A travellator for a smoother border crossing?

“Six hours, I was jammed on the causeway for six hours!” this was overheard from a frustrated motorist who finally made his way across the causeway on the Singapore national day long weekend.

Typical view of causeway, choc-a-bloc with vehicles
crossing the border between JB and Singapore 
When I told a friend about that sickening 6-hour causeway crawl, she smugly replied with a tale of someone who was in the same queue but decided to turn back into Singapore.  This took another two hours which kept him stuck in traffic for a total of eight hours!  Considering the time wasted waiting in traffic to cross the causeway, one could have comfortably driven to Kuala Lumpur, enjoyed a meal and safely returned to Johor Baru, with time to spare!

As the gateway into peninsular Malaysia, JB is a popular destination not only for Singaporeans but also for tourists who arrive via Singapore.  The favourable currency exchange rate coupled with the Singaporean need to escape from the confines of the city state, draws them to Johor in spite of the horrific causeway congestion during weekends and holidays.  The epic traffic snarl is however expected because of the sheer volume of vehicles. 
An artist's impression of  the inside of the travellator
 as commuters walk in air-conditioned comfort
The causeway crawl is a perennial problem because both countries have a shared history and many people commute daily for business, work, school, shopping and entertainment.  While commuters must get to school, work and business at specific hours, frequent travelers know how to avoid peak hours and often sail across the causeway to shop, eat and wash their cars.

Since August 2014, Singapore raised Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) fees and tolls for foreign registered cars (S$35) while the rate remained unchanged at S$4 for motorcycles, charged for each day from 2am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.  Malaysian motorists enjoy 10 VEP free days per calendar year and extended free hours when they enter Singapore from 12 noon during school term holidays.

After years of deliberation, Malaysia announced that with effect from Sept 1, 2015, Singapore registered vehicles entering Malaysia are required to be registered with Malaysia’s Road Transport Department.  This registration is mandatory for all private vehicles, public buses, taxis, goods vehicles and diplomatic cars.  Online registrations started on Aug 15 at a RM10 charge, valid for five years.

An artist's impression of the external view of an elevated
travellator for commuters to cross the causeway
These vehicles will be issued with a Radio Frequency Identification card, a tag that needed to be renewed upon expiry or when the motorist buys a new car.  Upon registration, Singapore vehicles will be allowed through the Johor checkpoints for a one-month trial period from Sept 1 to 30.  From Oct 1 onwards, Singapore registered cards will be charged RM20 VEP per vehicle, paid only by using the Touch ‘n Go card.

Motorists who work and do business on either side of the causeway and especially parents whose children study in Singapore, are feeling the pinch of the VEP and tolls implementation because it may further escalate in what is seen as a tit-for-tat exchange between the two nations.  Sadly the rationale is that if you can afford to work, do business or study in Singapore, you can also afford to pay the VEP and tolls.

On July 1, there was a collective sigh of relief when Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) launched the Tebrau Shuttle to ferry commuters between JB Sentral to Woodlands station in just five minutes.  This service is popular with commuters who enjoy the convenient border crossing offered in a total of seven trips each from JB and Woodlands during morning and evening peak hours.  But departures from JB Sentral at 5.30am, 7am, 8.30am, 4pm, 5.30pm, 7pm and 10pm, and from Woodlands at 6.30am, 8am, 9.30am, 5pm, 6.30pm, 8pm and 11pm, are just not enough.

While many hailed the hassle-free Tebrau Shuttle as a viable solution, commuters wished that there were more than just seven trips from each country.  But for now, the shuttle which costs RM5 from JB and S$5 from Woodlands, is definitely a welcome relieve from suffering traffic jams when taking the bus or driving across the causeway.

Before the causeway checkpoint was relocated to the Sultan Iskandar Customs Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) Complex, it was common for commuters to cross the causeway on foot.  Since the CIQ complex opened in 2010, Malaysia prohibited walking across while Singapore still allows this practice.  Recently when traffic was at a virtual standstill, commuters were allowed to walk the causeway again but security has been tightened to stop people leaving Malaysia through an illegal route!

The idea of creating a dedicated pedestrian walkway across the causeway is not new because it was discussed before.  But when I heard it again at a recent Rotary Club of Johor Baru event, I thought it was very timely and could become a reality now.  After in-coming president, Freddie A C Lee, outlined the club’s community projects, his proposal to create an iconic landmark for Johor – a Causeway Travellator – received thunderous applause from the audience.

A proposed layout plan with twin pairs of
travellators for commuters to walk to and from
Johor and Singapore
He said a covered, air-conditioned pedestrian walkway will provide a more comfortable and convenient walk across the causeway that will not only benefit commuters but also boost the economies of both nations.  Lee did not hesitate to share an artist’s impression of the Causeway Travellator with me and explained that it is not unlike the travellators in airports. 

Lee showed a layout plan to illustrate how twin pairs of travellators are proposed for commuters to walk in an orderly way to and from Johor and Singapore, and even factored in kiosks that may be leased to traders or used as rest areas between the lengths of travellators.

So before the proposed high-speed trains are implemented or another bridge – crooked or otherwise – is built, I wish to urge our city-planning authorities to give this proposal some serious thought.  

While the Causeway Travellator may not solve all the traffic issues, it will certainly complement the existing border crossing modes.  This Travellator will not only facilitate a smoother flow of people and be another iconic landmark in the changing Iskandar Malaysia landscape but will further cement the cordial relationship between Malaysia and Singapore.

A version of this was published in the August 2015 issue of The Iskandarian

No comments:

Post a Comment