Close to 40,000 land VTL tickets sold hours after quota is reinstated

Passengers checking in to board the bus to Malaysia at Woodlands Temporary Bus Interchange on Feb 17, 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Close to 40,000 bus tickets under the land vaccinated travel lane (VTL) arrangement between Singapore and Malaysia were sold on Wednesday (Feb 16) and Thursday after quotas were fully reinstated for trips starting from Feb 22.

One bus operator has sold all of its available tickets until March 21.

Singapore's Transtar Travel started selling additional land VTL tickets for trips between Feb 22 and March 21 from 6pm on Wednesday.

By about 8pm, around 40 per cent of the tickets had already been snapped up, and they were sold out by midnight, its spokesman told The Straits Times.

The company is currently operating 24 VTL bus services between Woodlands and Larkin Sentral in Johor Baru daily, with 12 in each direction.

This will be increased to a total of 48 services from Feb 22. Each bus can have only up to 45 passengers.

Meanwhile, Malaysian bus operator Causeway Link started selling additional VTL tickets from 10am on Thursday, but only for trips between Feb 22 and Feb 28.

All 7,560 tickets were sold out by 11.30am, said a spokesman for the company.

Sales of Causeway Link VTL tickets for the month of March will begin at 7pm.

It needed to make some improvements to the booking system before it opened it up for March," the spokesman said.

The company currently operates 30 bus services between Queen Street and Larkin Sentral daily.

This will be reinstated to 60 services from Feb 22.

Transtar Travel and Causeway Link are currently the only two bus operators allowed to sell tickets under the VTL scheme, which allows for quarantine-free travel via the Causeway.

The release of additional land VTL tickets was met with overwhelming demand, with many would-be travellers taking to social media to voice their frustrations at the long waiting time and system errors they faced.

Some have also accused scalpers of buying tickets and reselling them on e-commerce platforms, with images posted of bus tickets being resold for more than $100.

Bus tickets for adults usually cost $15 in Singapore and RM20 (S$6.40) in Malaysia.

One traveller, who wanted to be known only as Vicky, already had a ticket to Johor Baru.

He is travelling on Feb 22 to visit his family, whom he has not seen in two years. But he did not have a return ticket.

He joined the virtual queue on Transtar Travel’s website at 6pm on Wednesday but gave up after waiting four hours.

The Singapore permanent resident, 28, who works in the semiconductor sector, said the website’s data showed there were more than 100,000 visitors at one point in time.

Mr Vicky tried again at 7am on Thursday to get a ticket from Causeway Link instead. To his relief, he managed to snag one after sales started.

“I’m happy they restored the quota. I’m happy for those who already bought the tickets as they will get the chance to reunite with their families,” he said.

“I hope everyone can buy tickets without any trouble.”

When the land VTL scheme was launched on Nov 29 last year, up to 2,880 travellers were allowed to cross the Causeway using designated buses each day.

This capacity was increased to 4,320 people, but from Dec 22 to Jan 20, new ticket sales were suspended and the quota was halved for trips from Jan 21 onwards.

This was to delay the spread of the Omicron variant.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said that it restored the land VTL quota as imported Covid-19 cases are now unlikely to affect the trajectory of local infections.

Border measures for land VTL travellers will also be streamlined.

From 11.59pm on Feb 21, the enhanced testing protocol requiring unsupervised self-swab antigen rapid tests (ARTs) on days two to seven of arrival will cease, so land VTL travellers will have to do only a pre-departure test and an on-arrival test.

For the on-arrival testing, instead of the supervised self-swab ART required upon arrival at the bus terminal, there will be a supervised self-swab ART within 24 hours of arrival at a quick test centre or combined test centre.

Meanwhile, only work permit holders and short-term visitors eligible to travel via the land VTL will have to apply for a vaccinated travel pass.

Other long-term pass holders will no longer have to apply for such a pass.

MTI said that the Government will continue to review the border measures and progressively expand the land VTL scheme in a safe and calibrated manner, taking into account the public health situation in both countries and around the world.

Singapore is also in discussions with Malaysia on expanding the land VTL scheme to include private vehicles and coaches, said Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19.

Before borders were shut in March 2020, about 415,000 people travelled across Woodlands Causeway and Tuas Second Link daily.

As at Feb 16, about 80,000 travellers from Malaysia have entered Singapore via the land VTL. 

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport said on Wednesday that as at Feb 14, a total of 171,583 travellers from Singapore have used both the land and air VTLs to enter Malaysia.

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