Indonesia Expat
Observations

Burnin’ Rubber Time

Transjakarta

Jakarta isn’t looking so hot at the moment, what with streets being torn up left, right and centre in a bid to ease its transportation woes.

A friend of mine recently remarked that, “Jakarta could well be a nice city when it’s finished,” to which I replied, “Oh, it’s finished all right.” The citywide building site that currently sprawls out unpleasantly across the city’s banjaxed boulevards like the sagging crack of a bricklayer’s jeans certainly ain’t pretty.

Either, like my chum, you believe that the current inconvenience and ugliness is worth putting up with in order to bring about a shining, utopian, Singapore-esque future (although I believe my friend may have been employing the lowest form of wit in his initial thesis). Or, like me, you feel that all is vanity and that the multifarious flyovers, subway systems and smooth new concrete abutments currently being tamped into place will amount to nought and ultimately prove as futile as the abandoned monorail pillars that still stud Jl. H.R Rasuna Said, a truly fitting monument to graft and general incompetence.

Looking on the bright side however, the country’s crumbling infrastructure is being taken very seriously by the political movers and shakers that matter. For example, only last week it was reported that former model and legislator, Arzetty Bilbina Setyawan from the PKB party and a Lt. Col. Rizky Indra Wijaya from Sidoarjo Military Command were discovered together in a hotel room rapping about vital infrastructure issues of the day. When questioned, Lt. Col. Rizky insisted that the pair were discussing donations for a mosque that he was planning to build. Possibly he was attempting to show Mrs. Arzetty some preliminary etchings of the house of worship in question when the pair was rudely interrupted by a phalanx of architecturally illiterate arbiters of public morality, but who knows?

Jakarta's New MRT Subway System
Jakarta’s New MRT Subway System

Back to the matter in hand, though, and the city’s new MRT subway system, which is currently under construction. You may have to wait a while until you can enjoy a subterranean train ride, although artists’ impressions of what the stations will eventually look like can be viewed on the MRT hoardings that mask workmen smoking cigarettes and accidentally spearing their pneumatic drills into water mains behind them.

The pictures are indeed impressive: all brilliant white, sterile station concourses; smiling, well-dressed passengers; and flat-screen technology. Seductive imagery for sure then that portends a Batavian future in which the city isn’t subsiding, sea levels aren’t rising and any subway tunnels that eventually open will thus not be filled with the valedictory scent of ocean spray and mackerel trawlers.

Sceptical I may be, but I’d sure like to ride on one of those babies, which represents a yawning gulf of an advance over the traditional, orange Metro Mini tin cans on wheels almost as wide as that which exists between a space shuttle and a horse and cart. Time will tell, although with an estimated 4 million souls making their way to and from the city centre each day in search of an honest crust, things could get awfully sweaty down in the 13 stations that will eventually comprise the MRT system’s first line, as it runs between Hotel Indonesia and Lebak Bulus in South Jakarta.

Some ¥50 billion has already been shovelled into the gaping maw of Jakarta’s terra firma. Let’s hope that it actually results in trains as opposed to BMWs. God knows that the capital could use a subway system, as it remains the largest city in the world in terms of population not to have one.

Jakarta’s public transportation system currently encompasses a dizzying array of bemos, mikrolets, Metro Minis, Kopajas, Transjakarta buses, taxis, ojek and an already existing overground commuter railway. Alas, the fact remains that a mere 56 percent of trips are made via these variously wheeled beasties. This is a very low public-transport tally for the kind of modern, low-calorie, Wi-Fi friendly urban conurbation that Jakarta aspires to be (sadly deluded fantasist that it is).

Even worse is the fact that the annual growth rate in the number of motor vehicles dawdling along in the rush-hour traffic at an average speed of around 7km/h is a staggering 9.5 percent. This doesn’t stack up particularly well against a 0.01 percent increase in the capital’s total road length in recent years.

The Transjakarta busway, now a decade old, was always a half-hearted, investment-light solution to the city’s transportation woes. It was never going to be up to the job, given that its exclusive lanes were carved off existing roads. Indeed the system is looking increasingly ragged these days and many of the buses are so poorly maintained that they seem to be held together by Sellotape and glue, and, moreover, also appear to be bursting into flames with alarming frequency.

Meanwhile, the busway lanes are often encroached upon by Jakarta’s private cars and motorcycle drivers, who generally exhibit all of the public-spirited discipline and self restraint of a laboratory rat repeatedly pushing a lever that delivers an electrical jolt straight to the pleasure centre of its meagre brain. Indeed, I fielded a lovely text message last week from a fellow scribbler, which read: “What is the [Anglo-Saxon swearword]-ing point of a [Anglo-Saxon swearword]-ing busway Lane if it’s crammed with private cars? Even opposite POLDA! [The city’s police headquarters]. Sledgehammer and gun approach required as shock therapy when cops can’t do [slang word for faecal matter].”

I should confess here, however, that I have myself sinned, Father. Indeed, my own office commute between Mampang and the top end of Jl. H.R Rasuna Said involves a spirited bicycle ride at full pelt along the busway lane. In my defence, your honour, I would like to state before the court of public opinion that I do not hold up any buses, as I can actually steam along faster than they do, as I don’t have to stop at the Busway shelters in order to pick up passengers. Although I did try this once, just to amuse myself (oh, I get so bored). Alas nobody fancied a go on my crossbar. Story of my life really.

I can now do this trip in 15 minutes on a good day’s Lance Armstrong-ing along the city’s thoroughfares. This is faster than by motorcycle, as the cops, very obliging to big-nosed whiteys on pushbikes, are more likely to put you in an iron coffin with spikes on the inside if they catch you on the hallowed busway asphalt on a Honda.

Anyway, good luck out there folks, and do check in next time when I’ll be taking a look at the city’s new app-based transportation services.

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