Tue, 19 Dec 2000

Millions begin joining annual exodus

JAKARTA (JP): The ritual exodus of people heading to their hometowns for next week's Idul Fitri holiday kicked off on Monday.

A number of roads connecting Jakarta to destinations in Java were flooded with private vehicles and public buses, while major intercity bus terminals and railway stations began to wilt under the heat of crowds of travelers loaded down with bags of all sizes and descriptions.

Similar scenes played out at strategic points in cities across the country, such the ferry terminal in Batam and bus terminals in the West Java capital of Bandung.

Late in the evening on Monday, bus passengers traveling from Jakarta to cities in Java had been stuck in heavy traffic since leaving the capital.

A passenger on a Giri Indah bus plying the Jakarta-Surakarta route told The Jakarta Post from Cikampek, some 70 kilometers southeast of Jakarta, the bus only arrived in the area at 8 p.m. after departing from Bintaro, South Jakarta, at midday. He said the toll roads and streets were choked with vehicles.

At 5:30 p.m., a Cirebon Express train collided with a Metro Minibus at the Pondok Kopi crossing in East Jakarta, killing two people and injuring six others.

A spokesman for state-owned PT KAI railway company, Zainal Abidin, said the accident caused delays in numerous trains serving passengers during the peak hours, because the single track where the accident occurred is used by most trains serving Jakarta routes.

"The flow of trains returned to normal at around 7:35 p.m.," he said.

There were no other serious traffic accidents reported on the first day of the annual exodus, which according to most officials will reach its peak this weekend.

At Gambir railway station in Central Jakarta and several bus terminals in the capital, thousands of people lined up to try and secure seats for later in the week.

At the Kalideres bus terminal in West Jakarta, City Land Transportation Agency official Darmo Anggriawan reported that the number of passengers heading to destinations in Java and Sumatra was already 20 percent higher than on ordinary days.

According to Darmo, the number of people leaving the station as of 2 p.m. on Monday was 1,599, traveling aboard 209 buses.

In Gambir, dozens of people camped out overnight so they could purchase tickets when the windows opened in the morning.

Many of them complained that tickets for departure dates before Dec. 24 to a number of destinations were already sold out.

"I can only buy a ticket for Dec. 25," said Fajar Utama, who hopes to travel to Semarang, Central Jakarta.

An official at the train station said the number of people departing from the train station was predicted to reach its peak on Saturday and Sunday, with some 24,000 passengers leaving on these days.

At Tanjung Priok Port, there has been an increase in the number of passengers traveling to their hometowns, mostly in Sumatra and Sulawesi, since last week.

Travel by ship during the annual exodus has always been a difficult proposition because scalpers buy up most of the tickets, leaving would-be passengers no choice but purchase tickets from them at exorbitant prices.

In a bid to help more people get to their hometowns by boat this holiday season, state-owned shipping company PT Pelni has reached an agreement with the Indonesian Navy to use 27 warships to transport travelers.

However, most tickets for the warships were snapped up the day after they went on sale, leaving many disappointed people at the Pelni head office in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta.

Most of those turned away empty-handed were angry because they had lined up since early in the morning to purchase tickets.

"I went to Tanjung Priok to see the warships yesterday and I saw a lot of them, but I cannot find a single ticket for them here. They said the tickets had been sold out for until Dec. 31," Ahmad, who is hoping to travel to Medan, said on Monday.

In Bogor, the authorities have deployed some 4,000 personnel from the police, military and related institutions, including several sharpshooters, to provide security during the holiday travel.

Separately, Minister of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure Erna Witoelar said most of the planned road repairs had already been completed, particularly those in northern and southern Java.

"We hope the rain will not be as intense as predicted ... but all the same travelers have to be alert for possible floods or landslides. We are crossing our fingers and hoping to God that everything is OK," she said.

In Batam, the number of people departing for Jakarta aboard ships provided by PT Pelni showed an increase on Monday, as thousands of people raced to board the ships and claim comfortable seats. (jaw/bsr/dja/edt/21)