Sat, 21 Feb 2004

On Kijangs and coziness

People who own Toyota Kijangs could be disappointed in coming months, that is if they own them for reasons of prestige, because, since older Kijangs have been used as mikrolet minibuses for years -- the City administration has allowed Kijang vans to be used as taxis.

There is also a hint of fetidness in the air about this new development, aside from the car maker's swiftness in luring the City administration to agree on the use of a Kijang fleet.

The taxis will reportedly operate under the control of Express taxi, a company partly owned by the City administration. However, no gubernatorial decree legalizes all this -- but is based instead on Provincial Decree No. 12/2003 on traffic and ground transportation.

With at least four million vehicles, including more than 25,000 taxi cabs, packing the less than 7,000 kilometers of road the capital city, it is no wonder that traffic is so atrocious here.

The recently established TransJakarta busway system, which was claimed as a cure-all, has not yet proven its worth. Instead, it has increased congestion in many areas.

The Jakarta Transportation Office has yet to reveal a clear plan for the Kijang taxis. If the issuance of new cab permits is for the sake of tourism, it might be instructive to remind our distinguished decision makers that the number of (foreign) tourists has been rapidly decreasing in recent years. The question then is, do Jakarta's residents need more taxis -- especially corpulent minivans that take up even more space on often very narrow roads?

Congestion and traffic violations are too common, and law enforcement is poor. Law No. 14/1992 on land transportation has yet to be enforced properly. According to Article 61 of the law, those found violating traffic laws are subject to a year in jail or a maximum fine of Rp 1 million.

However, in practice the violators are only subject to "street law enforcement" -- traffic cops who accept bribes, often in the tens of thousands of rupiah range. Worse, the cops turn a blind eye to motorcycles and public transportation vehicles, the drivers of which never seem to grow bored with the life- threatening exhilaration of barreling through all the red lights around town.

Traffic congestion in the city costs car owners almost Rp 3 billion in vehicle operational costs every day, not to mention the economic loss due to lost man hours.

In regard to air pollution, the decision to add a whole new fleet of taxis is also flawed. The World Health Organization has acknowledged that Jakarta is one of the worst (air) polluted cities in the world. Its air is severely contaminated with particles of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and lead.

The Jakarta administration jolted some vehicle owners last year when it announced plans to impose road worthiness tests on private vehicles. This test is mentioned in Law No. 14/1992, and says that anyone operating vehicles that are not roadworthy will be subject to a three-month jail sentence or a Rp 3 million fine. That sounds ideal. At least it gives the impression that law enforcement is proper in the country.

But obligatory tests for road worthiness have actually been applied for years on public transportation and commercial vehicles, but not for private vehicles. However, owners of public transportation firms have learned that such tests have become lucrative cash cows for the less-than-virtuous officials in charge. Most of the time, bribes are exchanged in return for a roadworthiness sticker.

All this clearly shows that nothing has been properly done by the administration to solve the city's traffic problems. Rather, it has apparently missed the real problems.

The teeming city of Jakarta obviously needs an integrated ground transportation system that spreads out from residential areas to the business or office complexes where people work every day.

At present, each municipality has its own policy for ojek motorcycle taxis, bajaj three-wheeled motorized vehicles, mikrolet 12-seat minibuses and Metro Mini buses, with no cooperation from one to the next, let alone links to the larger city transportation system consisting of such means as trains or regular city buses.

Certain areas appear to have too many mikrolet operating, most of which look for passengers by stopping anywhere they darn well please, creating serious congestion.

How about the five mayors in the capital getting together for tea some afternoon and discussing ways to cooperate and improve transportation in an appropriate manner?

Experience proves that the decision makers tend to miss the most important things in dealing with the city transportation problem.

The TransJakarta bus system is one such policy that lacks a sense of "traffic crisis". The TransJakarta buses in themselves are excellent because they have their own lanes, and reach their destinations on time.

However, the TransJakarta busway is, in fact, a stand-alone system, not integrated to a broader inter-linked transportation system.

Therefore, the permit for Kijang taxis could arouse suspicion among the city's residents that there may be something a bit too cozy involving the local car maker and the decision makers. At the end of the day, more space-eating taxis do not seem to be an answer to Jakarta's traffic woes.