It began with a decision by Singapore to raise the levy on
foreign-registered vehicles visiting the island starting this
month, which prompted Malaysia to boost toll charges on the
Causeway linking the neighbors. The city-state has said it plans
to match the toll-fare increase in the coming weeks, without
specifying the amount, a move that could bring the total
additional cost to as much as about S$25.60 ($20) for a one-day
round trip in a Malaysian car.
“The public transport coming in, the private buses,
they’re likely to raise their rate for the Malaysians riding
in,” said Lim, chief executive officer of security firm Soverus
Pte., where 100 Malaysian security guards account for 25 percent
of his staff. “That’s going to increase the cost to my
Malaysian workers. We’re going to increase the salaries.”
The transport oneupmanship marks a bump in relations
between the two Southeast Asian nations, which had improved in
recent years after Prime Ministers Najib Razak and Lee Hsien Loong resolved a decades-old dispute over railway land. For
Singapore, it could mean higher business costs and the
exacerbation of a labor crunch that’s already made companies
more reliant on the thousands of Malaysian workers crossing the
border every day, according to DBS Group Holdings Ltd.
“We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot by matching
Malaysia’s policy move,” said Irvin Seah, a Singapore-based
economist at DBS who used to work at the Ministry of Trade and
Industry. “We don’t need the additional revenue. It will have
an impact on the economy,” especially on small and medium-sized
enterprises, he said.
Malaysians account for more than 15 million crossings over
the border to work in Singapore every year, according to an
estimate from Wai Ho Leong, a Singapore-based economist at
Barclays Plc. Singapore is Malaysia’s biggest export market.
About 13,000 foreign-registered cars enter Singapore daily
and 8,000 foreign goods vehicles enter the country every month,
according to government data. Together with buses and
motorcycles, they bring in workers, students, tourists as well
as food and other supplies.
In addition to cars, the Singapore entry levy was increased
for goods vehicles, while the Malaysian toll fees were raised
for taxis, buses and lorries. The vehicle entry permit for
foreign-registered cars was raised to S$35 a day from S$20 by
Malaysia’s toll increase this month involved a jump to 9.70
ringgit ($3) from 2.90 ringgit in the charge for cars entering
Johor state from Singapore, the Straits Times reported, citing
the Malaysian Highway Authority. It also introduced a new fare
of 6.80 ringgit for cars going the other way on the Causeway. If
Singapore, which currently only imposes a toll for leaving the
island, matches both moves, Malaysian cars would pay about
S$47.90 for a round trip including the foreign vehicle levy,
from S$22.30 previously.
The cost could spiral further, with Malaysia saying it will
introduce its own levy on foreign vehicles entering Johor, the
Star newspaper reported July 16, citing Najib.
For 38-year-old Mohammed Nafis, a systems management
officer at ST Electronics Pte., lighter traffic since the fare
increases has cut his two-hour commute to work in Singapore from
Johor in half.
“People who find it costly to travel to work from Johor,
these people will eventually decide to leave their jobs in
Singapore, and also the Johoreans who no longer find it feasible
to travel via bus because the number of commuters will probably
just increase,” he said. “I feel for them.”
On Aug. 1, Channel NewsAsia reported bus drivers protesting
the new toll rates that day caused a traffic jam that forced
workers and students to cross the border on foot. Soverus’s Lim
estimates the disruption probably cost him as much as S$4,000
after dozens of his security guards were late or missed their
On top of increasing wages, which Lim estimates will cost
him about S$20 per worker per month, he also plans to accelerate
a “share-a-bike” program for employees.
“After that day when I had probably 20 workers taking a
very healthy walk across the Causeway and I’ve got clients
screaming away, being very frustrated that their security
workers don’t get there on time, I thought this is a good timing
to try to get this going,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Sharon Chen in Singapore at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Stephanie Phang at
Crossing Link to Singapore May Cost You $20 More Thanks to Spat