Affordable bus fares

The opening of new busway routes in Jakarta indicates that the system, established in 2004, has received a positive response from the public. Since its establishment, the busway, the seed for an envisioned comprehensive Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, has grown to include three routes. The first is from Blok M (South Jakarta) to Kota (downtown); the second from Pulo Gadung (East Jakarta) to Harmoni (downtown); and the third from Harmoni to Kalideres (West Jakarta). Several more routes are in the construction phase.

With its fleet of TransJakarta buses, the busway has enjoyed growing popularity among residents. While there has not been any thorough research done on the subject, it is generally accepted that more and more people are leaving their cars at home and taking TransJakarta buses to the office.

Several new busway corridors will open this year. These new routes will connect Pulo Gadung and Hotel Indonesia; Kampung Melayu (East Jakarta) and Ancol (North Jakarta); Ragunan Zoo (South Jakarta) and Kuningan; and Kampung Rambutan (East Jakarta) and Kampung Melayu, also in East Jakarta.

However, as the city administration opens new routes it will have to spend more money subsidizing the busway's operations.

Once the new corridors are launched this year the administration will have to allocate Rp 382 billion to subsidize busway services. However, the administration appears to be rethinking the decision to so heavily subsidize the system. This despite the fact that the busway is part of the public transportation system, which in other countries are subsidized by the government because these countries recognize it is their duty to provide safe and reliable public transportation for citizens.

With a one-way ticket on the busway costing Rp 3,500 per person, the city administration has spent about Rp 100 billion a year subsidizing the system since its introduction.

A passenger traveling on the busway from Blok M to Ratu Plaza pays Rp 3,500, the same price as a person taking the same bus from Blok M to its final stop in Kota. Those going from Pulo Gadung to Kalideres will pay Rp 7,000; Rp 3,500 for Pulo Gadung to Harmoni, and another Rp 3,500 for Harmoni to Kalideres.

The administration and the City Council have been working on a solution to curb the subsidy, and the tentative solution they seem to have arrived at is to increase the TransJakarta fare from Rp 3,500 to Rp 5,000 per trip.

By increasing the fare the subsidy is expected to drop to Rp 100 billion, according to the chairman of the council's transportation commission, Sayogo Hendrosubroto.

This solution sounds reasonable in terms of keeping the subsidy down. But in terms of keeping the busway fare affordable for the majority of people, the planned fare hike needs to be reconsidered. The busway was designed to become the embryo for a comprehensive MRT system, with the understanding that the system should be able to transport as many as people as possible as quickly as possible.

If the number of passengers falls due to rising fares, the objective of the Mass Rapid Transit system cannot be achieved. The system will be rapid but will lose the mass aspect by pricing too many people out of the system.

If the busway fare is raised to Rp 5,000 per trip, a person traveling from Pulo Gadung to Kalideres would have to spend Rp 20,000 for a round trip, which would work out to Rp 400,000 a month if the trip was taken five days a week.

This will discourage people from taking TransJakarta busses and encourage them to buy motorcycles on installment plans, meaning the busway will have failed in its goal.

There must be some other solution. The busway fare must be affordable, but at the same time the city administration should not have to spend so much subsidizing the system.

Changing the ticketing system could be one alternative. People traveling to Ratu Plaza from Blok M should not have to purchase a full-price ticket to Kota. A ticketing system similar to ones used in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore should be considered. In these cities, passengers pay different amounts depending on the distance they are traveling. Such a system could be more acceptable to both passengers and the city administration.

However, such a ticketing system would probably require more of an investment, but the results would justify the expense.

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