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Jakarta’s jockeys in demand as gridlock drives city to despair
Michael Bachelard, Jakarta
February 4, 2012
A ticket to ride for Jakarta’s congestion jockeys
Constant and worsening traffic jams in Indonesia’s capital city have helped establish a new industry for the poor.
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A YOUNG woman, carrying her infant son in a sling around her neck, stands in the shadows of a decaying concrete pylon, her hand extended in the hope that a passing motorist will pick her up.
Maya Sari, 23, and her one-year-old son Muhammad are ”jockeys”. Jakarta motorists pay to carry them in peak-hour traffic because, to legally travel on the city’s best roads, cars need three occupants. Babies count, and they cost less to hire than an adult, so on feeder roads all over the city, women with their children stand touting for business. One ride with them costs the driver about 20,000 rupiah, or $2.15.
As Jakarta’s population grows wealthier, 565 new cars and 3006 new motorbikes use its roads every day. According to one official report, this city with a daytime population of 11 million is nine years away from gridlock. When it rains and the roads flood, many areas are already there.
Lining up for a job: Maya Sari and her son Muhammad weave through traffic looking for a driver who needs passengers.
Photo: Michael Bachelard
It’s the most obvious of Indonesia’s profound infrastructure problems which, according to economist Dr Chatib Basri, are cramping the growth rate of south-east Asia’s largest economy. It should be growing at 9 per cent, like China and India. Instead the growth rate is 6.5 per cent.
There is no quick fix. Jakarta’s authorities introduced the ”three-in-one” rule to cut the number of cars, but it has only succeeded in creating entrepreneurs such as Ms Sari. She brings little Muhammad on the train to Jakarta twice a day from her village of Parun Panjang to stand with dozens of others in both peak hours, to ride in the vehicles of strangers. Her nine-hour day on the roadside provides her family’s only income. With five mouths to feed, they are glad to have it.
”With a child it’s very difficult to find a job,” she says. ”This is the only one I can do and keep my child with me.”
The concrete pylons that loom above her head are testament to a transport failure of a different sort. They were built to carry a monorail to augment Jakarta’s inadequate public transport system. But it was abandoned in 2004. The reinforcing rods are rusting and the only thing the pylons carry is advertising.
All over this country are the signs of inadequate infrastructure. Trucks regularly bank up, waiting for hours,
even days, at Merak Port on the western tip of Java, waiting to cross the Sunda Strait. The only transport between Indonesia’s two most populous islands, Java and Sumatra, are ferries, and bad weather can slow or stop the service. A feasibility plan for a 30-kilometre bridge was announced this week.
But long-planned projects often fail to materialise here.
A Malaysian investor last month cancelled plans to build a hydroelectricity plant in West Kalimantan because the nearby roads were not up to the construction task.
Social infrastructure, too, is lacking. The CIA World Fact Book puts Indonesia near the bottom of global rankings for access to hospital beds, with just 0.6 beds per thousand population compared with 3.82 in Australia. And it spends just 2.8 per cent of GDP on education, compared with Australia’s 4.5 per cent.
Indonesia’s economy should be in the ”sweet spot”, according to Dr Basri, a consultant and government adviser. But without investments in infrastructure, it will miss the opportunities a young population and bullish investors offer. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made spending on infrastructure development one of his top priorities, promising $160 billion in outlay by 2015, with almost half coming from private companies.
But corruption, red tape, problems with land acquisition and uncertain public finances often thwart projects. The government last week cancelled a planned $1.3 billion public-private partnership to upgrade the Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta. Companies who had tendered were left hanging after authorities said they could not afford the $389 million for access roads and bridges.
For commuters, there is a severe lack of alternatives to the private car or motorbikes. Bus lanes have been designated to speed up the trip, and have had some success. Even so, motorists illegally invade these if they think they will get away with it. The trains are so crowded people resort to riding on the roof.
Even walking is hazardous. Pedestrians must find footpaths, rare on Jakarta streets, then dodge their cavernous drainage holes, uneven surfaces and the motorbikes that use them to beat traffic.
The government is also talking up its plan for an above-and-below ground rail system, Jakarta MRT. It’s intended to be 111 kilometres long and eventually carry up to 960,000 people a day.
Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo told The Saturday Age the idea for the mass rapid transport system had been around for 20 years, but then ”it was hindered by budget limitations”, particularly to the regional budget. Now it was a priority. He guaranteed it will happen, with construction to start in September.
Jakartans are sceptical. ”I’ve been living in Jakarta for over 30 years,” says a Twitter-based pedestrian activist, Glenn Marsalim, who posts as @JalanKaki. ”I try to be optimistic. But sometimes it’s hard.”