Causeway jams so bad, S'porean stays in JB hotel instead of coming home
S'porean tells of woes facing commuters as tighter security checks cause congestion
From her hotel room in Johor Baru (JB), Madam Jaclyn Lim could see Singapore.
Her home country seemed so near.
But with massive jams at the Johor-Singapore Causeway following tighter security at the Republic's land checkpoints, home seemed far away.
Motorists said the jams were lasting up to five hours.
Madam Lim, who is in her 50s, has been driving from Singapore to JB for work for nearly 15 years.
But the director of a company in JB was so afraid of getting caught in the Causeway jam that she stayed in a JB hotel twice this month.
The hotel room cost RM260 (S$85) each night, but she felt it was worth every cent.
Madam Lim, who has two children in their 20s, said yesterday: "When I went on the Internet to check the traffic condition at the Causeway last week, there was a jam because of the holiday season.
"I decided to just stay in a hotel so that I would have more time to rest instead of wasting it getting stuck in the jam."
Her routine from Mondays to Fridays is to leave her home at 6.40am and reach her workplace an hour later. She would leave her office between 5.30pm and 6pm.
Getting into JB was not an issue, but returning to Singapore was nightmarish.
So when Madam Lim found out how bad the Causeway jam was, she took leave on Thursday to avoid it.
On Friday, she took a half-day leave and left her workplace at 2.30pm to beat the gridlock.
Even then, she was stuck at the Causeway for about 30 minutes.
"I'm used to jams, but this is one of the worst," he said.
"It's frustrating when you just want to get home quickly to your family, but the jam has other plans for you.
"At first, you hate the jams. After a while, you start becoming numb to it because there's nothing you can do about it."
For Malaysian hairdresser Quinky Chai, 27, it usually takes her and her husband about an hour to travel from JB to Singapore on their motorcycle.
Madam Chai, who works in Chinatown, has been making the daily commute for two years now.
She and her husband, Mr Lee, usually leave their JB home by 6am so that they can reach Singapore by 8am.
Mr Lee starts work at 8am, while Madam Chai begins at 9.30am.
But last Thursday,when they left their home at 6am, they were stuck in a four-hour jam.
Madam Chai said: "I could see a long line of people walking from JB to Woodlands Checkpoint, and many vehicles waiting for the jam to ease.
"There's nothing to do but wait. You can't even go to the toilet because you would have to rejoin the queue when you return."
She reached her workplace at 11am.
"My boss called to ask what had happened," added Madam Chai.
"She understands the situation I'm in but work is work and I have to make my own arrangements to make sure I reach on time."
Last Friday, the couple left their home at 4am to beat the jam. The situation was only slightly better - the jam at the Causeway lasted one-and-a-half hours.
Yesterday, the couple left home at 3.30am and travelled via the Tuas Second Link. They were stuck in the jam for an hour.
Madam Chai said: "By the time we reach work, we're tired from all the waiting, all dirty and sweaty.
"It's very frustrating. Sometimes we feel like turning back because it's exhausting to wait so long in the heat and dust."
There's nothing to do but wait. You can't even go to the toilet because you would have to rejoin the queue when you return.
- Malaysian hairdresser Quinky Chai who works in Singapore
Singapore's safety is top priority: ICA
While travellers coming through both the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints must be cleared efficiently and effectively, it must not be at the expense of Singapore's security.
"Our top priority is to ensure the safety and security of Singaporeans," said Woodlands Checkpoint commander Alan Koo.
The Assistant Commissioner (AC) was speaking at a media briefing yesterday on delays at the land checkpoints.
Drawing parallels between the tactics used by smugglers of contraband goods and terrorists carrying explosives, AC Koo said both groups often hide goods or explosives within vehicles or clothing.
Singapore's land checkpoints are among the world's busiest, clearing up to 400,000 travellers daily. This shot up to 430,000 over the current festive period and year-end school holiday.
Between January and October, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) caught over 622 Singaporeans leaving the country without the appropriate travel documents. These include travelling with passports belonging to someone else, expired or invalid travel documents, or no passports.
There were 690 such cases the whole of last year.
Also, in the first 10 months of this year, there were 3,500 foreigners trying to enter Singapore without appropriate travel documents, despite having cleared the Malaysian checkpoints. This is more than the 3,400 cases last year.
To ensure there is no "malicious intent", ICA said it checks every car entering Singapore.
As a further security measure to tackle tailgating, ICA introduced double drop-arm barriers at the entry and exit points of Woodlands Checkpoint on Dec 1 and Tuas checkpoint on Sept 21.
The systems are on trial. AC Koo said it would take some time to "shape the behaviour of travellers" to ease congestion.
Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam said: "People understand that, as a result of what happened in Paris and the heightened terrorism threats worldwide, ensuring the safety of Singapore and Singaporeans is ICA's foremost priority.
"We have to check passports and vehicles."
Paris was hit by a series of coordinated terrorist attacks on Nov 13, where 130 people killed.
Mr Shanmugam visited the Woodlands Checkpoint on Saturday during the morning peak following reports of massive jams on the Johor-Singapore Causeway last week.
The waiting time had lasted up to five hours.
Mr Shanmugam said Singapore actively monitors the queue and it is unlikely to exceed three hours.
"Our officers are also working very hard, they are working round the clock," he said.
"I told them that Singaporeans appreciate the challenges and sacrifices they are making during this festive period to keep Singapore and Singaporeans safe."
People understand that, as a result of what happened in Paris and the heightened terrorism threats worldwide, ensuring the safety of Singapore and Singaporeans is ICA's foremost priority.
- Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam
What's causing the jams?
1.HOLIDAYMAKERS AND WORKERS
Travellers want to make full use of their holiday, so they join those travelling to and from work, exacerbating the traffic situation and resulting in steep spikes in traffic around midnight.
Assistant Commissioner Chua Sze How, commander at Tuas Checkpoint, described the situation as "very volatile and very dynamic". The number of daily travellers jumped from 400,000 to 430,000 during the year-end school holiday period.
PHOTOS: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS, EDWIN FONG
2. IMPROPER USE OF LANES
The use of lane according to vehicle type was not strictly enforced. The lane dedicated to motorcycles coming from Malaysia are often full in the morning, so riders would fan out to try to enter through the car or lorry lanes.
While Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA)officers enforce proper use of lanes once the cars cross into Singapore, they have no control at the Malaysian side. To reduce hold-ups, ICA also opens up some car lanes and new lanes at the Old Woodlands Checkpoint to motorcycles
PHOTOS: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS, EDWIN FONG
3. NEW DOUBLE DROP-ARM BARRIERS
Double drop-arm barriers at both the entry and exit points were introduced at the Woodlands Checkpoint on Dec 1 and Tuas Checkpoint on Sept 21 to prevent tailgating.
The purpose of conducting security checks before immigration is to raise alarms for any risks, so as to "isolate the risk as soon as possible before it enters the heart of the checkpoint".
PHOTOS: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS, EDWIN FONG
4. PROBLEMS WITH TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
In the first 10 months of this year, ICA caught 622 Singaporeans attempting to leave the country without appropriate travel documents, and 3,500 foreigners attempting to enter Singapore without appropriate travel documents. This was despite having cleared the Malaysian checkpoints. ICA also checks every car entering Singapore for potential risks.
5.SHIFT CHANGE AT MALAYSIA CIQ
There is usually a surge of vehicles from the Malaysia CIQ towards Singapore after a shift change at the CIQ. Drivers said they had waited 45 minutes on the Malaysian side for clearance.