Build attitudes, not just sophisticated transportation

The Jakarta Post

Nothing short of visionary is how one would describe the master plan for Jakarta's integrated transportation system: the busway, the monorail, the subway, inner-city trains, river transportation and the regular bus routes as support.
Optimists say it is a matter of time. Pessimists scoff at it as a pipe dream.

In terms of technology and resources, this vision is more than plausible. Now that the Jakarta administration is an autonomous authority, it has the political weight to implement such a grandiose, but needed, project.

There is no question this metropolis requires a modern, efficient and environmentally friendly Mass Rapid Transport system.
Of the estimated 29.1 million people who commute into Jakarta daily, more than half use some form of public transportation.

Jakarta can no longer rely on the dysfunctional network of shabby public buses, pollution discharging mini buses and the tin-can-on-wheels mini vans that pack a dozen passengers into a single square meter.
If the rights of public bus passengers were high on the agenda of groups like Amnesty International, then an international tribunal would surely have been convened.

Passengers are treated worse than sardines as they are inhumanely crammed and driven on a route as smooth as the Paris-Dakar rally.
At least with the sardines the fish were dead.
No wonder people will go to any extreme to have their own vehicle.

There are now more than 6.5 million registered vehicles in the capital, about 23 percent of which are cars and 51 percent motorcycles.
Road capacity cannot keep pace with the demands of drivers. The total length of roads -- which stands at 7.6 million kilometers at present -- increases by 1 percent a year on average, while the average annual growth of the motor vehicle fleet in the city is 9 percent.
Though it may not be pleasing to car dealerships, many are hopeful the introduction of an MRT will lessen our dependence on private vehicles.

At present, the motto of Jakarta's transportation system seems to be "Unsafe, unhealthy, uncomfortable and impractical ... But it works."
There is no reason to think the vision cannot be realized and the motto altered to "Safe, comfy, reliable ... And it works even better."
But the construction of MRT infrastructure may not be the biggest challenge in making Jakarta's congested streets more user-friendly.

The deficiencies of the public transportation system certainly make life tough for commuters, but it is excessive selfishness and overbearing thoughtlessness that make Jakarta's roads a pain to navigate in the first place.
Judging by the traffic, any laymen might conclude that half the problems on the road are caused by indisciplined bus, car and motorcycle drivers.

The introduction of an MRT will not rectify embedded recalcitrance.
Buses stop wherever and whenever they please. Bus stops -- when there is one -- are nothing but shelters for cigarette kiosks.
Motorcyclists do not know how to use their breaks. Car drivers' personal margin for error is seized upon by motorcyclists as an opportunity to overtake at all costs.
Motorcyclists are comforted by the proverbial law of the streets: The driver of a car that hits a motorcycle is always at fault, irrespective of the motorcyclists' recklessness.
Car drivers aren't saints either. Many probably have never passed a driver's license exam.

This lack of decorum extends also to public transportation users. Buses become battlegrounds, with people elbowing their way in, even before the vehicle stops.
Passengers don't have the courtesy to wait for those trying to get off the bus before boarding.
It does not help either when passengers get irritated and start banging on the bus when it doesn't stop immediately when they want to get off.

The busway has been relatively successful in teaching passengers some manners, but even that requires dozens of guards, to make sure people stay in line.
It seems that just about everybody needs reeducation in basic manners and etiquette in public and on the roads, starting with our young.
Police should not only reinforce traffic regulations but promote road safety, from high school level if necessary.
Just because someone knows how to turn the ignition key to the "on" position and step on the brakes does not mean they should be allowed on the road.

Finally, we should also seek to recalibrate our approach to life. Often cars are used for the express purpose of showing off, rather than transportation.
It has gotten to the point that people are so accustomed to air conditioning, they refuse to expose themselves to the elements for more than five minutes.
Just look at hotel or mall parking lots and see how drivers are ready to spend countless minutes going round and round near a lobby entrance waiting for an open parking spot rather than walking an additional 20 meters to where a free one is available.

Even with the MRT infrastructure in place, without a change in attitude, the vision of a bustling yet orderly Jakarta will remain a pipe dream.

-- Meidyatama Suryodiningrat

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