Toward better transportation

The Jakarta Post

When first introduced to Jakarta two years ago the busway drew skepticism, to say the least, as residents and observers questioned Governor Sutiyoso's determination to import the system from Bogota, Colombia.

This skepticism was understandable from residents tired of top-down policies that were usually politicized. The busway was also new to Jakartans, and construction on the system took up existing roadways and resulted in many trees being cut down.

Environmentalists protested, and some non-governmental organizations raised concern about the possibility of corruption among officials in charge of the project. In the initial weeks after the first busway corridor opened, it added to congestion along parts of the route.

It seemed unlikely the busway would ever win many fans in the capital, or prove itself capable of helping to straighten out the city's messy traffic.

Slowly though, the busway, which is meant to encourage commuters to leave their cars at home, has showed its worth.

Despite a lack of feeder services for most of the city, more and more car owners have abandoned their vehicles for TransJakarta buses. Many people who live in Bintaro, South Jakarta, and work in or near Kota, for example, are using one of the few feeder services available to get to the Ratu Plaza stop on Jl. Sudirman, where they take the busway to their offices.

As the original busway corridor was coming into its own, Sutiyoso announced two more corridors would be opened. Again there were protests as more trees were felled to make way for the corridors, and as construction tied up traffic.

Never one to be dissuaded, Sutiyoso officially opened the two new corridors -- from Pulogadung in East Jakarta to Harmoni in Central Jakarta, and from Harmoni to Kalideres in West Jakarta -- last Sunday.

Nobody argues that Jakarta traffic has grown more and more chaotic by the day. And more and more vehicles join the fray daily. Despite higher taxes to discourage the ownership of private vehicles, people continue to buy cars. This can be taken as a pretty good indication of what most people think about the public transportation options available in the city.

More than three million cars hit the streets of Jakarta each day, and that number grows by about 7 percent each year. Add to that the swarms of motorcycles that seem to be everywhere in the capital, which is already home to almost five million of these vehicles, a figure that grows by about 15 percent annually.

The Japanese International Cooperation Agency predicted in a 2004 study that by 2020 motorists in Jakarta would be traveling at an average speed of 10 kilometers per hour.

The only answer to the capital's traffic woes is a mass rapid transit (MRT) system. However, this city of some 12 million people has not taken a single step of any note toward creating such a system. In the absence of an MRT, the busway seems to be the best public transportation option for Jakartans.

To increase the effectiveness of the busway and encourage more people to get out of their cars, several new traffic policies are being considered. These include raising parking fees and imposing a toll on all cars entering the capital's main traffic arteries, including Jl. Sudirman and Jl. Thamrin.

Hiring women drivers, who wear black blazers when on duty, is also a way to convey the message to passengers that the busway is safer and "more humane" than other city buses, with their drivers speeding through traffic and ignoring pretty much every traffic rule on the books.

As predicted by Sutiyoso, in the first few days of operation of the two new busway corridors, the TransJakarta buses have created traffic problems at spots along the routes. Clearly, some adjustment is called for among the busway drivers and other drivers along the routes.

The ongoing construction of the Harmoni central busway stop is also creating serious traffic problems.

But for only Rp 3,500 a passenger can, for example, travel from Harmoni to Kalideres in less than an hour, a trip that would take at least 90 minutes in a car or regular public bus because of the traffic.

Once the shortcomings of the busway system are dealt with and more feeder services are available, part of the city's ground transportation problems will have been addressed.

But the city administration cannot force people to leave their cars at home and take the busway. Better services, better safety and improved punctuality are major factors that will determine whether people take the TransJakarta buses. So, with an MRT system still far, far away, it is essential the busway system be made a reliable mode of transportation..

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