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Shops in Johor Baru feel pinch as tolls kick in

The Straits Times/Asia News Network--Shops at a Johor mall popular with Singaporeans experienced a significant dip in business Saturday, a day after tolls went up on the Malaysian side of the Causeway.

Petrol stations also saw fewer Singapore-registered cars as the impact from the higher tolls began to kick in.

Traffic was unusually smooth on the Causeway for a Saturday morning and even more so yesterday, which was the first weekend after Hari Raya Puasa.

“It usually takes up to two hours just to enter but, today, it took us less than an hour,” said learning centre owner Fran William, 35, a Singaporean who made the trip on Saturday.

This was a far cry from the chaos last Friday morning, when bus drivers on the way to Singapore refused to pay the new tolls and parked their vehicles before the Johor Baru checkpoint, causing a massive jam. Hundreds of bus passengers were forced to continue their journey on foot.

At Friday midnight, the toll for cars entering Johor was raised from 2.90 ringgit (US$0.91) to 9.70 ringgit (US$3.02), while a new charge of 6.80 ringgit (US$2.11) also kicked in for cars returning to Singapore. Tolls for buses, taxis and goods vehicles were also raised.

That prompted the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to announce that it will match the new tolls in the next few weeks.

This means that cars making the round-trip will have to pay about SG$12.80 (US$10.27) in toll charges, compared with SG$2.30 (US$1.85) before.

With Malaysia also planning to introduce a fee of 50 ringgit (US$15.57) on Singapore-registered vehicles by year's end, businesses there admitted they are worried that more Singaporeans could end up staying away.

For clothing boutique SUB at City Square mall, located just a couple of kilometres from the Johor checkpoint, Singaporeans make up 70 percent of its customers. Sales assistant Fariha Razak said the number of Singaporean shoppers dipped by about 40 percent on Saturday.

At shoe store Summit in the same mall, sales representative Fadziatul Niza Ahmad Jamali, 32, said that there were “not so many” Singaporeans, who make up about 80 percent of the shop's clientele, on Saturday.

“We usually have sales of up to 12,000 ringgit (US$3,736) in one day but, on Friday, we hit only about 5,000 ringgit (US$1,557),” she said. “We're quite worried.”

The number of Singapore customers at a Shell petrol station close to the Johor Baru checkpoint has also gone down by about 20 percent over Friday and Saturday, said its cashier Aisya Aishah, 28.

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