Strong demand for Singapore-Malaysia bus tickets after land VTL quota raised

Transtar Travel said 10,000 tickets were snapped up within two hours after it released additional tickets for trips between March 14 and March 31, 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The release of additional bus tickets on Friday (March 11) for vaccinated people to travel over land between Singapore and Malaysia without quarantine was met with strong demand, though it appeared to be less fervent than previous sales.

At 10am on Friday, Singapore bus operator Transtar Travel released additional tickets for bus trips between March 14 and March 31. Within two hours, 10,000 tickets were snapped up, said its managing director, Mr Elson Yap.

This is more than half of the 19,000 tickets that were up for grabs, he said.

The additional tickets were released after it was announced on Thursday that the daily quota for land crossings under the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) between Singapore and Malaysia will be raised from 4,320 to 6,840 from next Monday (March 14).

Under the current arrangement, people crossing the Causeway under the VTL must travel using designated buses. Only two operators have been approved to run these trips - Singapore's Transtar Travel and Malaysia's Causeway Link.

On Thursday, Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry said the increased land VTL quota is equivalent to 76 bus trips in each direction.

To cater to this, both bus operators have added more buses and hired more drivers.

Mr Yap said after the initial rush on Friday, ticket sales slowed down in the afternoon, partly due to the release of additional tickets by Causeway Link at noon for travel between March 14 and April 10.

Visitors to Transtar Travel's website had to join a virtual queue in the morning due to a high volume of user traffic, but when The Straits Times visited the website again at about 1.30pm, there was no longer a need to queue.

Causeway Link said that as at 3pm, its additional bus trips from Johor Baru to Singapore were sold out on 11 dates, while additional trips from Singapore to Johor Baru were sold out on four dates. This equates to about 9,500 tickets.

Most of the sold-out dates were in April or towards the end of this month.

Similarly, according to an availability report on Transtar Travel's website, most of its tickets yet to be sold as at 5pm were for travel between March 14 and 17.

Asked about this, Mr Yap said many Malaysians are returning home at the end of the month for the upcoming Qing Ming Festival, which falls on April 5 this year.

With the March school holidays starting next week, Mr Yap was confident that tickets for VTL bus trips between March 14 and March 21 will also sell out in no time.

Ms Joey Tong, 40, a Singapore permanent resident from Malaysia, said she had a much easier time buying a VTL bus ticket to Singapore for her older brother on Friday compared to last month, when she bought a ticket for herself to return to Singapore.

It took her just a few minutes and two tries on Friday to get a Causeway Link ticket from Johor Baru to Singapore, instead of the multiple failed attempts and hours of waiting she had to endure before.

"With the release of lots of tickets, it is getting better," she told ST.

The big question mark is how Malaysia's unilateral decision to reopen its borders for vaccinated travellers to enter the country without quarantine from April 1 will impact the VTL arrangement.

Causeway Link had earlier told Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao that it chose to release only a month's worth of additional tickets in case Malaysia or Singapore make any new announcements.

Transtar Travel declined to comment on this issue.

During a press conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 on Friday, Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong said the authorities are looking at allowing more traffic to cross the Causeway and operational details are being worked out between Singapore and Malaysia.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, about 415,000 people travelled across the Causeway and Tuas Second Link daily.

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