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Big City Transit: Jakarta

Just so we’re clear: Jakarta has a traffic problem. The city’s official tourism portal tactfully points out that congestion is a problem “despite the presence of many wide roads”. That’s one way of putting it, and here’s another – there’s plenty to enjoy in this energizing metropolis; but getting around isn’t one of them.

Jakarta is the biggest city in the world without a mass rapid transit system. Construction is underway, but relief is a long way off. Meanwhile, car ownership in the capital grows 10 to 15 percent each year. Analysts are even counting down to an impending ‘total gridlock’ apocalypse, where traffic becomes so bad that it begins to affect the efficiency of the city’s workforce and the economic output thereof. It sounds sensational, but total gridlock is no joke, and it’s a very hot topic in Jakarta.

Fixing the transit system is going to be expensive, though it may be cheaper than leaving it alone. If you tally up the fuel wasted, hours lost and expense of treating all of those exhaust-induced ailments, Jakarta’s traffic is costing the city US$1.8 billion per year, with a ‘b’.

But it’s all not all bad news. Many hotels in Jakarta are located within walking distance of key shopping, dining and entertainment districts. And when the heat and humidity are high, tucking into an air-conditioned bus or taxi is a welcome relief.

Before you dive into the gridlock, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with Jakarta’s transit system, limited though it is:

Rail: Plans to build an MRT in Jakarta have been on the table for more than two decades. What appeared to be a serious effort to build one began in 2004. However, progress quickly went the way of local traffic and ground to a halt. Just a few years later, the Economist published an article reminding everyone about the ‘total gridlock’ predictions for 2014, and the alarms hit a fever pitch. Construction picked up again, and a soft (some might say, symbolic) launch of the MRT’s first phase went live in 2013.

If corruption and bureaucracy stay in check, phase I may be fully operational (or close to it) by 2016. Add another two years for phase II, and there’s certainly hope on the horizon – albeit with the dark clouds of total gridlock looming overhead. In any event, commuters’ white-knuckled frustrations will continue through the next couple years. And even that sounds optimistic…

Buses: The closest thing that Jakarta has to mass transit is the TransJakarta service, which operates on dedicated busway corridors connecting several of the city’s key areas. These buses are inexpensive, air-conditioned and less crowded than the regular buses that plod the main traffic arteries.

Here’s how it works: pay a flat fare to enter the cordoned-off bus stop area. Once you’ve made it this far, you can ride and transfer to your heart’s content. Leave any of the bus shelters, and you’ll have to pay to get back in. TransJakarta is probably the best option for getting around Jakarta, but that doesn’t mean it’s convenient or all that easy to understand. Getting the most out of this system requires practice.

The regular city buses are also an option, but are often hot, crowded, and subject to the whim of traffic movement, which, as we’ve discovered, is minimal. This is where pickpockets often operate as well, so it’s best to avoid these if you can.

Taxis: Most tourists prefer to use taxis and suffer through the traffic jams if they must. At least your driver knows where he’s going, and the fares are calculated by the kilometer rather than by the minute. Tipping is expected, though not technically required. Locals usually round up to the nearest thousand-rupiah note, about USD $0.10. Charges for toll roads and parking are paid by the passenger.

Blue Bird Group operates the most dependable taxi service. The company serves more than 8.5 million passengers per month, and you can reserve a cab online with a Blue Bird smart phone app. The service is so well-regarded that more than a few rogue taxi drivers have painted Blue Bird’s logo on their cars to try to pass their service off as the genuine article. Consult the company’s website for tips on distinguishing real Blue Bird taxis from dodgy copycats.

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Reader Comments (1)

Jakarta try to get the solution for this Traffic jam, they start to build Monorail this year, better bus system, hoping they have underground train as a commuter soon.
October 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteraiem

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