Roads to nowhere



With jakarta’s an­niver­sary com­ing up, I’ve been re­flect­ing on my time liv­ing here – which has been twen­ty­plus years now. I’ve been think­ing about how rapidly the city has changed over the last decade – from the ap­pear­ance of mega de­vel­op­ment com­plexes, to the avail­abil­ity of ex­otic gro­cery items. But one par­tic­u­lar mat­ter pre­oc­cu­pied me above all else: the traf­fic. Jakarta is now the world’s most con­gested city ac­cord­ing to GPS data col­lected and com­piled by the Cas­trol-Mag­natec Stop-Start In­dex. For those liv­ing in the city, and espe­cially those who drive for their daily com­mute, this fact won’t be sur­pris­ing. One of my friends from the United States vis­ited me re­cently, and he be­lieves the traf­fic here is worse than it is in Los An­ge­les. I told him that Jakartans have got so used to traf­fic con­ges­tion that when­ever there’s a lull in the chaos caused by the roads be­ing packed with so many ve­hi­cles, we treat it as a spe­cial oc­ca­sion worth cel­e­brat­ing. Re­cently, the Jakarta govern­ment sus­pended the 3-in-1 car­pool or­di­nance, which reg­u­lates the num­ber of pri­vate ve­hi­cles pass­ing through the city’s main thor­ough­fares, such as Sudirman and Gatot Subroto. Even though the rea­son for the sus­pen­sion was un­re­lated to traf­fic con­ges­tion, it did prompt me to re­flect on traf­fic con­di­tions in Jakarta. Ob­vi­ously, Tham­rin and Sudirman are backed up to the nines dur­ing the morn­ing and evening rush hours – even more so than be­fore. But on the flip side, traf­fic else­where around the city has fluc­tu­ated wildly to say the least. Be­fore the 3-in-1 pol­icy was put on hold, traf­fic ev­ery­where in the city had be­come pre­dictable to a cer­tain ex­tent. With­out the pol­icy in place, you see one or two days of un­in­ter­rupted driv­ing around the city and an al­most equal num­ber of days when traf­fic is at a to­tal stand­still – with no storms to blame. The 3-in-1 pol­icy was only the start of reg­u­lat­ing the num­ber of ve­hi­cles on the city’s roads. It only tar­geted a hand­ful of main av­enues – rightly so if we’re talk­ing about Jakarta a decade ago – but left other up-and-com­ing thor­ough­fares unchecked. A case in point is the Si­matu­pang area in South Jakarta. With so many peo­ple com­mut­ing daily from the sub­urbs in the south, such as Bin­taro, BSD, and Alam Su­tra, the main roads bor­der­ing these places have be­come no­to­ri­ous for pro­duc­ing some of the most hor­ren­dous traf­fic jams the city has to of­fer. It cer­tainly doesn’t help that driv­ers go­ing through the area have to con­tend with hundreds of slow-mov­ing trucks that use these roads ev­ery day as well. The lo­cal govern­ment are al­ready look­ing at al­ter­na­tives to the 3-in-1 pol­icy. Talk of an even-odd num­ber plate rule and an Elec­tronic Road Pric­ing (ERP) sys­tem has been go­ing on for years, but nei­ther has ma­te­ri­alised so far. These schemes won’t any­way pro­duce the de­sired af­fect if the city fails to pro­vide cit­i­zens with vi­able al­ter­na­tives to driv­ing pri­vate ve­hi­cles. Though credit should go to the Jakarta govern­ment for in­creas­ing the num­ber of Tran­sJakarta buses al­most ten­fold in the last year. On top of that, I per­son­ally can’t wait for when the Mass Rapid Tran­sit (MRT) sys­tem is com­pleted next year. In con­clu­sion, I re­main op­ti­mistic that the traf­fic sit­u­a­tion in Jakarta will get bet­ter some­time down the line. We won’t see any overnight changes, but the di­rec­tion the city is head­ing is the right one. I’m not say­ing that we’ll see a city free of ve­hi­cles, but per­haps one day it won’t be nec­es­sary to ex­pe­ri­ence traf­fic mad­ness be­cause we’ll hap­pily take other forms of trans­porta­tion. And I think that should be the city’s main goal – for now.

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