By Massita Ahmad
Last Sunday, my patience was tested to the limit. The queue for the taxi to Singapore from the Larkin Terminal in Johor Bahru kept growing but only a few public cabs appeared in between.
I was among those waiting patiently, or rather despondently, along with senior citizens and children.
I could have taken the public bus or just walked across the 1,056 metre causeway but my heavy hand luggage and a sling bag prevented me from doing so. So I still decided to wait in the queue that hardly moved.
Though there were only a few taxis that came by to pick up the waiting passengers, the long queue soon started becoming shorter.
I soon found out why. Those who had enough of waiting opted for the pirate taxis (illegal taxis), to be precise Unser and Innova vans, with the drivers charging S$25 (RM75) per head to get to the republic.
On the contrary the public taxis charge RM80 one way, with the fare being shared by three of four of the passengers.
The public taxis drop their passengers at the Ban San Street taxi terminal while the pirate taxis on the other hand will get you to the door step.
Being my first time taking a taxi from the terminal, I was not sure whether I should opt for the illegal alternative.
I strengthened my resolve to stand there as the waiting line became even shorter. I then asked a Malay lady standing by my side with her two children, “Does it take this long kak?”.
“What do you expect. Public Holidays or Sundays, it is always crowded,” she said with a gentle smile being aware that I have grown impatient.
Then finally the taxi appeared, after a five hour wait!
As soon as the taxi started moving, I could not wait to ask the million dollar question to the driver, an elderly Indian man.
“Uncle, why there is not enough public taxis? I have waited for five hours. Even the pirate taxis have capitalised on the situation.”
It was obvious that “Uncle” had heard the same question many times over and in a soft tone he answered; “Today is Sunday. We cannot force the taxi drivers to work. They too have families. They too need rest.”
“I see you are carrying bags with you. I’m sure without the bags you would have hopped onto the bus,” he added as if he could read my mind on the regret I had for carrying along the two bags.
“We cannot stop the pirate taxis… they are there because there is a demand. I see the three of you have chosen to wait unlike the rest,” he continued.
As the situation was nothing out of the ordinary for the two Singaporeans in the taxi, they too nodded in agreement with “Uncle”.
It was just when I started to calm down a fellow passenger shrieked; “Aishh, look at the horrible congestion on the other side!” as soon as the taxi made a turn.
“It is all Singaporean vehicles entering Johor Baru for the weekend. Just note the registration plates,” the driver pointed out.
“Now you see another reason why taxis from Johor avoid Singapore on Sundays,” he said turning towards me at the back.
The more than three kilometer long line of vehicles were waiting to enter Sultan Iskandar Building for immigration checks.
I have never imagined how bad the jam gets at the Causeway heading towards Johor during weekends.
“Many come to buy their daily necessities here, indulge in good food and unwind. In a way it is good for our economy.
“It is not only now when the currency exchange favours them. They have been coming since long ago,” said “Uncle” who has been driving taxi for the last 15 years.
Singaporeans have a upper hand as the Singapore Dollar had strengthened by 25 percent compared with the Ringgit since the last three years. With every 1 Singapore dollar now translating into RM3.00, things are three times cheaper in Malaysia for the Singaporeans.
A Singaporean friend once related to me that each time they come to Malaysia they will put up at hotels that charge S$300 (RM900) per night.
“It is reasonable,” the friend said but for me it is beyond my reach.
“Where else are we to go? Singapore is such a small place. With the MRT one can get to all corners of Singapore in 45 minutes. Malaysia is the closest place for us to finish the weekend.
“We like Malaysia as there are still beautiful villages like in Melaka,” the friend said when asked on how she spends the weekends in Malaysia.
Moreover, she said, they still have relatives in Malaysia.
“The two countries may have separated but not the families. Regardless of the congestion at the Causeway we will still be coming to your country,” the friend added.
This is the clearest testament to the strong people to people bonds between both neighbours. – Bernama
(Massita Ahmad is Bernama’s correspondent in Singapore)