Public transportation in Jakarta

The Jakarta Post

J. Scott Younger OBE, Jakarta

Much has been written and many comments made with respect to public transportation provision in Jakarta, with everything from the busway, MRT, feeder services and monorail being included in the debate. The fact is that every major developing city in the world has had or is suffering serious traffic congestion as the urban population grows and the disposable income of the people increases, fueling their desire to own their own form of transport.

Jakarta is no exception and is not helped by the growing satellite developments which make up the Jabodetabek metropolis. Jakarta lacks transportation infrastructure in all its forms and it is worth looking at those which would have the greatest impact in the short to medium-term in helping to alleviate the congestion problem before we all come to a grinding halt.

Probably the most significant aspect which leads to traffic congestion in Jakarta is the simple fact that insufficient land area is given up to roads. In general, a city of the size and vehicle population of Jakarta should have at least 15 percent of its land area allocated to road systems; in Jakarta the figure is not much more than half of this.

Exacerbating the problem is too much traffic coming through the center of the city that has no business in the city. For example, trucks carrying goods from east to west or vice versa must come through the center of Jakarta due to the fact that the Jakarta Outer Ring Road, JORR, has never been completed.

Of course, we do not have the benefit of being able to start from a clean sheet of paper and design a transport efficient city, so we have to recognize the limitations and plan accordingly, something that faces most large conurbations. To do nothing is unacceptable. What is important, however, is that whatever we do must be to add capacity to the network, not erode it.

To put it simply, the busway, while being a boon, particularly for office commuters, reduces road capacity, as currently conceived, whereas the monorail adds to it. In addition, the monorail is environmentally friendly and does not add pollution to the third ranked most polluted city in the world.

I lived for many years in Bangkok, an equally polluted and then more congested city, before the city government embarked on tackling the infrastructure needs of the city, a mixture of all the things that Jakarta is aspiring to. A significant private sector promoted element of the new infrastructure is the elevated rail system there, now heavily used daily by the citizens of the city.

It should be remembered that the route the monorail will take on both the Green Line around the Central Business District (CBD) and the Blue Line feeding into the CBD was chosen after much study and research by both independent international consultants and the Jakarta administration. It took nearly two years to study and finalize the routing resulting in a solution which is aimed at maximizing the benefit to the traveling public.

This routing coupled with adequate feeder bus services and related facilities at the terminals will bring real encouragement for people not to bring their cars into the city center. In fact, the monorail routing has been integrated, wherever possible, with other operational or planned public transport systems such as busways, the urban rail system and the planned north-south MRT system. Where the monorail interfaces with these other systems, the monorail stations will provide mode transfer facilities.

It is also worth reminding ourselves that the proposed Blue and Green lines represent only Phase 1. Phases 2 and 3 will link in Tangerang in the west and Bekasi in the east. These two cities alone contribute over one million road commuters a day into Jakarta.

There has also been much comment on the technology to be utilized for the monorail project. The Koreans may very well have offered their Maglev technology with some sort of financing package attached, but it must be remembered that Maglev technology has never been used in the world before on the scale planned for Jakarta. Maglev technology has proved itself on high speed point-to-point systems such as we see in Shanghai but there are no examples on low speed urban systems.

For a Mass Rapid Transport System, Maglev would have represented a pilot project for its proponents, Rotem. Should Jakarta have allowed itself to be used as a pilot project to help solve one of its most important infrastructure development needs? I think not.

The technology is simply unsuitable for the routing and it would be sheer stupidity to change the routing to suit the technology. It must be the routing that determines the best and most suitable technology. This is precisely why PT Jakarta Monorail and the Jakarta administration rejected Rotem in favor of the conventional, well tried and tested Straddle Type Monorail technology supported by Siemens through the local consortium now in place to build the project.

It should also be remembered that the agreement between PT Jakarta Monorail and the Jakarta administration to develop, build and operate the project was signed over two years ago.

During the past two years the small but dedicated team in Jakarta Monorail have worked hard to ensure that the project will be built in the most cost effective manner. The construction work we have all seen along Jl. Asia Afrika and Jl. Rasuna Said has been carried out through contracts which have been well scrutinized by international consultants to ensure their competitiveness.

The Project Director brought in to coordinate the construction work has vast experience and was previously the Engineering Project Director on the Channel Tunnel in the UK as well as other major rail projects in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia. All this has been achieved through local private investment, a testament to local commitment in making a positive difference to the needs of Jakarta's transport infrastructure needs.

Most new public transport systems around the world struggle to make money in the early years, which is why they lend themselves to some form of short-term government support for initial operations. The support the Jakarta Monorail is obtaining from the central as well as city government is modest to say the least, clearly demonstrating the management's confidence that the project will be a success.

What is much more important is the message this support gives to investors, whether foreign or domestic. It shows that this government is serious about infrastructure development. The Jakarta Monorail will be the most significant infrastructure development since the economic crisis of the late 1990s. The timing could not be better with the forthcoming Second Infrastructure Summit scheduled for early November.

The government should hail this project as a major success in evaluating the risks, working together with the private sector and lending its support in a way which will benefit the people of Jakarta. When this government came to power it immediately recognized the need to do something different to accelerate the development of infrastructure. Much is going on but this project represents the first major milestone in a way that is so visible to the world at large.

For too long the government has been seen as being indecisive. There have been calls for the project to be audited or re-tendered. If this were to happen the investor community would throw their arms up in despair, 'not again' they would say. 'When is this government going to build something rather than just talk about it', they would add.

It should be remembered that Indonesia is not the only developing country which needs private sector investment. India and China, with huge investment appetites, are very attractive destinations for private investors. It is time for Indonesia to put itself on the map and the Jakarta Monorail is a significant milestone in doing that.

The writer has undertaken many projects in infrastructure in many Asian countries, and contributed to many discussions and forums concerned with infrastructure development, latterly with a focus on Indonesia.
He is President Commissioner of project developers PT Glendale Partners and of PT Nusantara Infrastructure Tbk.
He can be reached at scott.younger@glendalepartners.com

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