Responding to media queries, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) refuted recent comments attributing the congestion at land checkpoints during long weekends and holiday periods to Singapore.
While ICA did not elaborate on who made the comments, its statement comes after Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said on Sept 13 that Malaysia has done its maximum to ease traffic congestion at the Johor Causeway. It is now up to Singapore to reciprocate and address the issue, he told reporters on the sidelines of the Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore.
On Friday, ICA said it puts in place additional measures to ease crowding and manage traffic flow on days when congestion is heavier, especially during long weekends and holiday seasons.
The agency noted that it cleared more than 1.7 million passengers through the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints – a record – during the long weekend from Aug 31 to Sept 4 this year.
ICA said it moved officers from other clearance zones to boost the manpower at departure car zones, and converted the departure cargo clearance zone at Woodlands Checkpoint to clear cars instead.
It also converted automated arrival lanes at the bus hall to clear departing travellers, and worked with partners to increase the frequency of cross-border public buses, among other additional measures.
During the Aug 31 long weekend, there was a severe tailback of traffic from both of Malaysia’s land checkpoints all the way to Singapore’s checkpoints, ICA noted.
On Sept 1, the tailback of cars from Malaysia at the Causeway began at 9am and subsided only at 11.30pm, it said.
The jam at the Second Link began at 1pm and eased at 7pm.
“Cars could not clear Malaysia’s checkpoints fast enough, thus preventing cars that had been cleared at Singapore’s checkpoints from moving on towards Malaysia. This affected the waiting time and clearance on the Singapore side,” ICA said.
It said congestion is heavier on Singapore’s side on some days.
“On social media, travellers have commented about the faster clearance on the Malaysian side, and observed that this is due to the different levels of checks at the respective checkpoints, as the Malaysian authorities conduct fewer checks than ICA,” the agency added.
ICA said it has to balance the need of keeping Singapore’s border secure while facilitating the movement of travellers and cargo. Border security is important, particularly in preventing the entry of smuggled, illegal or undesirable persons and goods, it added.
Thorough checks are done using technology, based on risk assessment, ICA said.
It cited the use of multi-modal biometric scanning technology at the bus halls and motorcycle lanes at Singapore’s checkpoints, which can detect foreigners with multiple identities or impersonated personalities.
At the car counters, ICA officers do face-to-face checks to ensure the travellers are the rightful holders of the travel documents presented, and screen them.
“In addition, our officers have to be vigilant against attempts to smuggle contraband and prohibited items,” ICA said, adding that travellers who arouse suspicion will be subjected to additional checks, such as boot checks or security questioning.
ICA also outlined its initiatives to improve clearance for cars, buses, motorcycles and cargo.
These include putting in 74 more automated lanes across both land checkpoints. Since January, the Automated Clearance Initiative has allowed even first-time foreigners visiting Singapore to clear immigration through these automated lanes, improving efficiency.
ICA said it will add more automated lanes and outfit them with its next-generation Automated Border Clearance System.
To be rolled out progressively from 2024, the new system will further speed up the immigration clearance process as Singaporean residents and departing visitors – including Malaysians – will have their identity verified using biometrics instead of having to scan their passports.
Turning to measures for buses, ICA said departing public buses have dedicated immigration clearance lanes to prevent them from being blocked by private buses when passing through the Woodlands Checkpoint.
Car zones are converted to clear motorcycles during peak periods to reduce queues on roads surrounding the land checkpoints, ICA said.
It also said the time needed for cargo permit clearance for each vehicle has been cut from seven minutes to five, after paperless clearance of conventional cargo at the cargo checkpoints was introduced in March.
Further improvements are in the pipeline. From early 2024, travellers in the same car can be cleared at one go by scanning a single QR code, in place of the current process of scanning passports.
From 2026, the Tuas Checkpoint will adopt automated car clearance lanes, which allow car travellers to perform self-clearance from their vehicle with minimum intervention from officers. The system will also be rolled out at the redeveloped Woodlands Checkpoint by 2028.
In addition, ICA said it is looking into extending the QR code scanning system to the automated motorcycle lanes.
“ICA will continue to study ways to enhance travellers’ experience and facilitate the movement of people and goods through our checkpoints, but we cannot compromise security for speed,” it said.
“We will continue to work closely with our Malaysian counterparts to improve traffic conditions.”