Sat, 26 Apr 2003

Jakarta traffic woes

The Jakarta administration's efforts to deal with the city's traffic woes deserves the close attention of the public. Unfortunately, the many policies that are supposed to support the efforts have been contradictory. The seemingly haphazard issuance of operation permits for public transportation vehicles could be cited as an example of those contradictory efforts to curb congestion.

Ironically, therefore, Jakarta's public transportation system has become a serious problems in the streets. While police and other agencies in charge of supervising public order have never taken any adequate action against traffic violators.

Irritating as it is, the public transportation system is just a small part of the city's traffic problems.

The key to resolving all those problems lies with the government, first of all the Jakarta City Administration. The fact that the teeming city is too crowded with vehicles must not become an excuse for allowing the chaos to continue.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Jakarta administration is too frustrated to deal with the deteriorating traffic situation. Construction of new roads has already been shown to be ineffective in curing the problem. In the view of many, the situation has already become too chaotic to regulate.

The mass rapid transport system (MRT) that was planned to serve the busy route linking Blok M in South Jakarta and Kota in the downtown area is believed by experts to be the best remedy. But so far, the MRT concept is little more than a hotly debated issue in discussions and seminars, but has yet to materialize.

In the meantime, while waiting for some inspiration from above on how to deal with the traffic chaos, the city administration introduced the so-called three-in-one scheme, which prohibits private cars carrying fewer than three people from entering certain major streets in designated zones, including Jl. Jend. Sudirman, Jl. Rasuna Said (Kuningan), Jl. MH Thamrin and Jl. Gatot Subroto thoroughfares from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

While the three-in-one program has not proven to be successful, the administration is planning a busway system, adopted from Bogota, Colombia.

Despite its vigor in introducing the busway system, the city administration has yet to take any concrete steps to realize it, which is, in all honesty, not yet very clear even to City Hall officials, including Governor Sutiyoso. That is why Sutiyoso is planning to travel to Bogota by the end of this month to "broaden their knowledge" about the system.

For now, as none of the cures have been proven effective, the authorities plan to extend the three-in-one system, which has been on trial for 11 years and has been proven to be a failure. For one thing, the three-in-one system has failed to curb the volume of private cars entering the restricted zones as drivers can easily hire people -- popularly known as "jockeys" - to meet the requirement of having three passengers, driver included, in one car.

Given all that has been said, it would seem that the time has come for the Jakarta authorities to let common wisdom speak. If the main obstacle that has hampered the 11-year-old system is "jockeys", why is it that the authorities have failed to control them? And what drives the authorities to decide to extend the three-in-one system to the evening hours, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m? Isn't that a clear indication that the administration is getting more and more frustrated?

Under those circumstances Sutiyoso would merely underline the controversial nature of his policies if he agreed to the plan. About his widely criticized plan for the reclamation of Jakarta's north coastal, Sutiyoso said that Jakarta could learn from Tokyo and Singapore, both of which boast successful land reclamation projects.

Now, while persisting in his bus way project, he looks towards Bogota. Learning from the success stories of other big cities is certainly a prerequisite for Jakarta's proper development. However, it must be kept in mind that here it is not merely a technical matter. Non-technical matters have become the main constraints in almost all of Jakarta's development programs.

The culture and the mentality of Jakarta's residents is totally different from that of the population of Tokyo, Singapore and Bogota. The working ethos of officials in Jakarta, Tokyo, Bogota and Singapore is different, and the corrupt mentality of most of our officials is an already public secret.

In brief, we can expect nothing from any program launched by the government unless corruption, collusion and nepotism are eradicated. Jakarta's traffic problems are not just a result of the number of vehicles plying its roads. They are as much caused by violations of zoning plans, poor law enforcement, corrupt officials and the lack of discipline among citizens, further complicated by political matters.

Indifference and lack of capability on the part of our decision makers is also hampering the efforts to ease the city's traffic woes. How, for example, can the authorities decide to extend the three-in-one system if it has already been proven ineffective? Aren't there any other popular, more effective alternatives open?

Given all these facts, it seems that the only option open to Jakarta's residents at present is to accept that their city's traffic will remain chaotic for at least the coming decade, because the administration's policies to do the best it can for the people does not seem to be backed up by proper, careful and reasonable planning.

For the moment, we can only dream about seeing traffic on Jakarta's streets that is smooth, orderly and civilized, because an effective formula for easing the chaos on the streets if still far from reality.