JOHOR BAHRU: More than 100 buses were affected by the massive jam at Johor checkpoint early on Friday (Aug 1) morning. Most were ferrying Malaysians who work in Singapore.
According to bus companies Channel NewsAsia spoke to, things started unfolding at around 4am. They said four buses had stopped at the Johor checkpoint, and the drivers refused to continue their journey into Singapore. This was apparently in protest against the increase in toll fares that kicked in on Friday.
At around 5am, the authorities arrived on the scene to negotiate with the drivers. Malaysian media reports said bus drivers were persuaded to end their strike after local authorities promised a review of increased toll rates within a week.
However, the standoff had already caused a massive buildup. By 6am, some buses had decided to detour to the Second Link.
At 8.15am, the situation had abated and traffic flow was back to normal. It is estimated that over 100 buses and 5,000 people were affected by the checkpoint blockade.
Mr Tan Peng Chai, Managing Director of Transporter Tan Bus Service Sdn Bhd, said that about 40 of his buses were stuck in the jam even though none of his drivers had participated in the protest. "This morning, from about 4.20am to 8.15am, the Causeway was blocked, some buses blocked (the way) there. They are not happy about the increase in toll charges. Because the increase (is) about 550 per cent to 620 per cent, very suddenly," he said. "Actually we were blocked by other transport operators. We are not involved. So, they just left their buses there."
Mr Tan Kim Siang, Director of Siang Yun Transportation Sdn Bhd, said he had directed his drivers to make a detour because of the uncertain situation. "My driver called me. He passed by the JB customs. So he just informed me other buses cannot go through. So after that I know the situation already. So I prepared everything and asked some buses to change their route, don't use Woodlands, use the Second Link," he said.
Bus owners had differing views on the hike in toll fares. Said Mr Tan Peng Chai: "The notice is too short. Because our contract (is) normally with the company, maybe (for) one or two years. Cannot do any increase. This toll increase will cause losses. We are running (at a) loss." He said he would be filing an appeal with the authorities next week on the hike in toll fares.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian authorities said action will be taken against the drivers involved in today's incident, although it refused to call it a "strike". Malaysian laws state that those guilty of illegal strikes face a one-year jail term or a fine, or both.
This protest over the toll is not related to Malaysia's proposed plan to impose the Vehicle Entry Permit on Singaporean-registered vehicles entering Johor. According to Malaysian newspaper reports, the Malaysian government had mooted the toll back in 2011, but put it on hold due to the General Election held that year. - CNA/do
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