Rush for VTL bus tickets: In Singapore, some Malaysians wishing to head home frustrated at long wait times, website crashes

With quarantine-free travel across the Causeway having been impossible for most travellers since March last year, many Malaysians living in Singapore rushed to book their tickets home  this morning. — Reuters pic
With quarantine-free travel across the Causeway having been impossible for most travellers since March last year, many Malaysians living in Singapore rushed to book their tickets home this morning. — Reuters pic

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SINGAPORE, Nov 25 — After almost two years of not seeing their families, Malaysians living here rushed today to book tickets on the designated buses that have been appointed to ply the land route on the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) between Singapore and Johor Baru, but many ended up disappointed as they faced long wait times and crashed websites.

Out of seven Malaysians whom TODAY spoke to who tried to book tickets home today, four failed to do so. 

Authorities announced yesterday that when the land border reopens on Monday, vaccinated travellers would be able to cross the Causeway and avoid quarantine by booking bus tickets from two appointed operators, Singapore’s Transtar Travel and Malaysia’s Handal Indah (also known as Causeway Link). 

For a start, each operator will make 16 trips from Malaysia to Singapore and 16 trips from Singapore to Malaysia daily and carry up to 45 passengers per trip.

The bus tickets went on sale from 8am today and passengers are required to buy their tickets at least three days before the departure date.

With quarantine-free travel across the Causeway having been impossible for most travellers since March last year, many Malaysians living in Singapore rushed to book their tickets home this morning.

But many, including aircraft engineer Sunil Kumar Mogannathas, ended up frustrated and disappointed.

“I have been waiting for so long to go back,” said the 40-year-old, who has not been home to Johor Baru since June last year.

“Since 8.10am I have been trying to buy the ticket. But the server for Transtar Travel is experiencing high user volume. Then I’ve been trying the Causeway Link website which shows that you need to take a queue number. Once it’s your turn, it will redirect you to the website but it’s showing a website crash,” he said.

One 40-year-old, an engineer who wanted to be known only as Kel and who has not met his wife and three young children since June last year, said he also tried to purchase a bus ticket but has “given up”.

“I started my attempt at about 8am on both bus operators’ websites, which said that I was in their waiting list with an estimated waiting time of more than one hour,” he said.

“I waited for more than one hour before both websites crashed due to errors. So much time was wasted and this whole experience made me feel that luck is the main factor here I was left with total disappointment and my hopes were crushed,” he said.

He is now considering applying for the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) instead.

Under the PCA, travellers entering Singapore must spend at least 90 days here for work before being eligible to return to Malaysia. They will also be subject to a seven-day stay-home notice upon returning to Singapore.

There is no requirement for the travellers to be fully vaccinated to travel via this route, unlike with the VTL.

Automotive technician M Andrew M Michael, 28, said that his morning was similarly frustrating, as he was kept in a waiting room on the two websites from 8am to 10.30am.

When he eventually managed to gain access to the booking system on one of the websites, “the site hung and auto refreshed”, and he was back at square one.

“There was one point where I saw that there were still available seats but I was not able to proceed to payment,” said Andrew, who has not returned home since Malaysia’s movement control order came into effect on March 18 last year. He, too, used to make the commute across the Causeway daily.

“I was supposed to apply for the PCA to go back home for this Christmas. Since they launched this VTL I thought I could go back without quarantine, but with this system I think I must apply for PCA after all,” he said.

TODAY has reached out to both Causeway Link and Transtar Travel for comment.

The lucky ones

Then there were the lucky ones.

Engineering technician Vinoth Maniam said the Transtar Travel website “suddenly loaded” after he had waited for 10 minutes.

Vinoth, who has not been back home for over a year, said that when he tried to load the website at 8am, it was very slow.

“But I managed to buy it in the end. After that, I’ve been trying to access the website again but until now their website is still down. I think I’m lucky,” he said.

A special needs educator who wanted to be known only as Yeo said that her queue number on the Causeway Link website was 1,416 at 7.42am.

“I read that the tickets were only available at 8am so I was surprised to see there was already a queue,” she said. She also had the Transtar Travel website open on her browser at the same time.

“We had no idea how long we needed to queue for, but by 8.20am, the Transtar Travel website said there were no more tickets for the next 30 days. That made me really frustrated,” said Yeo, a Malaysian citizen and Singapore PR who had been making the daily commute for over 20 years before Covid-19 hit.

At around 9am, she managed to get through to Causeway Link’s booking system, but the “whole system just crashed”.

She then entered the online queue again, but the server crashed again. Finally, at about 11am, her cousin who was helping her queue for the tickets too, managed to make the purchase.

“I was only lucky because my cousin helped me. I think her speed of wi-fi may have been extremely fast. She had fewer issues with the server. I tried three times but failed,” Yeo said. “I don’t understand how some can buy it easier than others. I wish there were more options available Nevertheless, I’m happy to go home,” she said.

Anneliese Ng, 28, was finally able to purchase a single ticket for her father at 1pm, after countless failed attempts on both websites since 8am.

Ng, who lives in Johor Baru, said that her father, an engineering director based in Singapore, had not been able to return home since March last year.

“At 8am, I successfully gained access to the websites to buy the ticket but there were many errors. But luckily at last, I managed to purchase a ticket from Causeway Link,” she said. — TODAY

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