Friday, February 23, 2024
29 C
Brunei Town

Land borders welcome back commuters

Kok Yufeng & Syarafana Shafeeq

THE STRAITS TIMES – Thousands have crossed the land borders between Singapore and Malaysia since they re-opened close to midnight on Thursday.

Travellers were also able to take a new shuttle bus service between the checkpoints in Woodlands and Johor Baru run by Malaysian bus operator Causeway Link.

At about 7.30am yesterday, there were close to a hundred people in the queue in Woodlands for the bus service, which costs SGD2 per trip from Singapore and MYR2 (SGD0.65) from Malaysia.

Causeway Link said in a Facebook post on Thursday night that the shuttle bus service will run daily at 15-minute intervals between the two checkpoints, depending on traffic and Customs clearance conditions.

It said travellers using the service can pay only in cash and reminded passengers to prepare exact change.

A spokesman for the company told The Straits Times (ST) on Thursday night that it has received approval to run the service to cater to the expected crowd.

ABOVE & BELOW: Travellers at the bus concourse at Woodlands Checkpoint; and the first wave of people awaiting the stroke of midnight to cross the Causeway on foot towards Johor Baru. PHOTOS: THE STRAITS TIMES

ABOVE & BELOW: Malaysian motorcyclists make their way into Malaysia via Woodlands Checkpoint; and a car from Singapore clearing immigration at Woodlands Checkpoint

The firm has prepared six buses to ply the cross-border route and will add more if there is congestion, the spokesman added.

Johor state assemblyman for Stulang Andrew Chen Kah Eng and state assemblywoman for Johor Jaya Liow Cai Tung were among those who took the shuttle bus from Johor Baru to Woodlands.

The Democratic Action Party members made the impromptu trip at 7.30am to better understand the cross-border transport arrangements and immigration and customs clearance process, they said.

“Because today is the first day of the border re-opening, we came in early in the morning to check whether everything is going smoothly,” Liow told ST.

They intend to head back to Malaysia later in the day.

Chen said, “(So far), it has been very good, very smooth.”

For many who made the trip on foot or by car or motorbike, it was smooth sailing, although some were turned away at the checkpoints in Woodlands and Tuas because they did not have all the required documents.

After the initial rush, traffic slowed considerably at about 3am. It was fairly quiet at the two Singapore checkpoints when ST arrived at about 6am.

At the Causeway, travellers were seen arriving in dribs and drabs. At Tuas Second Link, there were fewer than 10 motorcyclists and a few cars at the departure hall between 6am and 6.30am.

Around half of the motorcyclists at Tuas had to turn back, some of them due to expired or invalid vehicle entry permits.

Among those who made the early morning trip was Tupang Isa, 39, for whom the re-opening was an emotional experience.

A day after the borders were shut on March 17, 2020, to curb the spread of Covid-19, her mother died and the Malaysian had to miss her last moments, she told ST as she teared up.

“It is my day off today so I’m crossing over to settle some matters in Johor Baru,” said the housekeeper.

Loh Pui Loong, 44, who works as a cleaner at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said there were only three or four people at the checkpoint in Johor Baru when he crossed the border at about 5am.

“I decided to start early because I was afraid there would be a lot of people entering Singapore. But there was no one there, so clearing customs was very quick,” he said.

Vijay Manogaran, 34, walked over from Malaysia to Singapore in the early hours yesterday.

“It feels like it is back to normal, like how it was two years ago,” he said.

Manpreet Raj Singh, 28, headed straight to the checkpoint after knocking off from work.
The technician said he was planning to surprise his girlfriend of three years, whom he has not seen for two years, and visit his mother.

“I’m very happy. I think I will cry when I see them later,” he said.

Singh, who used to commute between Johor Baru and Singapore daily before the pandemic, hopes he will be able to do so again now that the land borders are fully open.

After midnight, thousands had streamed across the checkpoints in Woodlands and Tuas, based on ST’s observations.

Cars tooted their horns, while people on foot clapped and cheered before the jubilant mood quickly settled into one of business as usual of clearing immigration checks.

The borders had been closed since March 17, 2020.