The Busway's pebble

The Jakarta Post | It is obviously unfair to judge whether the busway scheme has been successful in saving the capital's public transportation system from greater madness, as it is only eight days old.

However, no one can turn a deaf ear to complaints that the new system is already having problems, despite the public's enthusiasm in enjoying their free rides from Blok M to downtown Kota until Feb. 1, when passengers will be charged Rp 2,500 one-way.

Ordinary motorists and Busway drivers must be extra careful, as there are several points where their paths cross. The situation could become worse if every driver thinks he has a right to race on the roads.

Many newspapers have been critical of the development of the busway system. Only one day after its kickoff, several buses were in trouble: Some had trouble with their automatic doors, others suffered engine problems.

The feeder bus services also posed a problem, as the city administration had yet to make available feeder lines for those living in Ciledug, Lebak Bulus and other parts in southern Jakarta wanting to take the TransJakarta to Kota.

One bus was damaged after hitting an old overhead railroad bridge in Jatinegara, East Jakarta, when the driver tried to skip the established route because he had no money for the toll. The driver said the operator had failed to give him money for the toll and he had no spare money of his own.

While elation among city officials over the successful Jan. 15 launch of the Busway remains palpable, drivers have emerged the main problem in its service.

Wise men say that dealing with people is always complicated. And city officials, trapped as they are in their determination that the dream must become reality, have apparently forgotten that drivers can be a liability to the success of the system.

Five drivers have already been fired for turning up late and for their involvement in accidents, despite their brief training and courses in discipline and driving ethics.

Smart uniforms and a Rp 2 million monthly salary are not enticing enough for several drivers, who had enjoyed take-home pays of between Rp 2.5 million and Rp 2.7 million per month from their previous jobs at regular bus companies.

No wonder several drivers have protested the salary.

The drivers' lack of punctuality has also emerged as a serious problem. A few days ago, 15 drivers decided to go home after the next shift failed to show up on time.

The disgruntled drivers, who had stayed up from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. without a break, said they could no longer tolerate their fellow drivers' failure to show up for work on time. They became even more disappointed after they failed to find anybody from the city transportation agency or the busway operator who could settle such "trivial" problems.

"We need time to eat. It is difficult for us to find even a few spare minutes to relieve ourselves. If such a situation is not properly handled, there is the possibility that we drivers will go on strike," a local paper quoted a driver.

On Thursday, dozens of TransJakarta buses were stuck in a jam after one bus stalled in the corridor. Officials blamed the driver for shifting gears incorrectly.

Looking for new drivers is not difficult in Jakarta, as most job seekers can drive. So it is understandable that Governor Sutiyoso will soon recruit new drivers to replace those leaving. But this also shows that the administration was unprepared in anticipating such driver-related matters.

For Sutiyoso personally, the Jan. 15 launch of the Busway could be politically prestigious, although it cannot get him reelected for a third term -- the maximum allowed by law is two.

City officials, especially Sutiyoso, were determined to realize the Busway -- amid strong public criticism -- merely to prove that they could provide Jakartans with better public transportation -- an effort that obviously deserves a thumbs-up.

However, from the start, the administration's methods in pushing the busway plan triggered much criticism and complaints.

Now that the Busway is running, however, all we can do is wait and see if the administration can maintain what it has achieved.

Given the drivers' complaints and the series of accidents that have occurred, the administration would be well advised to undertake some introspection about whether or not it did the right things before launching the Busway.

Worried about the possibility of bigger problems to come, such as public protests, the administration has deployed hundreds of security officers, including policemen, to guard the 12.9-kilometer Busway route. But the officials' fears has made them miss the problem that has emerged from the inside: The drivers.

City officials should have paid attention to an old Chinese saying: People stumble over a pebble, not over a mountain.

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