It’s not news that Jakarta has traffic problems. It is the first conversation on everyone’s lips when they first meet you, “so what do you think of Jakarta? Macet banget, yeah?”. And I wholeheartedly agree. This traffic confines me to the house as the malas feeling grips me when I consider venturing out to explore this great city. Today is such a day so allow me to move away from “welovejakarta” into a resounding what-the-hell- is-going-on- in-this-place vent for a moment.
When I first came to Jakarta I loved seeing the madness of the traffic – I thought it was fantastic that a bus could stop anywhere as I remembered all those times in Melbourne when I ran for the bus but it didn’t stop for me because I wasn’t at the bus stop. I marveled at how people in Jakarta don’t experience the same road rage in the congestion as Australians do in traffic that almost always is at least moving. I thought it was hilarious to see a horse and cart (andong) trying to make its way around the buses, or a kaki lima owner pushing his shop on wheels up the busy highways. I enjoyed bouncing along footpaths on an ojek and seeing the jockeys standing on the side of the road waiting for someone who wants to use the freeway to pick them up for 10,000 rphs so the driver could bypass the “3 drivers or more” rule on the tollroads. I even liked the parking guys who could help you make a right hand turn no matter how full the roads were. I remembered back in Australia having to wait 10 minutes to be able to turn right at some intersections. Now, I am not so sure.
Jakarta’s traffic is like a giant game of tetris – if there is any space, it will be filled with some form of transport whether they should be in that lane or not. Metro Minis, angkots and Kopajas fight for passengers flying dangerously along the roads where they can, and stopping wherever and whenever they want to pick up passengers, not bothering to worry about the drivers around them, and of course blasting everyone with a gust of black smoke as they take off again. Come to think of it, they don’t always actually stop to spew the passengers off the bus into the incoming traffic ,they just slow down enough so they can jump off. Although there is no road rage, there is certainly a degree of ‘survival of the fittest’ on the road.
If I ride my little push bike to work and experience the constant near-death experiences as motorbikes and cars overtake me only to turn left immediately in front of me so I have to slam on the brakes, or people pull out of the street and turn onto the road without bothering to look if someone is on the road, I just think, oh my god, maybe there is no road rage because people don’t see other road users as actual human beings who will die if you hit them. Luckily the roads are so congested in some ways because at least people are generally going at slow speeds.
In some ways I respect the Indonesians on the road trying to get to their destination however they can. They ignore policemen who attempt to futilely control traffic. They ignore red lights. That is if the lights are working. They ignore basic driving on the left hand side rules. And why the hell should they follow the rules when the government doesn’t? The government will allow as many cars as they can on the roads without building any new roads for them to drive on.
They have accepted loans over the years to build public transport but the public transport never came, but those guys are surely the ones buying Rolls Royce’s at Pacific Place. Or maybe I am too cynical. And if you get pulled up by the police you can give them a little tip and be sent on your way. The only seemingly sanctioned form of public transport is the busway which took up a whole lane of traffic to create, and is, more often than not, full of motorbikes who shouldn’t be in there.
As long as corruption rules in this city, there is no way to fix the problem. There is no time for creating infrastructure and certainly no money put aside to provide for the future or to look after the average Jakartan. If the government want to get through the macet they just get a police escort and shut down the roads, leaving more traffic for everyone else, but at least they can get to their appointment, even if it’s their wife’s not-to-be-missed hair dressing appointment.
I am filled with dread as I see the new apartments and malls being built around the city on small roads that are already filled with traffic. I just think “what the hell?”. And as I sit in traffic for an hour just to get up the road to make a u-turn to go the way I actually want to go, I wonder how much longer this can last. I know that total gridlock is expected in a few more years so I guess the ever-creative people of Jakarta will work out ways to survive it.
And if there is something I can’t complain about, it is the ability of people in Jakarta to find a way to make it work and to survive and create new ingenious ways of buckling the rules a bit to suit them and their family. In Australia, the government creates a new rule and then shames people through the media who dare to break these rules until it has entered the public consciousness enough for citizens to police themselves and shame each other. And there are hefty fines to pay if the rules are broken. If you don’t buy a train ticket, they can now justify fining you $150 by saying that by not paying your fare you are making others suffer. If you don’t wear a seatbelt it can cost you $500 and they justify it by saying you are putting other people’s lives at risk. No helmet? $200. Go through a red light? $600. Break the rules too many times? Lose your licence for 6 months. Drive without a licence? You could end up in jail. And the public would support your jail sentence as you hang your head in shame; you knew the rules and you disobeyed – shame on you.
In Indonesia, the government makes a rule and the people find a way to ignore it. I think some kind of evolution has taken place in people who were born in Jakarta. They are born with an endless supply of patience or acceptance of their present circumstances. Kids don’t complain here about getting stuck in traffic like we do. People don’t complain about being squashed in overcrowded buses like sardines. They barely move a muscle when they are behind a bajaj blowing black fumes into their faces. In Australia we would be screaming “oi, get a service mate”.
People will say in a calm way “it takes me 2 hours to get to work each day” without complaint or anger or the belief that it shouldn’t be that way and that someone should do something about it. That hope for someone to fix the problem doesn’t seem to exist. People have to fix their own problems here or just laugh about it. Maybe I have to learn the skill to laugh more about it. But laughing about sitting in traffic isn’t a skill I have. I only the shakie feeling of wasting precious time. And time is money, as we are taught.
So from a long complaint about macet I guess this post has come around to an admiration for Indonesian people who don’t bother to complain. When I look at their faces squashed on an overcrowded bus as a musician gets on to busk for money, I don’t see anyone rolling their eyes or looking impatient. I just think “what on earth are you thinking looking so calm as you are squashed under a stranger’s armpit”. Maybe they are praying. Maybe they are thinking of their children. Maybe they are dreaming of food.
I hope someone in Indonesia can teach me the art of endless patience, but I think it may be genetic. Oh well, I think I will stay home today.