MORE than 300,000 people cross the Johor Causeway daily, making it one of the busiest border crossings in the world.
The Causeway is only 1.06km-long, but to our motorists, it seems like a journey to eternity. It is the same ordeal at Woodlands checkpoint on their way back from Singapore.
Some are known to wake up at 2-ish to make it to work in Singapore on time. There must be a better way to cross borders in this millennium.
In fact, there is: the Schengen single visa of the European Union that ends border checkpoints and controls based on the grand idea of a Europe without borders.
It all started with seven countries when they met in Schengen, Luxembourg, in June 1985 to sign the eponymous agreement that enables passport-free people movement. Today, there are 26 signatories.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (Asean) duo — Malaysia and Singapore — can kick off the grand project of an Asean without borders by signing a single visa agreement akin to the Schengen Agreement.
The remaining eight of Asean can come on board later to enable single-visa, passport-free movement.
The Schengen single visa properly so-called is a short-stay visa that allows people of Schengen countries to cross borders of member countries for a maximum of 90 days for tourism or business, sans border checkpoints and controls.
If one is planning to work or study, a national visa is required. This, the Asean single visa must modify. Otherwise, border crawls and checkpoint chokes will be a nocturnal and diurnal duel.
One method of modification — Secured Automated Clearance System for Malaysian Motorcyclists or M-Bike — though not a tweaking of the Schengen single visa concept, has already been tried with little success.
M-Bike doesn’t work because it requires scanning and stamping of the passports. Also, M-Bike stickers require checkpoints. Checkpoints are nothing but choke points.
This hinders a smooth flow of traffic.
If everything — scanners, gantries and people — works well, perhaps it takes only 10 seconds to clear a person. But in Murphy’s world, anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Scanners malfunction, gantries refuse to lift and Immigration officers just can’t do without their smartphones.
For starters, Malaysia and Singapore must do away with border checkpoints and controls.
Only passport-free movement can end chaotic crossing at the Causeway as suggested by New Straits Times reader Ernst Strohmeyer of Linz, Austria.
Singapore and Malaysia must make the single visa, passport-free people movement work for at least two reasons.
One, it cures the daily ordeal at the Causeway which has been hounding motorists, especially 60,000 motorcyclists on the Malaysian side and at Woodlands, Singapore.
Two, if the system works well for Singapore and Malaysia, it will be a forerunner for the remaining eight of Asean.
Understandably, passport-free movement across borders may give some nations jitters.
There is real worry about terrorists and criminals crossing borders undetected.
Technology, such as artificial intelligence, can be summoned to minimise this. If it works for EU, there is no reason why it shouldn’t work for Asean.