Sun, 13 Jun 2004

A bold move for you, Mr. Governor, if you dare

I have a proposal for you, Mr. Governor. Now, what I am going to suggest will certainly create a huge public uproar, probably make people dislike you even more if you decide to do it -- and may even get me murdered.

I can already envision millions of irate people brandishing machetes and spears as they prepare to advance on my home.

But, if you are ready to make a bold decision for the common good and also strong enough to withstand the attendant flak, I believe that Jakarta will become a much better place.

What is it that I have in mind that will bring such dramatic consequences?

Please rid Jakarta of all motorcycles, every single one of them!

How can it be done? Just impose an impossibly heavy tax on every motorcycle, and seize and destroy any motorcycle found on the street if its tax is not paid.

After the "what" and the "how", now comes the "why": Can you, if I may ask, educate millions of people in Jakarta that a motorcycle is not a toy, and that it can instead be a deadly weapon?

Can you get it into their heads that it is a transportation means, and as such it is an element of a system and is therefore responsible for maintaining the well-being of the system?

General Systems Theory says that any disruptive behavior of just one element in the system will affect the other elements, thus disturbing the smooth running of the entire system. How can you make the millions of I-couldn't-care-less motorcyclists understand it?

How can you tell those bikers that it is not right to ride their bikes on their right side of the road facing traffic? Yes, they must stop when the light is red and that they must queue in traffic? And they should sign left if they want to turn to the left and not sign left when they actually want to turn right?

Jakarta's motorcyclists simply follow their own rules. They strap large metal containers on the back seat of their bike, loaded down with bread, crackers, lunch boxes, live chickens, heavy tools -- anything and everything.

They even carry bulky AC compressors or long plumbing pipes on these two-wheelers, as they weave in and out of your lane.

If they smash your car's taillight, scratch off some paint or break your sideview mirror, they will flee before you realize what has happened. But, if you nudge them slightly with your bumper, they will stop and demand that you pay for all the damages on their bike -- including those not caused by you.

And it is not easy to avoid a brush with them as they are all over the place, performing acrobatic maneuvers as they cut in front of you.

If their headlight still works, it will be beamed high and directed right into the face of the oncoming drivers. If it does not work, they still ride their bikes at night. They will become ghosts on dark roads and you'd better watch out for them.

As Krabbe K. Piting wrote in the Sounding Off column in this newspaper recently, in any collision involving a car and a motorcycle, the fault is always with the car driver. The reasoning is as follows: He drives a car, and therefore he is richer, and therefore he is at fault -- not the guy without the headlamp.

Then there is the deafening noise. I once told my teenage daughter's friend not to come to our house again before he fixed his muffler. I said to him, "Son, if you still come here with so much noise, you will be putting my relationship with my neighbors in jeopardy".

Guess what? The next time he came, his bike still seemed to produce the same number of unwanted decibels as before.

Granted, Jakarta's car and bus drivers are no less reckless than their two-wheeled counterparts. But at least bad drivers can be more easily stopped and arrested -- and hopefully reeducated and reformed -- than the motorcyclists.

I know the livelihood of millions of people will be severely affected once motorcycles are banned in Jakarta. That is why this suggestion of mine is actually a death wish. But, on the other hand, take a look at China. While it has become a major exporter of motorcycles, you can see only a handful of motorcycles in the streets of its capital city.

So, Mr. Governor, if you want to repair your image, you should learn from Beijing. Get rid of all the uncontrollable, noisy and dirty mechanical devils and make the streets of Jakarta a bit more humane and civilized.

Oh boy, do I hear the sound of machetes and sickles being whetted?

-- Zatni Arbi