Tag Archives: transportation

Forced to Accept Unreliable Service

Sadly one of the features of living in Johor Bahru is having to accept unreliable service.

My 9:30 AM taxi isn’t here (after 9:50 AM). The only phone numbers online for the JB-Singapore taxis that I can find are never answered. I don’t mean like they take a long time or sometimes are not answered. I mean I have never had a call answered. Now he called and just said he isn’t going to do it I have to find some solution myself half an hour after they were suppose to be here.

FoodPanda, which is a good idea, just doesn’t deliver what you order sometimes. It is like a lottery. Maybe they will deliver maybe they won’t. Earlier this week they just didn’t.

Also earlier this week a called a local cab which just never showed up. I have tried various companies and this one is the least bad. But still will just sometimes not show up at all. That is it, you are just left stranded.

Bad service is everywhere around the globe. But in the USA you can usually avoid it other than in politically protected monopolistic companies (Comcast, Verizon etc.) and airlines. For example, you can get around normal car dealers. If you care about decent service you just don’t deal with companies that provide lousy service.

But in JB I find it very hard to do. You just are stuck with very limited options and finding those that offer reliable service is just either not possible or beyond my capabilities quite often. If anyone knows a reliable “yellow cab” from JB to Singapore please let me know.

There are many good things about living in JB. But the poor reliability of companies is tiresome.

Iskandar: Present and Future

The potential for Iskandar, and the extended Johor Bahru, region remains strong. But the lack of progress on transportation issues for getting back and forth from Singapore are a huge problem for anyone wanting to think about living in the area now. I also remain worried about the huge imbalance between a huge boom in luxury condo development and the lack of a similar visible increase in high paying jobs to afford the huge numbers of luxury condos coming on the market now, and over the next 5 years.

The imbalance between office buildings and the huge numbers of luxury condo high rises continues to be a big warning sign I think. Add to that the very poor job done thus far dealing with the very initial stage of what will soon be a flood of cross border traffic is a huge warning sign that investors should heed.

The cooling measures on real estate investment were wise, though late (I would have done it a bit differently but overall taking cooling measure was, and is, a good idea).

There needs to have been more done sooner on the cross border transportation issues – a 3rd link should have been operational last year. The MRT should be under construction now. And more focus should be on bringing in high paying jobs to fill office buildings and then getting those built.

Without much more progress on transportation and many more high paying office jobs the current number of luxury condo buildings should not have been allowed. The efforts on health care and education and the good jobs they provide, as part of the Iskandar initiative, have been good but those jobs don’t come remotely close to justifying even a small fraction of the luxury condo units under construction.

Several new big hotels are a good boost for the economy (and are great tax revenue sources). Retail efforts are good (and also good for providing lots of jobs and tax revenue) but how much more can be expected there without better paying jobs elsewhere in the local economy (basically I think this is a good focus but I think everything that can be hoped for is being done)? Theme parks are a good hope for bringing in tourists and boosting the economy (and filling up those hotels and bringing in tax revenue and providing jobs). It seems to me the very bad transportation problems over the last year in moving between Singapore and JB are a big problem for investors in this area though (if I were such an investor I wouldn’t commit more investments until the situation was much improved and there was reason to believe it wouldn’t be allowed to fall back into the situation we have been living with now). The manufacturing efforts have been decent but are not very significant thus far in producing high paying jobs.

One example of a mistake that is going to cause problems for decades is failing to install fiber in brand new luxury condo buildings. Even if developers don’t want to invest in the future I would not have approved building plans for luxury condos after 2010 that did not include wiring every unit for fiber. Fiber is the future of high tech living and not investing in it is not the way to become known as a future focused location. Economic development requires thinking of the future and not allowing shortcuts and cheap solutions today from capping the potential for the future.

The potential for Iskandar remains as strong as it is for almost any region on the globe. But the next 10 years can build a solid foundation for long term success or can result in a system that is difficult to build upon (such as a huge imbalance in real estate, toward luxury condos for example, or a bad transportation system – which are hugely costly to deal with). The next 10 years is much more challenging to do well than the last 10 years – the begging was very easy by comparison to the challenges faced now. If it is done well, I can see the Iskandar/JB region paired with Singapore in creating one of the most vibrant areas on the globe and creating great jobs and lives for those living here (Singapore will also benefit greatly from this being done well).

Related: Iskandar Housing Real Estate Investment Considerations (2011)Minimum Housing Prices for Foreigners Investing In Malaysia Rise to RM 1,000,000The Potential of Iskandar is Very High but Investing in Iskandar has Risks (2011)

SE Asia Travel: Siem Reap, Cambodia

One of the many advantages of living in Malaysia is the number of great tourist destinations that are fairly easy to travel to. The plane trips are so much better than the horrible system now in place in the USA (much better service, no TSA security theater, many fewer delays…). Prices are reasonable also. I will gladly pay $50 US to fly on the airlines like Malaysia Airlines (which I flew this time) and Singapore Airlines over some of the budget airlines. I just don’t want to deal with companies that are going to try to rip you off any chance they get and have much less reliable flights (cancelling them more often, etc.). I will fly Firefly.

The flights from Johor Bahru are not very good, pretty much you have to go through Kuala Lumpor, which is fine, but you can be stuck with long waits which I don’t like. Still often it is preferable to flying out of Singapore (though not always). On this trip, to avoid that long delay I was able to fly JB to KL to Siem Reap and then on the way back fly Phnom Penh to KL to JB. These both had short layovers but Siem Reap to KL to JB had over 4 hours wait. I took the bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.

photo of the outside of the airport at Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia Airport

The Siem Reap airport is nice, new and small. You need a passport photo for your visa (which I just happen to carry with me from my memories as a child of needed them, but I hadn’t read anything about needing them). Those with passports from many countries you can get a visa at the airport (you don’t need one in advance) but you should make sure this is true for your country in advance. The cost was $20 US. I would imagine that you can get the photo there (for a high price, I would guess) but even more annoying is probably the delay it would add of waiting in another line).

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Taxi Between Johor Bahru and Singapore

Iskandar Regional Development Authority chief executive officer Ismail Ibrahim on transportation improvements:

The land transport authorites of Singapore and Malaysia are studying a rapid transit system (RTS) link between Singapore and Johor Baru. The architecture and engineering consultancy consists of two phases. Phase one is expected to be completed by year-end.The Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar will decide on the option to be adopted in phase two. Taxi services between Johor Baru and Singapore are also being improved.

Effective June 1, commuters taking cross-border taxis will be able to board and alight anywhere on the domestic leg of the journey.

For example, a commuter that takes a Singapore cross-border taxi can board or alight anywhere in Singapore. Similarly, a passenger taking a Malaysia cross-border taxi can board or alight anywhere in Malaysia.

But commuters need to board and alight at the designated terminals when they are not on the domestic leg, i.e. a commuter that takes a Singapore cross-border taxi can only board and alight at PasarBakti terminal in Johor Baru and likewise, a Malaysia cross-border taxi can only pick up or drop off commuters at the Ban San Street terminal in Singapore.

The transportation improvements are critical to the success of Iskandar-Singapore success. Currently the delays on the current links are bad and increasing. It seems that the estimates for how much traffic would be generating have been far too low. The addition of the second link is recent and yet the delays keep getting longer on average days (not even holidays). This seems to me to be a serious problem, especially when you consider that in the next 2 years there will be substantial additions in Iskandar, Malaysia that would increase cross border traffic. But with the delays already unacceptably long it seems there will be serious problems.

If there are process improvement and manpower adjusts that can help address these problems they should be a top priority (and why they haven’t been done already would be very puzzling). It seems to me a 3rd link is needed as soon as possible. In addition to the MRT and an expansion to the existing causeway capacity.

The tweaks to allowing taxis to pick up passengers anywhere at the first leg of the journey (which is my guess at what is said above though I am not sure really) is good thing. This doesn’t do anything about capacity issues or long delays at the links but it is an improvement in the previous operating process (which required taxi pickup at 1 or 2 specified spots only in order to cross the links). Hopefully the restriction on dropping people off can be eliminated soon also.

I don’t really understand the sense of the taxi process. There are cars that will pickup and drop off anywhere (for crossing the links) but are not painted up as taxis. I don’t quite understand the value of having different rules for cars depending on if they have meters inside or are considered something else (but do the exact same things a taxi does, but probably can’t pick up passengers on the street – probably they are only allowed to respond to phone calls).

Anyway, at least the taxi process is improving.

Related: Taxis in Johor BahruTaking the Bus Between Johor Bahru and SingaporeJohor Bahru Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine Complex (CIQ)

Great Cheap Cell Phone Plan

I did a bit of research trying to find the right cell phone plan for myself in Malaysia. I actually was looking at different options. One was for a fancy smart phone (iPhone or Android) largely to use when I travel and to be able to stay up with some business. Both looking at the phone options and the plan options. And the also looking at a cheap phone with a cheap plan. The truth is it was quite hard to get to a decision with so many options. I used the soon to be iPhone 4s as a good enough excuse to wait on the fancy phone option.

I really don’t use a phone much. Frankly the biggest use I have for it is in getting taxis and ordering food – plus other errands but what I can do by email, I do. It is also convenient when you are meeting people somewhere to catch up with each other. Mainly I prefer email and other internet communication and don’t find most cell phone conversation of much value (it just seems like people think they have to talk since they can or some people seem to think they seem important if they ignore whoever they are with to talk on the phone). I would rather take in where I am, talk to who I am with, think, or just relax.

So I keep looking for the best plan for someone that hardly uses a phone at all. It wasn’t easy to find. Partially, I imagine you don’t make much money off such cheapskates so the service providers don’t waste much time marketing to them. Anyway I thought I found something good with Digi. And when I was talking with the person to buy my phone I thought I had it clear I could get the phone and pay some minimal amount and then just top it up and be charged for use.

But once I bought it they seemed to not understand such an option. Oh well, I sometimes seem to not quite communicate perfectly so I guessed I mis-remembered and didn’t understand what they said at first. So then essentially I needed to pay RM 30 a month for service and that amount would be charged against as I talked (or IMed). But I needed to pay RM 1 everyday to maintain the ability to make calls. This was annoying but seemed to be the only option. So I just kept piling on the RM balance since I don’t use close to 1 RM a day on average.

Well I found the offer again earlier this week and it is perfect if you hardly use the phone, like me. You pay just RM 30 for a year. Then you still get charged for all your calls but it isn’t much at all.

So if you want a low use, cheap, cell phone plan option in Malaysia, get the Digi Super Long Life plan: a feature where you can extend your talktime validity to 1 year for just RM30. That means your phone number stays valid, you can make and receive calls and texts (to make outgoing calls and texts you also need a balance, but you can add to your balance whenever you want). Remember the plan name, so when you go to buy your plan you can make sure you can get it setup right from the start. It is really a fantastic option for someone like me, that uses the phone very little. My guess is if you use it less than an hour a week, on average, this is a good option. I am really not sure the exact breakpoint, whatever it is, I am nowhere near it.

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Taxis in Johor Bahru

photo of Johor Bahru taxi

Photo of Johor Bahru taxi near Zon (with the strait and then Singapore in the background)

Online I read a fair amount of people worried about taxi drivers not using the meter for cab rides in Johor Bahru. I have found that normally they do use the meter. Occasionally, taxi drivers do refuse to use the meter (even though I believe they are required to and the cabs are plastered with signs saying they must use the meter). I have noticed that if the taxi has to stand in a long queue, waiting for passengers, this problem is much more likely.

It would seem to me, that there is a systemic problem, if the taxi has to wait a long time for fares. It seems to me the best way to handle this would be to put a surcharge on those locations (there shouldn’t be too many). I have refused to pay non-meter fares, but will pay reasonable ones from now on, from locations with long queues.

Even when they want to charge a non-meter fare I think only twice have they asked for hugely unfair amounts (more than twice what the meter would be). Normally it is a maybe RM 5 above the meter, which isn’t ridiculously high (and they may be inflating it for me).

Calling the taxis usually will get you a taxi very quickly (within 5 minutes) which is quite convenient. I would imagine in some areas outside the Central Business District (CBD) it might be longer.

Photo of Natural gas tank in the trunk of a taxi

Natural gas tank in Johor Bahru taxi trunk

One of my driver’s stopped by the gas station and I noticed they were using compressed natural gas as the fuel. This is a smart move as globally there is a surplus of natural gas. Natural gas is also cleaner burning and contributes less to global warming than regular gasoline. The storage tanks are in the trunk for some reason.

The taxi drivers understand english to some degree. They are a bit less able to find places than I would expect, some are quite good but I have run into more than a handful that needed directions for pretty large places.

The cars are generally fairly old but decent. Normally they have decent air conditioning, but some are weak on this. Like Kuala Lumpor there is a “executive” class taxi that is blue and much more expensive – I don’t see them being worth it, myself. The cost of rides is 3 RM for the first 2 km plus 10 cen to every subsequent 115 meters. There is a RM 2 charge for calling a taxi for a pickup (Taxi Comfort number: 07 332 2852). There is a 50% surcharge between midnight and 6 AM.

In general people tip very little (like rounding up to the next RM). In general, I give a tip of 2 – 4.x RM. The taxi fares are reasonable and including a tip still results in a reasonable fair. Taxi drivers work hard for a living and giving a bit of a tip seems reasonable to me (for those who can easily afford it).

One note about taxis in Singapore – there really don’t seem to be enough. When I want one, I find large queues that hardly seem to move (so few taxis coming to the stand). And when it rains it is much worse.

Related: transportation between Johor Bahru and SingaporeBus to from CBD to Jusco in Permas JayaPaying bills over the internet

Johor Bahru Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine Complex (CIQ)

photo CIQ building in Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru CIQ

The Johor Bahru Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine Complex (CIQ) is a very large complex at the causeway to Singapore that accommodates Malaysian customs check for cars, trucks, buses and the JB Sentral train station. The CIQ was opened in 2008. The complex is know as CIQ – if you tell a taxi for example they will know where you mean to go if you say CIQ.

photo of Johor Bahru CIQ

Looking up to Johor Bahru CIQ from the street (all photos by John Hunter)

Queues are often reasonable but at rush hour (especially leaving Singapore on Friday’s and near public holidays) can be long. In several ways taking the bus is quite appealing (costs of bringing a car into Singapore plus tolls and there are significant restrictions on taxis that make that option difficult) but the walking from the entrance to the custom lines is quite a distance so that will add 5 minutes to your time. And waiting for a bus once you clear customs can add another 5 – 10 minutes.

The 2nd link (to the West) has shorter queues currently (these are the only 2 links between Singapore and Johor Bahru now). That is one of the reasons many people have been buying out near the 2nd link. Also that is a focus area for the Iskandar economic development initiative and the available of housing estates with integrated security and new bungalows is another attraction.

JB Sentral, which opened in 2010, is located in the same area and includes the train station and a large bus terminal.

Singapore and Malaysia have been taking recently about extending the MRT (light rail) from Singapore into Johor Bahru before the end of this decade and the likely location of the first stop is JB Sentral. This MRT (and extending 5 to 7 more stops in Johor Bahru will be a welcome improvement to mass transit and continue to build the economic ties between the two cities. Currently you have to take the long walk through Malaysian customs, then walk to the bus, take it over the causeway, walk through Singapore customs, catch the bus again and then got to the MRT (which for some reason isn’t the closer Woodlands MRT but the Kranji MRT). So just getting on the MRT in JB and clearing customs and getting right back on will be a big improvement. Of course they will have to add quite a few more customs staff to prevent long queues.

Related: Taking the Bus from Johor Bahru to SingaporeResidence Pass for Talented ExpatsPenang Condo Market

Taking the Bus from Johor Bahru to Singapore

Taking the bus from Johor Bahru, Malaysia to Singapore is easy once you know what to do.

First go to the Custom and Immigration Quarantine Complex (CIQ) in downtown Johor Bahru right near the causeway to Singapore. Walk through the complex to leave Malaysia (you need your passport, obviously). Once you clear Malaysian passport control you follow the signs to Singapore/Woodlands for the bus (on your left after you leave the passport area). You go downstairs and catch your bus. You pay for the bus, on the bus.

photo of people standing in lines for bus to Singapore at Malaysia CIQ

Lines for bus to Singapore at Malaysia CIQ. On the signs (and the ground) they list what buses the queues are for.

There are various options but the 3 most common are:

  • Queen Street (this gets you to downtown Singapore). You can take the CW2 (direct) of the 160 (many stops – so really you probably don’t want to chose this unless you want to get off before queen street). The Queen street stop lets you off right near Little India. Cost is under RM 3.
  • MRT – if you want to go to the Singapore MRT you can take the 170 or CW1 to Kranji station. Woodlands is the closest station but there isn’t a bus to there (that I know of). Cost is under RM 2.
  • Airport – the airport bus takes you directly to the Changi Airport in Singapore and costs RM 7 (from Singapore to JB it costs SGD 7). The bus is a small bus (seats about 20 maximum) – asking people where it is, will be the easiest way to find it. This bus only runs once an hour. This bus works great but you should be aware if you get stuck in customs trying to get into Singapore it is possible the bus will leave without you. If that happens catch the 170 to Kranji and take the MRT to the airport. I think the bus will wait 20 minutes for people to clear customs (and if several of you are not back yet the bus may wait, but missing it is something to consider).
  • photo of Kranji MRT in Singapore

    Kranji MRT in Singapore. There is a bakery right where the bus lets you off. To catch the bus back to Customs you have to cross over the road so you are on the opposite side from the MRT.

    The busses will take you across the causeway to Singapore and then you will disembark (with any luggage and belongings) and go through Singapore customs and then go back downstairs and catch your bus. The CW1, CW2, 170 and 160 run frequently during the day and evening (every few minutes to every 15 minutes for some).

    Overall it is an easy process and doesn’t take too long. But at rush hours (especially Friday night or on holidays) it can get very busy and backed up. I hear the morning rush from JB into Malaysia is pretty bad, but I have gone a bit later (9:30 AM) when I have gone, and it has been fine.

    Related: Bus to Jusco in Permas JayaPlaza Pelangi in Johor Bahru Townresources for living in Johor Bahru

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    Bus to Jusco in Permas Jaya

    I took the bus from downtown Johor Bahru to the Jusco (hypermarket) in Permas Jaya. From downtown you take bus number 123 which a passenger told me runs every 20 minutes. Of the supermarkets I have been to so far in JB that Jusco has been by far the best. I have tried a couple Tesco’s and a Carfour and one other Jusco (a complete disaster area, the store was a complete mess, the signs said things were 50% off then when you took them to the counter they said they were not – 3 different items from 2 different locations).

    photo of the inside of a bus

    Inside of a Johor Bahru 123 line bus, by John Hunter.

    The Permas Jaya Jusco store itself is very clean and orderly. The prices seem the best to me. The vegetables were great this time (the first time I really checked). A great selection and very fresh looking. And the prices were great. I picked up baby asparagus, peppers, potatoes, Japanese and “regular” cucumbers. I am not a cook. My cooking tops out at microwaving the asparagus for a few seconds, reheating some Indian food or putting peanut butter on a roll.

    Unfortunately the Jusco is a bit out of the way for me. I want to get familiar with the bus transportation though so I will be taking some trips. I can’t find anything good online that explains the bus routes. If anyone knows of a good source of information please let me know.

    I went to the Village Briyani Cafe today and had chicken briyani. It was great.

    Related: Straits View Condos, Permas JayaBakery, Downtown Johor BahruThe Treasure Store: English Language Used Books and Library Rental