Toll Hike: Bitter Taste, Medicinal Qualities

I hear you. It’s painful. 400 per cent toll hike into Singapore. Ouch.

But let’s look at the other side of the coin. Let’s look at the positives.

You’ve been moaning about the insane jams and delays on the causeway. Best economic correction device for demand — ever — is price adjustment. With a higher price on using the causeway — go ahead and look forward to: less demand, and you’ve been wanting this since forever: less traffic. Hurray, right?

Now that you might have to consider using public transport, will you be more vocal about demanding better services? You’ve been pretty complacent about this because it didn’t really affect you. Now it does. Time to get on board the concerned citizens train for better transport options. Write to your Adun, rant on social media, form groups, organise and don’t vote for your future MP unless he does something about this. This should have happened a long time ago but hey you needed a little push. Here it is.

This is just my random observation and I need to see some actual data to confirm this but — I see an awful lot of single passenger cars on the causeway. If this is an incentive for increased carpooling or even replacing with public transport, then this is going to be very meaningful for our environment. Less cars on the road means lower carbon footprint and less damage to our environment.

Less cars on the road also means less automobile deaths. There is a counter argument that car drivers will transfer to motorbikes and subsequently there will be more accidents and deaths. I don’t buy that. It doesn’t factor in the corresponding reduction of cars in that transfer — if there are less killers there’s also going to be less victims. I also don’t think there is any real fluidity between car and motorcycle use — it is not a given that a car driver or passenger is going to substitute transport method with a motorbike in fact I think there is friction between those two demographics. 
But how painful is it, REALLY?

The wages earned in Singapore are proportionately very high, 2.5 to 3 times. At the lowest end of the scale — a cleaner is earning roughly the equivalent of RM3,000. I don’t know anywhere else in the world where you can do this. Commute to a different country in the morning to earn up to 3 times your local wage rates and then come home that night to enjoy a much better exchange rate and lower cost of living. And this is for a no skills required blue collar job. But then, this tier is probably not even going to be affected as they are already on motorbikes or using public transport where the increase will be more diffused.

Looking at the next tier, white collar occupations, the increase in real terms — really? Come on, that’s still a small fraction of that fat wage you are earning compared to some other white collar worker living further up north that doesn’t have the luxury of living right next door to Singapore. On the other side of this equation — you most probably still represent to Singapore corporations a labour resource that is presumably harder to find in their own population. In which case, hang tight, they are probably going to adjust for it in the near future to keep you. Now would also be the time to explore opportunities with flexi time where you substitute more days working at home. This is a direction that the world is going in that benefits both workers — less travel required, and their employers — less office space required.

In some instances, particularly in the Food and Beverage industry, a rise in travel cost that might make a potential employee tip into a decision to work here in Johor Baru is going to be a really good thing. A constant complaint from the Johor FB industry is that they can’t find staff here because they all want to work in Singapore. A constant complaint from local residents is that the service at FB outlets suck. Well here you go. Here’s an opportunity for FB outlets to source and retain human capital and local customers to enjoy better service. Win, win.

If you don’t fit in any of the categories above — then you are probably being penalised not for economic, income sourcing choices but lifestyle choices. Will this make you start to think about why you have to go to Singapore so often? What if you started to express those needs and demands to local suppliers — might they start to have the confidence to supply them? Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say. Providing an enterprise solution for pent up or redirected demand is like hitting the jackpot at Genting Highlands. Local entrepreneurs, a sudden increase in customers just showed up and is ringing the doorbell — go see what those good people want.

If you’re a Malaysian residing in Singapore that regularly comes back — you’re probably a white collar worker and should be more than able to deal with the cost, keep coming back to see your family and keep contributing to the local economy with your big wages, and thank you for that. If you’re Singaporean and this matters, well, should we be entertaining you, or should our local entrepreneurs be upping their game to attract a bigger spender where the price of entry is not such an issue? Local entrepreneurs — see paragraph above about sudden new demand.

As a pro environment citizen, I can’t help cheering this measure on because there are some real benefits that come from it that are lower carbon footprint and pro-environment. Here’s to fewer stalled vehicles sitting in traffic, belching toxic fumes. A more vocal and proactive call for better public transport is only going to make our overall urban experience better and safer. More public transport will also mean more enforced walking, increased activity, and less sitting in cars, potentially a shift to better health as we deal with the growing problem of obesity.

Cheer up Johor, although this is unexpected bitter medicine and the circumstances of its administering are hard to swallow, its regulatory effects on human capital and demand consumption in our favour really cannot be denied. Change — it’s good, remember?