SINGAPORE - Travellers booking bus tickets for quarantine-free land travel to Johor Baru were hit by long waits and technical issues on Thursday (Nov 25), the first day tickets went on sale.
Checks on the websites of 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 were created to deal with the high volume of traffic.
Both websites did not appear to be able to keep up with demand as some users reported issues accessing the booking system.
About 20 minutes after tickets were released, Singapore bus company Transtar Travel put up a notice on its website saying that 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 tickets portal when slots are available, with some netizens reporting that they were able to make bookings.
Giving an update on Thursday night, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) clarified that more than 90 per cent of Transtar tickets to Singapore were available as at 4pm. About 70 per cent of Transtar tickets to Malaysia could also be booked at that time.
In total, about 4,400 bus tickets across 30 days had been booked as at 4pm, MTI said. Of these, 75 per cent are from Singapore to Malaysia.
The queue in the virtual waiting room on the website of Malaysia bus company Handal Indah, also known as Causeway Link, extended to more than 10,000 people.
Some people, like Malaysian Tanapal Murugayah, 36, were booted out before they could enter the website or make payment.
At times, the website crashed, to their frustration.
As at 6.20pm, Mr Tanapal had yet to secure a ticket despite waiting on the Causeway Link website since tickets went on sale.
Persistence paid off for some Malaysians who wanted to make short trips home and had begun queueing at 8am.
Ms Anneliese Ng, 28, who lives in Johor Baru said she managed to book a ticket on the Causeway Link website at 1pm for her father, an engineering director based in Singapore, after waiting on both websites.
Since March last year, the online seller's father had been renting a room from a friend because he could not be away from Singapore indefinitely due to his job.
An IT specialist who wanted to be known as Mr Wong and his wife queued on seven separate browsers to get him home in time for Christmas.
At around 2.50pm, his booking finally went through.
Said the 36-year-old: "(I) wasn't hoping for much, as some of the members on the Facebook group Malaysia-Singapore Border Crossers had tried five or six times and still couldn't get to the payment page."
On Facebook, Handal Indah said that only tickets from next Monday to Dec 5 will be available for now.
A spokesman for the Malaysian bus service told ST that sales for the second batch of tickets are expected to open on Dec 3, subject to approval from the authorities.
As at 2pm, there were still 10,080 tickets left on the Malaysian bus company's website for the first batch, she said.
She added that her company has invested in a high-end server in anticipation of the high traffic but was unable to implement it in time.
"What we have now is an interim solution. Starting on Sunday (Nov 28), there will be a much better booking experience for passengers," she said.
From next Monday, Singapore and Malaysia will permit quarantine-free travel at the Woodlands land checkpoint using designated buses.
The authorities said on Wednesday that 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.