km-long Causeway bridge takes about 1 to 2 hours. On weekends and public holidays, that journey can be much longer.
For car drivers and those travelling by bus, traffic is typically heavy from 8-10am going towards Singapore, and from 6-8pm going towards JB.
For motorcyclists, Singapore-bound traffic is typically heavy from 5am-7am. As hundreds of riders wait in line, they breathe in exhaust fumes and endure hot, humid conditions.
Some even cross the bridge on foot, even though parts of the Causeway are not paved, and pedestrians have to make a mad dash across the road with motorcycles and cars whizzing past.
“Most of us walk because we have no choice - the jam is bad,” says 39-year-old engineer Jason Han. He adds: “It’s quite dangerous for us to walk along the road where the cars are quite fast.”
Here’s a taste of the commute:
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO IMPROVE THINGS?
Both Malaysia and Singapore authorities have implemented various measures to reduce congestion at Johor-Singapore Causeway, including reducing tolls at Tuas Second Link, and increasing the frequency of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad’s (KTMB) Tebrau Shuttle between JB Sentral and Woodlands.
In addition to this, Johor’s new Pakatan Harapan state government is looking to introduce short-term solutions like travellators and long-term ones like a Rapid Transit System (RTS) rail link connecting JB’s Bukit Chagar station to the upcoming Woodlands North MRT terminus.
When up and running by 2024, the RTS is expected to reduce Causeway congestion by up to 15 per cent.
Malaysian officials are also cracking down on ill discipline among staff at the CIQ. There have been complaints that customs officers have turned up late and not opened counters on time. Some officers have also been playing with their mobile phones on duty, holding up the immigration queue.
Johor’s Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee said earlier this year that part of the CIQ complex will be redesigned. The checking lanes at the import lorry complex will eventually accommodate private car use over the weekends and there will be alterations to speed bumps and barriers to ensure better traffic flow.
Johor state exco chair for investment Jimmy Puah told Channel NewsAsia he knew of residents in his Bukit Batu ward waking as early as 2.30am to get to work in Singapore by 5am.
“With the RTS and better connectivity, I hope their travel time will be shortened,” he said. “But in the meantime, we have to think of more ad hoc measures - perhaps building travellators on the Causeway. There are security issues of course, but we’re trying to think out of the box and look at several angles.
“We want to make sure people can travel to and from Singapore in a much smoother manner, and we are committed to solve the issue of jams, in whatever manner.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW TO MITIGATE THE WAIT
CHECK MOBILE APPS
Experienced commuters can probably make an educated guess on what periods are bad for travel, but congestion remains unpredictable, especially when vehicle inspections and border security checks are stepped up.
One way to monitor the situation is to look at the TraffiCam SG app, which provides users with updated footage from webcams run by Singapore’s Land Transport Authority.
The app offers real-time information on traffic hotspots in Singapore, including the Johor-Singapore Causeway and the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) flyover leading to Woodlands Checkpoint. The app is useful for Malaysians travelling home from work during the evening peak hour.
The Beat the Jam! App provides commuters with real-time congestion estimates, traffic cameras and six-day traffic forecasts using historical data.
JOIN A CROWDSOURCING GROUP
Commuters who travel across the Causeway daily can also utilise instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram. They can join chat groups such as Custom & Msia Road and Causeway Talk.
These work on the basis of crowdsourcing and a sense of goodwill, with travellers offering live updates on a traffic build-up and even tip-offs on fuel checks in code.
Commuters also use Facebook groups to relay information. The JB Tracer: Johor Bahru Traffic, Crime and Community Service Report public Facebook group, which has almost 75,000 members, crowd sources updates on the traffic situation in Johor Bahru city and the Causeway.
Members typically posts short video clips, photos as well as news articles discussing the Causeway congestion.
AVOID PEAK PERIODS
If nothing else, you can skip the biggest crush of travellers by not making the journey across the Causeway on the eve of public holidays and long weekends.