Can you imagine travelling to another country for work and then back to your home country every single day?
For many Malaysians working in Singapore, this is reality. Passports in hand, they drive, ride motorcycles, or take the bus or train to get to work in Singapore, and then back home to Malaysia at the end of the day.
The Johor-Singapore Causeway and Malaysia-Singapore Second Link — the two bridges that connect the two countries — are among the busiest land crossings in the world. The Causeway was officially completed in 1924, while the Second Link was opened to traffic in 1998. According to a Channel NewsAsia commentary published last November, about a quarter of a million commuters make the land journey between the two countries each day.
One of them is my ex-colleague, a doctor who lives in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, and works in a hospital in northeastern Singapore. It’s a one-hour drive each way, if he avoids peak traffic. So he leaves home before sunrise, and knocks off right on the dot.
Blue-collar workers brave the congested checkpoints and long commutes to seek wages in Singapore that are three or four times higher than in Malaysia.
Some commuters are Malaysian students. They study in Singapore because they prefer the school curriculum here, or would like to have more classes conducted in English.
It’s a hassle, of course. I know of primary school students who leave their homes at 5 a.m. to arrive on time for school in Singapore at 7.15 a.m. Transport costs add to the stress.
So it was great news to many when Singapore and Malaysia inked a bilateral agreement early this year to build a cross-border rapid transit line. The 4-km Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link is set to open by the end of 2024. Commuters will be able to hop on a train every eight minutes.
Another potential game changer would have been the high-speed rail line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The bilateral agreement to build this 350-km railway was signed two years ago. Japan had expressed interest in building it, with other potential bidders including France, South Korea and China.
But with the recent change of government in Malaysia, it seems like the project may be scrapped because of the hefty price tag. The RTS Link is still on the cards though, and many of my Malaysian friends remain hopeful. The more convenient it is to travel between the two countries, the less stressful it will be for the hundreds of thousands who set off with their passports — and hopes of a better life every day. (Tan Ying Zhen)