A Toll Of Two Cities

We can call it whatever we want but a toll is still a toll. So when the Singapore government recently announced an increase in the toll for Malaysian vehicles coming into this country, the Malaysian government responded with a corresponding increase, and the plan for a further increase. This plan was met by the Singapore government’s plan to further increase the toll to match the Malaysian’s planned increase. And this is when it becomes a toll war.

The Singapore government’s intention to increase the toll was seemingly reasonable at first. It was to rationalise and optimise the use of Singapore roads which are increasingly costly to maintain, for all road users including foreign vehicles. But when the government announced that it would further increase the toll depending on the amount that the Malaysian government would increase in the future, the first point became mute. What has the Malaysian toll rate got to do with rationalising Singapore’s road usage? It doesn’t make sense. And so the accusation that Singapore is taking a tit-for-tat measure in this issue came thick and fast.

But let us now consider the merits and demerits of the toll increase. The merit is as the government’s official reason for the increase. The demerits on the hand are the increase in the cost of living and doing business in Singapore, and the general inconvenience caused to the people of both countries.

Singapore imports a lot of its food from Malaysia. We also import a lot of raw materials from Malaysia for value-added production. And we also have a substantial number of Malaysians who come here to work and study. As for Singaporeans, we drive to Malaysia on weekends for some shopping and generally to escape the hustle and bustle of our over-populated island.

So an increase in the vehicle toll will have an inflationary impact on some consumer products as the cost will eventually be passed down to the consumers. It will also lead to an increase in business cost as the cost of raw materials will increase. And to add to that, the Malaysian workers and students who commute daily between the two countries will suffer an increase in transportation cost as well. And for Singaporeans, this may discourage some of them from having a relaxing retreat to Malaysia. As we have written in our earlier article, it is psychologically good for Singaporeans to escape to a less crowded place to de-stress.

Will Singapore one day impose a visit toll on all tourists coming to Singapore? After all, they will enjoy our clean and green environment and safe surroundings which are not cheap to maintain. Definitely not, because tourists bring in tourist dollars. So why do we impose toll on Malaysian vehicles? Malaysians coming to Singapore do contribute to our economy in one way or another. And most importantly, as neighbours, we should be more welcoming and gracious towards them. Already, a lot of the Malaysians commuting daily between the two countries have ditched their cars in favour of motorcycles which have now caused long delays for motorcyclists at the checkpoints. There are reports that the delays could be as long as 5 hours. This is not the way to treat our neighbours.

Not everything should be about dollars and cents especially when the disadvantages of a certain policy far outweigh its advantages. In this regard, it will be prudent for the government to take a helicopter view and tweak the policy to take into consideration its economic and social impact.

TSB

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