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  • Writer's pictureRick

SG-JB Crossing: Best Times to Cross Singapore-Johor Causeway (2022)

Traffic congestion at Woodlands Causeway

The most daunting part of travelling to West Malaysia from Singapore via Woodlands Checkpoint is crossing the Straits of Johor via the Causeway (also known as the first link). The road-and-rail link between the two countries is usually heavily congested, especially on weekends, a time where most people chose to get on the bridge at the same time.

PS: I usually travel to Johor Bahru via Woodlands Checkpoint, so this post focused primarily on crossing the Causeway. General deductions and observations will still be applicable to Tuas Checkpoint (second link).

To find the best times to cross the Causeway, we need to understand who, why and when will border-crossers be at Woodlands Checkpoint (for going to Malaysia) and Johor Bahru Checkpoint (for coming to Singapore).

We can classify the "who" into two major groups:

1. Commuter-Workers. There are more Malaysians going to Singapore to work than Singaporeans working in Malaysia. Most of the workers are blue-collar workers and usually need to work 5.5 days a week. Workers can either be working on shifts or regular time (from 9am to 5pm).

"Commuter-workers" also includes those who drive cargo-carrying lorries, long container trucks, light vans, cars and motorcycles, which are one of the contributing factors to traffic jams. There are also Malaysians with Permanent Resident (PR) statuses who reside and work in Singapore but will return to their hometowns over weekends.

With known or expected working schedules, the behavioural patterns of commuter-workers at the checkpoints are easier to predict.

2. Travellers. This group of people cross the border for anything other than to work. Apart from multi-days holiday-goers, there are day-trippers from Singapore to Johor Bahru for entertainment and local food due to higher exchange rate when converting from Singapore dollars to Malaysia ringgits. Most Singapore day-trippers will drive to Malaysia, which worsen the traffic conditions during peak hours.

Behavioural patterns of travellers can be difficult to predict since they do not follow fix schedules. We will try to anticipate when they will cross the border from a traveller's or day-tripper's mindset.

3. Others. This group (including students, etc) is too small to be of concerns.

Normally, weekdays are the least congested with smoother traffic outside of peak hours. Weekends are when the Causeway is usually congested, but not at all times. If you can understand the flow of people going through the checkpoints, you will be able to find the right time to cross the border to-and-fro without getting caught in both human and traffic jams.

Note: All bar charts below illustrate Estimated Probability of Congestion (%) against Time. They are charted based on observations as described in this post, not from any statistical source.

On Weekdays in a Normal Week

Weekday routine is largely the same from Monday to Friday. But, on Friday after working hours, things can be a little different.

From Singapore → Johor Bahru

1. In the morning before 7am, long-distance tour buses from Singapore to various destinations in West Malaysia will try to cross the border as early as possible. But the number of travellers will not be large as compared to weekends.

2. Commuter-workers working on third shift (this population may not be large) will return to Malaysia between 7am to 8am. Travellers and day-trippers (housewives, retirees, people on leaves, etc) will cross the Causeway starting around 8am as most shopping centres will open at 10am.

3. Container trucks and goods-carrying lorries going to Malaysia will arrive at the checkpoint after 9am.

4. After 3pm, Malaysian workers on first shift will start to turn up at the causeway to return home.

5. After 5pm, the main bulk of Malaysian workers on regular working time will be at the causeway. This will usually cause congestion at the immigration checkpoints and petered out by around 8pm (except on Friday).

6. After 11pm, commuter-workers on second shift will arrive at the Causeway.

On Friday evening, after working hours, there will be more people crossing the Causeway. Apart from returning Malaysian workers (who cross the border daily to work), there will be those who resides in Singapore who may go back to their hometowns for the weekends. Holiday-goers to Malaysia may also choose to cross the Causeway at this time without having to take annual leaves.

From Johor Bahru → Singapore

1. As early as 5am, Malaysian workers will start to cross the Causeway to Singapore, especially those in the first shift who need to be at work by 7am or 8am, office staff by 9am and retail staff by 10am. The crowd will start to peter out by 10am.

2. Some travellers may travel from Malaysia to Singapore at any time of the day.

3. After 3pm, Malaysian workers on second shift will be waiting for private buses inside Johor Bahru CIQ's waiting area. The blue-painted private buses often caused congestion in JB CIQ due to workers arriving late. Most often than not, the bus drivers will try to earn extra income by picking up other commuters, including travellers, and waited in the main lanes instead of the bus bays. This created a bottleneck that resulted in bus congestion on the roads and highways leading to JB CIQ as early as 3pm — every working weekday.

Note: Singapore imposes a Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) fee on foreign-registered vehicles from Monday to Friday but exemption granted between 5pm to 2am. Most foreign-registered vehicles will aim to reach Singapore checkpoints after 5pm on weekdays to save on the fee. During school holidays, the exemption starts at 12pm.

3. Approximately 15 minutes before 5pm, foreign-registered vehicles will start to traverse slowly on the Causeway so they can reach Singapore just after 5pm to avoid paying the VEP. Some drivers may even park their vehicles on the Malaysian side of the Causeway when they realised they are too early.

4. Day-trippers will return to Singapore starting from late afternoon, having spent a "full day" in Johor.

On Saturdays

Although Saturdays are weekends to most people, they are not so for those who may need to work another half a day on those days. This is a major oversight for many travellers who choose to cross the Straits of Johor on Saturdays.

From Singapore → Johor Bahru

1. Malaysian workers on third shift will be at the checkpoint as early as 7am. Malaysian workers who do not go back to their hometown on Friday night will also do so on Saturday morning.

2. Weekend holiday-goers for 2 days in Malaysia will also travel to the Causeway on this day. Most tour buses will depart from their embarkation points as early as 6am to avoid being caught in congestions that usually worsen around 8am. Due to high demands on Saturdays, there will be busloads of people reaching the checkpoint at random timings from no less than 10 tour bus companies and also those taking public buses.

3. Singapore day-trippers will join in the fray around 8am. Since most shopping centres open at 10am, they usually won't go in too early. Most of them will end up reaching the shopping centres after 12pm or give up and turn around at Woodlands Checkpoint.

4. Around 9am, cargo-carrying trucks from Singapore will enter Malaysia — for those who still need to work on Saturdays. After 10am, more trucks will return to Malaysia after the morning run.

5. After 11am, Malaysian workers, including those residing in Singapore, who need to work on Saturdays, will start to turn up at the Causeway. This adds more crowd to the border-crossing and can last till 4pm on some Saturdays.

6. After 5pm, more Singapore day-trippers will cross the Causeway for dinner or late-night supper. These group of people usually drives and may extend the traffic congestion to 9pm.

From Johor Bahru → Singapore

1. Malaysian workers will cross the Causeway in the morning for those needing to work on Saturdays. The crowd will petered out before 9am.

2. Malaysian day-trippers or foreign travellers to Singapore will cross the Causeway at any time of the day.

3. Singapore day-trippers will return home usually towards the end of the day.

On Sundays

One good thing about Sundays is that majority of the commuter-workers don't need to work — except those in retail lines.

From Singapore → Johor Bahru

1. Singapore day-trippers will go over to Johor starting from 7am and at any time of the day — usually before 1pm.

2. Malaysian tourists to Singapore will return at any time of the day.

From Johor Bahru → Singapore

1. Malaysian workers residing in Singapore and need to work the following day will return to Singapore. They may return at any time of the day but most prefers to do so towards the end of day, maximising their stays in their hometowns.

2. Holiday-goers and day-trippers from Singapore will start to appear at the Causeway after 2pm to return to Singapore. This may last until 9pm or later.

Best Times to Cross the Border for Travellers

For holiday-goers and day-trippers, the best time to go over the Causeway to Johor Bahru on a weekday starts as early as 7am and return before 3pm or after 8pm.

On Sundays, the best duration for day-tripping will be between 7am to 2pm (or earlier).

It will be better to avoid going on Saturdays as traffic congestion at the checkpoints can result in 2 to 4 hours in long queues.

For those who are NOT driving, read this too:

Effect of School Holidays

During the month-long mid-year and year-end school holidays, the number of holiday-goers between the two countries will increase on both weekdays and weekends. The trends of commuter-workers crossing the border will generally remain unchanged, but the number of travellers may increase by 2~3 folds. Probability of congestion will increase drastically on both weekdays and weekends.

In short, weekdays will be like weekends, and weekends will become nightmares (maybe not so exaggerated, but you will feel it when caught in the congestions).

For travellers with no constraints to travel during school holidays, it may be better to avoid crossing the border during these periods unless you can predict the behavioural patterns of the border-crossers.

Other than normal weekends, we also studied the behavioural patterns of border-crossing due to public holidays, especially long weekends. Check it out.

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