By now, you might have heard about the recording-breaking number of people who have crossed from Singapore to Johor Bahru over the start of the Vesak Day long weekend.
Close to 250,000 people trudged through the land checkpoints in Woodlands and Tuas to head over to the land where one Singapore dollar gets you around 3.41 Malaysian ringgit.
To nobody’s surprise, the customs queues became longer than ever, and the waiting times stretched from minutes to hours.
However, the inconvenience due to the jam at the Singapore-JB customs area in Woodlands was not confined to just those travellers who were trying to cross a border.
Locals in Singapore, in particular those who live in Woodlands, were also inconvenienced by the jam.
And no, they were not trying to cross the border into Malaysia.
This is why locals are also affected by the jams in a further places.
Bus Routes Have Changed to Avoid the Crowded Roads Near Woodlands Checkpoint
Due to the jam at the Causeway, the surrounding areas have had to make some accommodations.
In particular, some of the buses plying the routes near the Causeway had to change their bus routes to avoid the busy roads (where cars barely move). This led to residents in the area complaining about the inconvenience, as some now take up to half an hour more to get to their destinations.
According to 43-year-old construction worker supervisor Mr Chen Wei Ping (Hanyu pinyin), who spoke to Lianhe Zaobao, he saw several buses, such as bus 856, experienced route diversions in the evening.
He had been waiting for a bus at the Woodlands Bus Interchange on 1 June 2023 (Thursday) when he heard the announcements informing passengers of the change in the situation.
Mr Chen further shared that there were staff members on site to help guide the passengers and navigate the change in routes. However, this did not prevent the elderly commuters from being confused about the route changes.
Some of them appeared to be worried that they would alight at the wrong stops due to the change in routes and did not want to board the buses.
Ni Zheng Zheng (Hanyu pinyin), the deputy managing director of SMRT Buses, also revealed that other buses, such as 170, 903, 911, 912 and 912B, were affected by the re-routing of routes.
Why Is There a Need to Change the Bus Routes?
Why the fuss about creating new routes when the bus routes are already fixed for most of the year?
The SBS Vice President of Customer Experience and Corporate Liaison (Special), Chen Gui Zhen (Hanyu pinyin), sheds some light on this.
According to Chen, who shared the insights with Lianhe Zaobao, bus routes may change depending on the traffic condition on the day itself to ensure that any delays to commuters would be minimised.
This is how the changes are put into action.
The SMRT Operations Command Centre plans and coordinates the route diversions, which are then communicated to the bus captains, who execute the changes.
Efforts are also made to alert passengers to the changes in bus routes so that they can plan their trips accordingly.
For example, commuters can look to the official social media platforms of SBS and SMRT (such as Twitter) to stay updated on the latest public transport updates.
Those who prefer to stay away from social media can opt to download public transport mobile apps (such as the SMRT Connection app) and other online platforms to stay informed about any changes in bus routes.
You do not have any excuses for not knowing about the changes in bus routes now.
How Can the Impact on Residents Be Minimised?
Although we appreciate the efforts taken by the public transport operators to try and minimise the delays to commuters, we cannot help but agree that changes in bus routes are a big pain for many commuters.
Especially if you are used to taking the same bus route every single day and do not want to do the additional mental gymnastics of trying to figure out the most efficient route home.
Can the government do anything to help?
It seems like improvement plans are already in the works according to the Member of Parliament (MP) in charge of Marsiling, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, who spoke to Lianhe Zaobao about this issue affecting the residents under his ward.
Mr Zaqy says that long jams at the Woodlands checkpoint are not uncommon nor new, and he previously had personally experienced being stuck in a jam during peak hours. As a result, he pities and sympathises with the other residents in the area who suffer from inconveniences due to the jams.
To aid the residents and alleviate their problems, Mr Zaqy shared that he has since provided feedback to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to coordinate with the residents and enable improvements to the situation in the area.
He further mentioned that there were steps to increase the number of buses serving the popular routes. For example, those who may be entering Singapore from Johor Bahru to work and who take bus number 911 may soon see more buses provided by LTA and SMRT in the morning to ease the early morning commute squeeze.
Some buses that operate within Marsiling may also avoid congested areas to cut short the travelling time of commuters.
Well, we sure hope these measures take effect soon, lest we all suffer when we visit the northern parts of Singapore during peak border-crossing periods.
Apart from these suggestions, there were ideas to solve this problem by going to the root cause of the problem. The jams at Woodlands checkpoint.
According to SMRT’s Ni, there are current discussions with the authorities about expanding the transport options available for travellers going between Singapore and Johor Bahru.
This is with the hope that the number of vehicles on the roads towards Woodlands checkpoint is reduced and hence jams will be reduced.
An example of an additional transport option is the Johor Subway (RTS). The RTS is expected to be completed within the next three years.
Once completed, it could offer commuters another way of travelling across the border and reduce the number of vehicles and buses on the Causeway.
What do you think of these ideas so far? Could they suffice to ease the problems faced by the Marsiling and Woodlands residents?
Perhaps another option that the government in Singapore (and Malaysia) can look into is how to speed up the customs-clearing process on both sides to avoid the dreaded jams.
Jams Also Cause Additional Travelling Time for Drivers
We have talked about how the bus delays and route diversions have caused much grief for the commuters in the area around Woodlands checkpoint.
But that is not all the angst that they have had to deal with.
Apart from route diversions, many commuters were also affected by the long wait for buses.
For instance, some devotees trying to go to a mosque near Marsiling MRT station ended up walking 30 minutes from the MRT station to the mosque when they would have usually taken a bus there.
The reason? Buses such as 170 and 178 were delayed. There no other public transport options were available for the devotees, so using their trusty two legs was the only way to go.
No kidding. We gasped in horror when we heard about the 30-minute walk. Especially in this erratic hot-and-cold weather.
As if taking additional time to get around and having to grapple with the change in bus routes were not enough, the Causeway jams also led to more congested roads. That, in turn, lengthened the travelling time of some drivers in the area.
A 22-year-old student, Mr Chen Jia Qing (Hanyu pinyin), was the “victim” of this.
He shared with Lianhe Zaobao that he was stuck in a jam on Admiralty Road for more than 20 minutes while driving home at around 9 pm in the evening last Thursday.
That day was the day when the extensive Causeway jams were reported by many, including the Facebook account “Singapore JB Checkpoints Live Traffic Updates”.
Based on images attached to the post, people can be seen queueing within the customs hall, down the escalators, and even spilling out onto the sidewalks and roads. A nightmare indeed.
How is it possible that one jam can have so many run-on consequences?
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