Busway begins trial period

Preparations mount as busway begins trial period
Novan Iman Santosa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The city administration finally started the trial period of its long-awaited busway project, temporarily called TransJakarta, last Friday as two trial buses made the first public appearance of an expected fleet of 60 buses to ply the route linking Blok M in South Jakarta and Kota in West Jakarta.

But many questions remain as to whether the new public transportation system will be a success or will end up as another ill-fated white elephant.

Early signs of possible failure emerged as the City Transportation Agency was forced to postpone the busway trial period several times since last October.

Experts and activists say the repeated delays are signs that the agency does not have a solid concept but officials say that it was simply because they were trying to accommodate all inputs.

"We were made aware that there were so many loopholes in the initial design so we postponed the launch of the trial period," head of the agency's traffic engineering division, Udar Pristono, told reporters on the sidelines of the trial period launch at City Hall.

"This project is aimed at providing a reliable and convenient mode of transportation for residents from the middle and lower income groups so we must prepare it well."

Ordinary buses need some 120 minutes on the 12.9-kilometer Blok M-Kota route for a round trip while the busway will only need some 90 minutes as it would run along a dedicated lane.

"Not only will passengers enjoy faster travel, they will also find it more comfortable and convenient as the buses are air-conditioned and have a reliable headway of between one and a half minutes to five minutes.

"Such a short headway means that passengers will not have to wait too long if they miss the bus while at the same time increasing the busway capacity."

The fare is set at Rp 2,500 (28 U.S. cents) while current bus fares range from Rp 900 to Rp 3,500 depending on the bus type.

Pristono said that demand on the Blok M-Kota route was about 12,600 passengers per hour in one direction.

Currently the agency is testing two different buses to see which one is better suited for the project, the Japanese Hino and German Mercedes Benz.

The Hino bus has 31 seats and the Mercedes Benz has 30 seats. Both have a capacity of 55 standing passengers each.

The buses have doors on both sides to accommodate various situations along the route. It is planned that the shelters will be in the right-hand side of the bus from Blok M until Harmoni in West Jakarta. Entering Jl. Gajah Mada in West Jakarta, the buses will use the left-hand side doors.

There will be 21 stops along the route served by 39 shelters as there are several combined shelters to serve both directions.

Busway rapid transit (BRT) is a common, widely-applied system in Latin American cities such as Bogota, the capital city of Colombia; Curitiba, a city of Brazil; and Quito, the capital city of Equador.

Governor Sutiyoso is slated to visit Bogota to observe the TransMilenio busway system, which was started on Dec. 18, 2000, some time in March.

Agency officials had visited Bogota to learn the system and implement any possible principles here.

TransMilenio's official website www.transmilenio.gov.co reveals that the first phase includes three routes totaling some 41 kilometers constructed between 1998 and 2001.

There are three five-year stages until 2016 when the system is expected to reach all districts of Bogota encompassing 387.9 kilometers.

Pristono told The Jakarta Post that TransJakarta would have a total of 12 routes when it is fully operational.

"The second route will serve the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in Central Jakarta and Rawamangun in East Jakarta. We will study this route once the Blok M-Kota is running well," he said.

In contrast to TransMilenio's clear time frame, Pristono said he could not give a clear time frame for the project or how many kilometers of road were involved.

Further homework for city officials will be how to teach the residents to use this new system as people have to be taught to queue and buy tickets before entering the shelters.

`Busway not the solution to city traffic problem'

The Jakarta Post - After the postponement of its launch last October due to strong public criticism, the busway system started its trial run last Friday on the designated route from Blok M in South Jakarta to Kota in West Jakarta. However, the public said that the operation of at least 60 buses under the system, which is planned to begin later this year, would likely worsen the traffic. The Jakarta Post spoke with several city residents about their perceptions.

Jubaeri, 53, works as a conductor with a state-owned bus company in South Jakarta. He resides in Rangkasbitung, Banten, with his wife and five children:

I'm sure that the busway system is not the solution to the traffic problem in Jakarta. The size of the thoroughfares remain the same, while the number of vehicles, including public buses, continue to increase. So in what way would the busway alleviate traffic? It would make it even worse, I'm sure.

I have been making a living riding along the streets for 24 years, so I know the exact conditions of the roads. I think the high-ranking city officials are not smart enough to know the real condition.

I guess the busway is just an expensive project, prone to embezzlement and mark-ups.

If the city administration is serious about the traffic problems in Jakarta, it should not easily allow any imported buses into the city. We can see that many imported buses, including used ones, are already operating throughout the city.

In addition, the government should also issue a regulation stipulating that all vehicles of more than five years old to be transferred to other provinces, which are in dire need of public transportation. It will also boost equal development nationwide.

This means that old and worn-out public transportation would be removed from the city. I wonder why decrepit, 30-year-old buses are still allowed to operate on Jakarta streets?

The city administration should be strict in this respect. Start by banning the three-in-one traffic rule, which requires private cars to carry at least three passengers along Sudirman and Thamrin, as it failed to deal with the traffic congestion. Otherwise, the traffic problems will only get worse.

Ryan, 27, is a tattoo artist who works in Blok M, South Jakarta. He resides in Petukangan, South Jakarta, with his wife and three adopted children:

The busway system introduced by the city administration does not make any sense at all. I wonder why the government thinks that the busway could eliminate the traffic jams?

How could the city government intend to add more public buses? The additional buses will only make the traffic worse. Rather than wasting their time addressing the busway, why don't they try to shift the old public mini-buses to other regions in the country?

I think that many people in many regions outside Jakarta badly need public transportation. In my hometown in Yogyakarta, I have to wait for hours for public buses just for a short trip.

The government should also think over the other provinces' development, in which the lack of public transportation is a daily problem. Jakarta is not the only place that should be developed.

It would be better that the city administration improve the management of the existing public transportation in the city. The lack of discipline has severely crippled the traffic in general, I think.

Should the busway system become a reality, I assume that the number of criminals will also increase. Criminals might target busway passengers, who would very likely be from the middle- and high-income brackets.

Anyway, I'm pessimistic, as even educated people could do nothing to block the government's decision. How can I, as a poor person, change it?

Tono, 30, formerly a conductor on an intercity bus, has been unemployed for some time, and is still looking for a job. He resides in Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta:

I think Jakarta has a very complex traffic problem. Worse, it's almost impossible for the busway system to be implemented to overcome the problem, let alone to provide a solution to alleviate the congestion. It's impossible and a waste of the city budget.

Now, we can see that private cars and public transportation already fill up the designed route every day. With the busway system, it will be worse.

If the busway system is enforced, this means that the existing public transportation on those same routes must be reduced, which will, in turn, spark new social unrest and threaten security in the city.

Besides, I don't think that the well-off people in the city will be willing to not use their own private cars. They don't want to believe that they contribute to the traffic congestion by driving in their own cars, anyway.

-- Leo Wahyudi S.