Roads to nowhere
PONDERING JAKARTA’S WORSENING TRAFFIC CONDITION
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.