Mon, 14 Feb 2000

Jabotabek trains offer exciting rides for commuters

By Stevie Emilia

JAKARTA (JP): The sight of passengers hanging in doorways, while others risk their lives riding on the roof of overcrowded trains make people who are unfamiliar with the scene hesitate to jump on.

Regular passengers consist of people from all walks of life. Men in neat shirts, blue-collar workers, women in classy fragrant office outfits and sweating food hawkers -- all mingle in the same carriage.

Trains plying Jakarta-Bogor-Tangerang and Bekasi (Jabotabek) are popular among commuters in the four areas because they are fast, unaffected by the horrendous traffic gridlock in the rush hours and cheap.

A trip from his house in Depok to Jakarta -- some 30 kilometers to the north -- costs Ikrar Saputra, a private company employee, a mere Rp 600. A trip by a Metromini bus costs Rp 500 but it will cost him more since he has to transfer several times to get to his office in the Menteng area of Central Jakarta.

"Prices keep rising and some employees are lucky to get a payhike. But salaries of private company employees, like me, stay the same. For the rich, Rp 500 means nothing, but it really means a lot for people like me," the father of two said on board a train.

The train takes him to his office faster than the bus and he does not have to worry that he will be late. It takes the train only about 30 minutes from Depok to Gambir Station.

"I can't predict how long it would be for me to reach the office by taking a public bus. It might take over an hour at times of bad traffic congestion. But by train, I can be sure that I will get to my office on time," Ikrar said.

At one point, taking the train instead of a more expensive air-conditioned bus is just as uncomfortable as going by Metromini bus.

The commuter will not only struggle for a seat. If you lose the "struggle", you have to stand in the aisle or doorway right from the time you get on until the moment you get off. And be careful of your belongings! Pickpockets are omnipresent.

"I don't find it a big problem but I hope that Perumka (the state railway company) will add more train cars," Ikrar said of the trains serving the Jakarta-Depok-Bogor routes, which transport more than 200,000 passengers during the course of their 88 trips per day.

Long-time regular commuters have their own tale to tell about experiences they have had onboard.

"I lost my wallet twice on this train," said Daryadi, a shopping center supervisor. He was not aware his wallet was missing until it was too late.

He believed it was the work of a professional pickpocket.

"In the first incident, I learned about it when I was about to pay for my bus fare. In the second incident, I was aware of the missing wallet when I was about to get off," said Daryadi.

The experiences taught him a lesson. Now he does not bring much cash or put any important documents in his wallet. He keeps some money at his office and inside his socks.


A private university administrative employee in Depok was more fortunate.

"I was so tired that I didn't realize a pickpocket had snatched my bag and tried to get away with it," she said, recalling last year's incident.

"But a woman sitting next to me saw it and screamed, 'maling' (thief). Then a man near me grabbed my bag from the pickpocket, who managed to jump off right when the train was about to stop at the station. It happened so fast."

Now she has become good friends with the two people who helped her.

"I don't feel the trips are tiresome or boring anymore because I have friends to talk to," said the mother of three.

Mobile market

These days, the Jabotabek train is more than just a mode of transport. It is a mobile market.

Unlike public buses, where vendors shove snacks or candies in your face, traders on the train offer merchandise usually found in shopping centers, such as ladies' bags, umbrellas, shirts, sandals, children's school bags, toys and imported fruit.

The products -- mostly of unknown brands -- are cheaper than those sold at the supermarket.

A ladies' shoulder bag is offered for Rp 15,000, while a small umbrella, which fits into a handbag, is sold at Rp 10,000. A bag of baby Mandarin oranges and a bag of four red apples are priced at Rp 5,000 each. And bargaining might even lower the price further.

At shopping centers, the bags and umbrellas may cost Rp 10,000 and higher, while the fruit on the train is Rp 5,000 cheaper.

A fruit vendor, Mamat, claimed that his goods were imported. "I buy my fruit direct from the importer, that's why I can sell it at a lower price," said the 26-year-old vendor.

Although he has only been in business for three months, Mamat -- a former street vendor -- said he has done quite well. He said he could sell up to 20 bags of fruit per day during work days on the train.

"I used to sell anything from shirts, toys and cigarettes in Senen market (Central Jakarta), but I had many competitors and business was not very good," Mamat said.

The vendors' presence on the train received mixed responses. Some commuters said they need them while others found them annoying.

"The goods they are selling are not bad at all. I bought some oranges yesterday. They were good and my children liked them," said a housewife, Danik Kuntono.