Woodlands businesses brace for more bad times as road charge kicks in

Woodlands businesses brace for more bad times as road charge kicks in
Businesses at Woodlands Town Centre express resignation about how the Reciprocal Road Charge (RRC) might affect the number of Malaysian drivers choosing to stop over in Singapore. Photo: Toh Ee Ming/TODAY
Published: 8:00 PM, February 15, 2017
Updated: 9:45 PM, February 15, 2017

SINGAPORE — The Republic’s new Reciprocal Road Charge (RRC) — which drew much protest from drivers on the other side of the Causeway when it was announced last month — kicked in on Wednesday (Feb 15).

Shopkeepers near the Woodlands Checkpoint are anticipating the RRC will serve as yet another blow to their businesses, which have seen dwindling customers in the past few years amid competition from other shopping areas in Woodlands. The weak ringgit has added to their woes, with Malaysians  — who form the bulk of their customers — spending less when they cross into Singapore.

The RRC requires all foreign-registered cars to pay S$6.40 per entry when they enter Singapore via the Tuas or Woodlands checkpoints. 

It mirrors Malaysia’s road charge of RM20 per entry for non-Malaysia-registered cars entering Johor, which was implemented on Nov 1 last year.

When TODAY paid a visit to Woodlands Town Centre on Wednesday — the usual stopover for Malaysian drivers who pop by for a quick meal, or to get their money changed or stock up on supplies — many of them said they were resigned about having to pay the new charge since they had no other way to enter Singapore.

Malaysian driver S Krishnan, managing director of travel agency Krissjaya Holidays, who comes to Singapore four to five times a month and forks out S$15 in toll charges for each visit, felt the recent charges announced by the two countries have made it difficult for drivers to keep track of the tolls that they have to pay.

Mr Krishnan said: “The (RRC) is too high for us … Businessmen (like me) have to go back (to Malaysia) late at night, and start in the early morning just to earn a living ... It would be better if the Singapore and Malaysian governments do it step by step, and gradually increase the charges instead.”

The RRC will be on top of the Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP), which costs S$35 a day for foreign-registered cars, as well as toll charges and fixed Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) fees when departing at the Tuas or Woodlands Checkpoint.

Other Malaysians, such as contractor Wang Kim Seong, 50, said that they might have to pass the new entry fees on to clients by marking up their costs for projects.

Shopkeepers at Woodlands Town Centre, all speaking in Mandarin, told TODAY that they were worried that the RRC will hit their already poor businesses further.

A 56-year-old fruit stall owner, who wanted to be known only as Mr Toh, said footfall at the centre had dwindled so much that the shops are now forced to close  their doors as early as 6pm or 7pm, compared with 9pm or even later previously.

“Last time, it would get so packed that the car park was always full … But now it’s very empty, no one from Malaysia wants to come to Singapore to spend,” said Mr Toh, adding that the early closure had resulted in a 20 per cent drop in earnings for him.

Mr Yip Beng Mun, 53, who runs a store selling mobile phone cases and accessories, is resigned to the slow business. “We should just wait it out, live day by day,” said Mr Yip, whose earnings have dropped by almost 50 per cent in the past year.