Another busway corridor

The Jakarta Post

The Jakarta administration's decision to set up another busway corridor, from Pulo Gadung in East Jakarta to Kalideres in West Jakarta via Monas in Central Jakarta, has drawn various reactions.

Some people are of the view that the plan to construct the new busway route deserves support. Others, however, say that the problems with the existing route from Blok M to Kota should be dealt with first before expanding the system.

Those who support the idea -- the city officials among them -- believe that the busway system will help ease the traffic along those routes. The system is faster than any other means of public transport available at present, so the city needs more busway corridors, especially for routes that are severely congested, so they argue.

On the other hand, those who do not agree with the expansion of the system argue that the problems brought about by the existing busway infrastructure have yet to be dealt with properly.

The routes to and from Pulo Gadung and Kalideres are congested each day, and -- considering the Blok M - Kota experience -- the skeptics fear that the new busway corridor will cause new problems.

According to Bambang Susanto, the secretary-general of the Sustainable Transport Action Network for Asia-Pacific, there are several problems relating to safety and security, reliability and affordability of the transJakarta bus system that need to be assessed before more are built.

Security and punctuality are the most important factors that can persuade people to keep commuting on the new buses.

It is interesting to recall Governor Sutiyoso's remark that the busway would not solve the city's chaotic traffic jams. The governor has also said that the busway system would put the administration's reputation at stake.

But those among us who have lived in Jakarta since the 1970s will readily acknowledge that traffic was already chaotic even then. However, things have grown worse over the past couple of decades, in step with the rapidly increasing number of vehicles, a fact that neither the central government nor the Jakarta provincial administration seem to be able to contain.

The increases in population, which have led to the decrease of space available for the building of new roads, is another serious problem. Unfortunately, law enforcement has been very weak.

The phenomenal increase in the number of private cars in recent years could be seen as an accomplishment by the car retailers in their bid to fulfill the people's demand for independent and safe transportation. Prestige is another reason people prefer private cars.

Sutiyoso has acknowledged that the increased use of private cars is a reflection of the public's pressing need for a public transportation network that meets the minimal standards of cleanliness, comfort and safety.

In the meantime, while waiting for the most appropriate mode of public transportation to be put in place for the capital city's more than nine million people, the busway system can be considered a breakthrough.

Everybody agrees that Jakarta desperately needs a mass rapid transit system. Unfortunately, nobody seems to be able to determine what kind of system would be the most appropriate for Jakarta.

The city administration is facing many constraints, especially those of a financial or socio-cultural nature, and it does not have the money to do what needs to be done. Besides, it is not easy to find space for the construction of infrastructure such as is needed for a subway or an overhead monorail system.

But whatever people may say, it seems that the city administration is determined that the 33 kilometers of new busway corridors must begin construction next month and become operational by April 2005.

The expansion of the busway system reflects the administration's serious efforts to solve one aspect of Jakarta's traffic problems, but its record of tackling the core problems remains poor.

At least Rp 600 billion (about US$67.4 million) is needed for the new busway corridor project. That amount includes the purchase of 187 buses.

As it is a giant project involving a huge amount of money, transparence in the drawing up of business plans that involve the private sector is a must. To eliminate or, at the every least, reduce the possibility of malfeasance, open and fair bidding for the project is imperative.