Jakarta’s gridlock situation on the road to nowhere

Jakarta’s gridlock situation on the road to nowhere
Jakarta’s gridlock largely stems from the difference in growth rates of the road network and vehicles. Roads are growing by only about 0.01 per cent yearly while vehicle use is increasing by 11 per cent. Photo: Reuters
Indonesian capital ranked one of world’s worst cities for traffic jams, and no end seems in sight
Published: 4:00 AM, December 15, 2016
Updated: 4:41 PM, December 15, 2016

SINGAPORE — On the day he was due to fly back to Singapore from Jakarta, Mr Henrik Paulsson had catered for an extra two hours’ travel time to Soekarno–Hatta International Airport in view of the Indonesian capital’s infamous jams.

However, he was stuck in gridlock for three hours before the Singapore-based research analyst finally made it to the airport after a long crawl in the bumper-to-bumper jams of Jakarta.

Mr Paulsson’s experience is but one of the many tales of travellers who have been bogged down in the notorious gridlock of Jakarta, rated by the Castrol-Magnatec Stop-Start Index last year as the worst among 78 major cities.

The average speed of a vehicle in the city of 10 million people is 8kmh. A trip that takes an hour at midnight can take between four and eight hours at other times of the day.

Transport experts TODAY spoke to all blame Jakarta’s gridlock on the fact that there are simply too many private vehicles in the city on a limited transportation network.

Dr Siwage Dharma Negara, the assistant coordinator of the Indonesia Studies programme at Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, told TODAY that Jakarta’s gridlock stems largely from the fact that the road network is growing at a rate far too slow compared with that for vehicles.

Roads in the city are growing by only about 0.01 per cent yearly while vehicle use is increasing by 11 per cent, Dr Juni Thamrin, the executive director of Indonesia’s Center for Public Policy Transformation, told TODAY in an email interview.

He added that there are currently about 6.5 million vehicles in the Indonesian capital, of which 6.4 million belong to individuals, with the rest used for public transport.

Dr Negara observed that this huge disparity comes about because Jakarta’s public transport system is known to be unreliable and this makes locals rely on private vehicles.

The problem is exacerbated by the inability of secondary roads to serve the main arterial network, observed Mr Joko Purwanto, a transport economist from Indonesia.

Mr Purwanto, who is with the Belgian research company, Transport & Mobility Leuven, added that in most cases on these roads, traffic capacity is reduced by such factors as ang kot and metromini (mini vans and mini buses, respectively, providing a public transport service) and other vehicles stopping illegally by the roadside.

Jakarta’s traffic woes have been endemic for decades and local authorities have tried unsuccessfully to deal with the problem.

For instance, there was the radical “three-in-one” scheme, where only cars with at least three occupants could access the central business district (CBD) during the morning and evening rush hours.

This initiative was a limited success and it was abolished earlier this year. In its place is the odd/even scheme where vehicles with odd-numbered plates are allowed on odd dates, with even plates on even dates. The jury is still out on this initiative.

Dr Negara said that the three-in-one policy was not a successful one due to its lack of enforcement.

The authorities turned a blind eye to “jockeys” — paid hitchhikers who helped motorists circumvent the three-in-one ruling. To compound matters, though the initiative alleviated congestion in the CBD to some extent, it created heavy congestion on the secondary roads.

Over the past few years, Jakarta residents have taken to app-based two-wheeled services to get around the city. The most dominant by far is Go-Jek, which is a play on the term ojek, for a motorbike taxi. It started in 2011 and now has 200,000 freelance drivers.

The Go-Jek app was launched last year and it achieved 11 million downloads in just over a year, with eight bookings a second.

It is so popular that it has evolved into offering beauty services, massages, food deliveries, cleaning, event booking and even a car-hailing app called Go-Car with cashless payments.

Its competitors include Uber, Grab and local taxi operators. The Go-Jek app launched in January last year, and the start-up has been valued at US$1.3 billion (S$1.85 billion) — officially becoming Indonesia’s first unicorn, or start-ups valued at over S$1 billion.

The green motorbikes and the green helmets of the motorbike drivers are a common sight in Jakarta.

Go-Jek has now sprung up in 10 cities: Jakarta, Denpasar, Bandung, Semarang, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Medan, Makassar, Balikpapan and Palembang. Indonesians now use the phrase “Let’s Go-Jek it” when they want something delivered.

For those who want an alternative to sitting hours in gridlock, limousine rides in helicopters are another option.

Executives of the Lippo Group, a conglomerate, fly to meetings in six aircraft owned by the company. There are 60 helipads in the city, but only eight are legal, and these eight are mostly owned by the Lippo Group.

These helicopters can whisk an executive to a meeting in the centre of the city within 12 minutes, compared with the two hours otherwise needed.

With a ride costing US$1,500, it is a ride only for the super-rich or the very influential, such as political leaders scurrying between meetings.

Would the much talked-about US$1.7 billion mass rapid transit (MRT) system then be the answer to Jakarta’s traffic woes?

Jakarta is the largest South-east Asian metro city without a subway network and the new metro is expected to reduce vehicles in Jakarta by 25,500 per day.

The MRT initiative was first proposed during the 1990s, but delays caused by such factors as the 1997/98 Asian Financial Crisis meant that work began on it only last year.

The first section of the MRT system, comprising 13 stations, is slated to be operational by 2018, while the second section, with eight stations, will not be ready until 2020.

Dr Negara told TODAY that the subway network is not a panacea as it would cover only a relatively small area of Jakarta. He added that local authorities still need to first address the issue of ever-increasing numbers of vehicles on the road.

Ultimately, both Dr Negara and Dr Charlotte Armanda Setijadi, a visiting research fellow at Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, said that the MRT system will not stop people from wanting to own a vehicle as it is considered a symbol of wealth and prestige amongst Indonesians.

Another factor is the mindset of Jakarta residents, who have scant respect for traffic laws.

As Dr Negara put it: “The people need to respect the law. They still think that laws are there for them to break since the authorities can be bribed.

“People often only care about their own interests. They only want to go to work faster, sooner, and in a more comfortable manner.”