SINGAPORE – Travellers scrambled to get bus tickets for quarantine-free land travel to Johor Baru on Thursday (Nov 25), the first day tickets went on sale.
Tickets were sold out within about 20 minutes for one of the two bus service operators.
Checks on websites for the two service providers for the upcoming land vaccinated travel lane (VTL) between Singapore and Malaysia at 8am, when the tickets were released for sale, showed that virtual waiting rooms had been created to deal with high volumes of traffic.
Both websites did not appear to be able to keep up with the demand, as some users reported issues accessing the booking system.
On the website of Singapore bus company Transtar Travel, a notice stated that users were placed in a virtual waiting room because of “high user volume”. Passengers had 15 minutes to book tickets and could select up to five slots per trip. At 8.23am, all tickets for the next 30 days were sold out.
The website was updated later to say that users will be let in to the bus ticket purchase portal when slots are available.
Meanwhile, the queue in the virtual waiting room on the website of Malaysia bus company Handal Indah extended to more than 10,000 people. Users were informed that they had 10 minutes to enter the website, as well as told the number of users in line ahead of them.
Some users were booted out before entering the website or making payment.
As at 10.27am, the Malaysia website was inaccessible.
On Facebook, Handal Indah, also known as Causeway Link, said that only tickets from next Monday to Dec 5 will be available for now. It did not indicate when the next batch of tickets can be booked.
The authorities, however, had said on Wednesday that tickets would be released for sale 30 days ahead and must be booked three days prior to the date of departure.
From next Monday, Singapore and Malaysia will permit quarantine-free travel at the Woodlands land checkpoint using designated buses.
The authorities said on Wednesday up to 2,880 people will be able to cross the Causeway each day – up to 1,440 in each direction. The hotly anticipated arrangement comes after almost 20 months of border restrictions.
For now, those travelling via the land VTL have to be citizens, permanent residents or long-term pass holders of the country that they are entering. This includes work pass holders, student pass holders and long-term visit pass holders.
Singapore’s Prime Minister’s Office said on Wednesday that this is to give priority to workers in either country to visit their families. More than 100,000 Malaysians continue to work here despite the land border shutting in March last year.
The trip from Singapore will cost $15 for adults and $8 for children, while buses from Malaysia will cost RM20 (S$6.50) for adults and RM10 for children.
Tickets are released for sale 30 days ahead and must be booked three days prior to the date of departure.
There will be 64 daily VTL bus trips between Malaysia and Singapore, 32 in each direction, with a maximum of 45 seated passengers a trip.
Transtar Travel will operate 16 daily trips from Larkin Sentral Bus Terminal in Johor Baru to Woodlands Temporary Bus Interchange from 9.30am to 7.30pm, and another 16 trips in the other direction from 8am to 6pm.
Similarly, Handal Indah, will operate 32 daily VTL trips between Larkin Sentral and Queen Street Terminal here.
Those travelling via the land VTL must test negative using a professionally administered antigen rapid test (ART) or polymerase chain reaction test within two days of departure. The test must be done at an accredited laboratory or testing centre.
Those travelling to Malaysia will also need to take an additional supervised on-arrival ART after they clear immigration.
The initial phase of the land VTL will require travellers to take designated bus services, but both sides are exploring the possibility of train journeys, said Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong on Wednesday.
Mr Gan also said the reason travel under the land VTL is allowed only on designated buses is that buses are easier to manage.
Depending on the public health situation in both countries, the authorities plan to progressively expand the land VTL to include general travellers.
They are also working towards restoring quarantine-free travel between Singapore and Malaysia through the Tuas Second Link.
The Straits Times has contacted both bus booking services for comment.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.