Sun, 01 Oct 2000

Revved up and ready to go on motorbike to beat traffic

By Mohammad Yazid

JAKARTA (JP): Getting from one place to another is one of the biggest problems for people amid the capital's chronic traffic deficiencies.

It is of particular concern for people living outside of the city, such as Bogor, Tangerang and Bekasi, who have to commute to work every day. Public transportation services, such as the buses and trains, cannot meet their needs. Use of a private car is also no guarantee of arriving at work on time due to the long traffic jams snaking through the city.

Yet some commuters have switched to using motorcycles for the simple reason of convenience.

"I think motorcycles can overcome some of the difficulties", said Edi Maryadi, a manager of a state-owned insurance company in Cempaka Putih, Central Jakarta.

He now leaves his car in the garage and rides a motorcycle for the 16 kilometers from his home in Bekasi to the workplace. He said it took him about two hours by car, but now it involves a ride of about half an hour on the motorbike.

Most motorcycle users are from the low to middle income group. Those with higher incomes tend to invest in expensive motorcycles, like Harley Davidsons and BMWs, for recreation and as status symbols.

Edi is part of a trend to return to using motorcycles of old.

Of course, it brings with it its own problems of a lack of comfort and exposure to air pollution. Many believe there is the greater risk of a fatal accident when riding a motorcycle, even if one is wearing a helmet.

Loyal riders swear by its efficiency.

"It is an efficient and economic vehicle," said Munir, advisory board member of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence. He has ridden a motorcycle since 1982, when he was a student university in Malang, East Java.

A car uses gas six times faster per liter compared to a motorbike. "So, it is very ngirit (economical)," explained Munir who has bought and sold six motorcycles; his last one was stolen from his office few months ago.


Edi has come to share similar experiences with Munir in riding around the city.

They said they developed greater patience and tolerance of other road users, which are rarely found among car drivers. There is also solidarity among the drivers. If another rider falls off his bike, they will quickly alight from their own to help. And they will give chase to the offending car driver who was responsible.

Many regard the vehicles as practical, inexpensive to take care of and relatively cheap to purchase.

Leading Japanese makes such as Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki, the Vespa from Italy and Jetmatic from Taiwan are above Rp 10 million.

Most of the new brands, from China, India, South Korea and Taiwan such as Sanex, Xiangjiang, Zong-shen, Jiangshe, Dayang, Xindong, Chunlan, Jianshe, Hongda, Wang Guan and Yoriko, are friendlier on the pocketbook and average under Rp 10 million.

The efficiency and practicality of motorbikes were shown to full effect in an advertisement by Thamrin Thalib from advertising firm PT Adri Wara Krida.

In the ad, MTV veejay Sarah Sechan gives the slip to her boyfriend as they sit in their sedan in a long traffic jam in Pancoran, South Jakarta. She hops on a macho man's motorbike, races through the standstill traffic and is soon at her destination.

Yet, the truth is that it's not always a smooth ride for the riders.

Many of them have resorted to using face masks to combat the terrible smog and pollution in the city. They also usually wear protective jackets, dark glasses or goggles and helmets, the latter required by law to protect themselves from the elements (even though a lot of riders continue to shirk the requirement on helmets).

Motorcycles and their owners also have not been immune to soaring crime in the city. In addition to petty theft of bag snatchings or muggings at traffic lights, there have been fatal robberies of riders, particularly ojek (motorcycle taxi) riders. Motorcycles are also often targets for thefts in parking lots, but ironically they also have become the preferred getaway vehicle for some criminals because of their efficiency.

Edi and Munir held the same opinion about the threat of crime when riding their motorbikes. "Who can avoid disaster when it comes," they said phlegmatically.