Why do Indonesians rarely walk

Indonesia's capital Jakarta is looking for a way out of the traffic chaos

Endless traffic jams are commonplace in Jakarta. The first metro line, which will open this month, is intended to remedy this. Experts doubt that this will be enough.

Peak time in Jakarta means standstill. Cars jam bumper to bumper; a journey of a few kilometers can quickly take an hour or more. Even the ubiquitous motorcycles and scooters are only moving a little faster. There is hardly enough space for them to squeeze between the columns.

Even the shrill howling siren does not help an ambulance move faster. They are accompanied by two motorbikes, the drivers keep getting off, waving the cars to the side a millimeter at a time until the alley is just wide enough. But even then the ambulance only comes a few meters further.

48 million trips a day

According to estimates, the permanent traffic jam causes economic losses of more than 4.5 billion Swiss francs in Jabodetabek every year. This is how the greater Jakarta area with the expanded cities of Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi is called colloquially. 30 million people live in this metropolitan region, Jakarta itself has around 10 million inhabitants. 48 million trips are made every day, 22 million of them in central Jakarta.

Now there is some hope that the chronic traffic problems will improve. The first metro line will be opened in the next few days: almost 16 kilometers long, with 13 stations, the metro runs from the south of the city to the center. Underground the metro will run at 80 kilometers per hour, on the section that is being built on stilts, even at 100 kilometers. Compared to today, that sounds almost like the speed of light.

Today, less than 30 percent of journeys in Jakarta's city center are made by public transport. The responsible politicians and officials want to increase this proportion to 60 percent by 2030. The metro should make an important contribution to this. Initially, it will carry 173,000 passengers a day. The extension to the north with eight further stations is already under construction.

The metro is also not the only means of public transport. The Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) has been set up since 2004. It consists of 13 so-called corridors, bus lanes that are permanently separated from the street. The buses move much faster than the rest of the traffic, even though they are slowed down at traffic lights and intersections.

There are also suburban trains, some of which run on the network that was built in the days of the colonial power of the Netherlands. In addition, light rail transport networks are being set up in two areas, which roughly corresponds to a tram traveling on elevated rails.

Lack of integration

The real challenge is integrating these different systems, says Faela Sufa from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a think tank for traffic. "People have to change," says Sufa, and that has to be as simple as possible.

But there is a problem here. The new metro line runs under a main axis of the BRT system. But there is no direct underpass from the bus to the metro. The passengers have to go over a pedestrian bridge from the middle of the multi-lane street, where the buses stop, to the street side, where the entrance to the metro is. According to Sufa, the reason for this is that the companies behind the Metro and the BRT see themselves as competitors, even though both belonged to the Jakarta provincial government.

It looks just as bad for the first and last meters of the journey, namely from the house and office door to the public transport stop. Walking is a gauntlet in Jakarta. Where there are sidewalks, they are covered with motorcycles, mobile food stalls and garbage cans and are full of potholes. Bike trails are completely unknown.

Complement and competition

Grab and Go-Jek have been filling the gap in the public transport network for around four years. The two competing apps work on the principle of Uber - cars and motorcycles can be ordered easily and cheaply at any time.

But the taxi apps not only complement public transport, they also compete with it. When the apps came onto the market in 2015, the use of public transport fell by 10 to 20 percent, says traffic expert Sufa: "You can travel comfortably from door to door and don't have to change trains."

But the thousands upon thousands of cars and motorcycles that are on the road for Grab and Go-Jek also contribute to the traffic congestion. If you look at the rush hour traffic in Jakarta, you get the impression that there are more taxi motorbikes on the road than private ones: Go-Jek and Grab drivers can be recognized by their bright green jackets and helmets.

At the beginning of March, the first test drives with passengers took place with the new metro - anyone interested could register for a place on the Internet. It should be 98 percent finished, reports local media. Work is still visible at least at many entrances.

Whatever happens, the metro has to open this month. Because in mid-April there will be presidential and parliamentary elections in Indonesia. President Joko Widodo is hoping for a second term. Over the past five years he has put himself in the limelight as a promoter of the infrastructure: The Jakarta Metro is one of his showcase projects, which he had already promoted in his previous office as Governor of Jakarta.

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