What has become of the Jakarta busway project?

The Jakarta Post

Azas Tigor Nainggolan, Coordinator Forum of Jakarta Residents (FAKTA), Jakarta, azastigor@yahoo.com

It has been quite a while since we last heard of the busway project, which the Jakarta provincial administration said would kick off late in 2003.

The last media report about the project was related to the additional budget of Rp 34 billion, that the Jakarta provincial administration submitted to the legislative assembly. Earlier, in late July 2003, the project attracted our attention when one of the technical assistants from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), John Earns, and a Brazilian expert in technical engineering, Paulo Custodio, came to Indonesia. Both were speakers in an introduction of the busway system sponsored by the privately-run Pelangi Foundation.

The two men expressed their optimism in the mass public transportation project by drawing comparisons with a project called Transmilenio in Bogota, Colombia (Kompas, July 31, 2003). Earns believed that the project in Jakarta, slated to be completed in 2007, would be successful because the city had broader streets than Bogota. Custodio said he believed that transportation problems in Jakarta resembled those prevailing in Bogota.

However, the comparison was very unfair and will only lower the reputation of city officials, including Governor Sutiyoso.

Maybe The Pelangi Foundation and the two foreign experts did not have the heart to be honest about the great differences between the two cities, in terms of social and political contexts, as well as the mentality of the city bureaucracy. Bogota is also three times larger than Jakarta.

Bogota's city center is as large as Bandung and neatly laid out in a European manner, unlike Jakarta, a city lacking an appropriate development plan. Bogota is populated by about seven million people, the unemployment rate between 16 and 18 percent. Jakarta, on the other hand, boasts a population of 10 million with scores of unemployed people living in poverty.

Another difference between Jakarta and Bogota lies in the circumstances of Jakarta's governor, and former Bogota mayor Enrique Penallosa (who began the Transmilenio program in 1988).

This program is continued by the new mayor, Antanas Mockus. Both Penallosa and Mockus come from educated circles. Penallosa was a directly elected mayor supported by 60 percent of Bogota residents. Like his predecessor, Mockus was also directly elected. But, in contrast, Sutiyoso was not directly elected; he was supported by 47 out of 85 members of the Jakarta legislative assembly.

As a guest in Bogota in early February 2003, I witnessed Mockus' popularity. Residents rushed to shake hands with him the moment he got out from his car. Even sidewalk vendors joined the jubilant flock of people wishing to shake his hand. Likewise, wherever Penallosa walked, motorists shouted and waved to him. A student told me that Penallosa and Mockus were the best mayors Bogota had ever had.

It would be difficult to see a similar relationship between Sutiyoso and the residents of Jakarta.

It is worth noting that Bogota has a 200-kilometer-long network of roads for pedestrians and motorcyclists. Both Penallosa and Mockus realized that corruption had long plagued the city bureaucracy. However, their Transmilenio program involved the residents of the city, in an indication that the mayoralty was ready for direct control. So, slowly but surely, it seems they are able to eliminate corruption from the bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, Sutiyoso is not prepared to involve the residents in such programs. That is why -- although there is evidence of corruption within the provincial bureaucracy of Jakarta -- legal proceedings have never taken place.

In the busway project, worth Rp 2.7 billion, the establishment of bus lanes and bus stops is not offered through an open bid. Irregularities are also suspected in the project's budget. Initially, the city administration requested Rp 86 billion to be allocated to the project in the 2003 Jakarta provincial budget; but asked for an additional Rp 34 billion for unclear reasons.

It is now September 2003, but we are yet to be informed which company will mark the roads and which will supply the buses. Also, the people are still in the dark when it comes to the transportation operators to manage the busway.

We fear the project officers will argue that -- given that time is running out for the project's commencement -- an open tender is unnecessary, and finally the city administration will simply appoint certain companies to carry out the project.

Judging by past experience, the city administration might inflate the budget and then authorize the appointed companies to purchase new buses. The bus supply is also vulnerable to wrongdoings. The original price of a bus -- around Rp 750 million -- may be marked up to Rp 800 million.

All this produces skepticism, particularly of the idea that the ambitious busway project will be a success in Jakarta.

The writer is also coordinator of Citizens' Coalition for Transportation in Jakarta.

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