Thu, 12 Feb 2004

Honeymoon now over for busway

Damar Harsanto and M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Less than a month since Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso launched the busway project on Jan. 15 -- after being showered with praise -- the "city's best bus drivers" are now at the receiving end of harsh criticism from the TransJakarta Busway Management and the Jakarta Transportation Agency for their "bad behavior and bad habits".

"They might have excelled when working under the old system but they are of low caliber. Many are ill-behaved and have disciplinary problems," the transportation agency head Rustam Effendy said on Wednesday before councillors of the Commission D overseeing development affairs.

The busway management head Irzal Z Djamal said that the drivers had not given up their old habits of smoking and eating while on board the air-conditioned buses.

"We made a mistake when recruiting them. It's not surprising because we took them from regular bus operators. These drivers are notorious for their reckless driving," he said, referring to the busway drivers, some of whom have received awards from the Jakarta administration.

The officials' statements were in sharp contrast to their earlier pronouncements when they showered the drivers with praise, calling them "exemplary drivers" just days before the project kickoff.

Even Sutiyoso himself requested that the front-liners wear their uniforms properly and warned them not to make even small mistakes as he wanted a perfect launch for the project.

The busway operating consortium PT Jakarta Express Trans (JET) director Bubung Burhana admitted the consortium's failure in preparing the drivers.

"We only had one week to train the drivers in bus technicalities and ethics. They must deal with the new working hours and system, which are totally different from what they were used to," he said.

Initially, drivers had to work in eight-hour shifts without a break even for going to the toilet, meals or prayers.

"We have improved our working system. Now they can have a break for 15 minutes after two full trips along the corridor," he said, referring to the 12.9-kilometer corridor stretching from Blok M, South Jakarta, to Kota, West Jakarta.

Bubung said 16 drivers were expelled for disciplinary reasons. They were returned to their former companies, which are members of the consortium.

"We have currently selected 35 of 384 new candidates to replace them," he said, adding that the total number of drivers will be 145.

The busway operator will impose tighter requirements for new candidates including an age limit of 30. The new drivers will undergo three-months training.

A bus driver admitted to The Jakarta Post that some of his colleagues had failed to give up their die-hard bad habits.

"I just heard that the consortium fired a driver who had accepted cash from passengers who asked him to take them to a place outside the designated busway shelters," he said.

Busway drivers, who receive a monthly salary of Rp 2 million (US$238) are not allowed to receive cash from passengers.