I took a drive into Singapore last Sunday to visit relatives. Getting through the traffic jam on the Johor Causeway is mandatory. As my car crawled slowly with the thousands of other vehicles, I recalled the days when I commuted daily to school between Singapore and Johor Bahru as student in the mid-70s.
My house in Bukit Timah, Singapore was only about 12km to the JB side of the Immigration/Customs Checkpoint. From there it is another 3km walk to Sekolah Datuk Jaafar at Bukit Senyum. On good days, the bus ride from my house to the JB checkpoint would only take about 40 minutes, passport checks at both sides included. On bad days however, the jam at the causeway can double and sometimes triple the travel time. Bad days are of course the weekends and since Sunday is a school day in Johor back in those days, the weekly ritual of enduring the long hours of travel became second nature to me.
On such days, the buses are all full of passengers, packed like sardines. The return trip after school to go home was always the most trying. At the JB bus station, the queue to get on the bus was long and the wait for buses itself was exhausting since many buses were stuck at the causeway. At times like these, my friend and I would decide to take a walk on the causeway because it was faster. Once we reached the Singapore side and cleared immigration, we could take another bus service to get home. I would then reach home around 9 to 10 pm.
The length of the causeway is just over a kilometre long, so for us teenagers, it was actually a pleasant walk in late evening with hundreds of other people. The only drawback was the smell of exhaust fumes from all the vehicles caught in the jam. Even today, you can see many people who prefer to take the walk rather than wait for the bus.
Although I resided in Singapore back then, I held a Malaysian Restricted Passport (the one with the dark blue cover, no longer in issue at present). There were in fact, a number of guys like me who are Malaysian citizens staying in Singapore but studying in Johor Bahru. My daily entry into Singapore would be stamped with a 2-week social visit pass. Since we were almost daily travelers, the immigration officers would sometimes take a glance at the date when our passport was last stamped and then wave us through. Technically speaking, I was in Singapore as a social visitor rather than a resident. Ironically, I had a Singapore address in my Malaysian passport. Such lenient control is of course no longer practiced today.
Congestion at the Johor Causeway has been happening for as long as I can remember. No amount of widening or expanding the two countries checkpoints can alleviate this problem. The original width of the causeway was three lanes. One lane from the exit (of either side) widening into two at the half-way point. It was then widened into six lanes (three on each side). Of course, the traffic congestion was terrible during the construction works.
Nowadays, the jam is not getting any better either. The new CIQ complex in JB would open for use very soon and is expected to relieve some of the congestion. But pardon me if I have my doubts. The relief would only be temporary because the smooth flow would then encourage more people to travel. Despite the well-publicised disagreements between the government of the two countries, the ties between people of Johor and Singapore are closer than most people think.
Footnote : Fauziah Ismail has some more stories on the causeway in her blog post --> here.