In a city with a population of around 10 million people, it’s no wonder that Jakarta’s roads are in gridlock with cars, motorbikes, buses, trucks, bajas, rubbish men pulling carts, and many other weird and wonderful modes of transport, making travel across the city incredibly slow and very frustrating. Considering another 2 million travel from the suburbs into the city each day for work, I’m surprised the traffic can move at all, especially in peak hours.
This leaves many people with no choice but to catch the train to work if they want to have any chance of making it on time, and as the economy train costs from 1,500 Rp (approx 15 Australian cents) per trip this is one of the cheapest options available and the quickest way to connect from Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi into Jakarta city. During peak hours the train carriages are overflowing with people squashed into the carriages like sardines and hanging on for dear life to the outside of the train to anything they can grab on to whether it be a part of the train or a fellow traveller. There is no air conditioning in the sweltering heat on the economy trains so the conditions are rather unbearable, and although people purchase tickets they still choose to travel on the rooftop for the breeze it offers in the heat. Travelling on the train roof is incredibly dangerous as the power lines are low and there are at least two fatalities reported every month from passengers either falling off or being electrocuted by hanging lines.
Authorities have tried unsuccessfully to discourage the practice of passengers travelling on the rooftops, even lubricating roofs, spraying paint onto commuters and suspending low hanging concrete balls above the trains on the railway line connecting Jakarta to Bekasi, but this has done nothing to deter people as they have no other option if they want to make it to work and earn some money to survive in this chaotic city. Stations that installed flexible fibre barriers designed to knock people were vandalized and the barriers destroyed by angry commuters, allowing the unsafe travel to continue.
As I discovered on our trip to Manggarai, there is a whole community of people that love to gather on the railway lines close to the station just to watch the passing trains overflowing with passengers each night. Young children play carefree on the tracks and boys chase the moving trains jumping on and off playing games, while others buy their dinner to eat while they sit amongst the rubbish and point at passing trains.
Coming from Australia where there are so many rules and regulations, you would never see sights such as this, and actually I am grateful for that, although the sight of groups of ticket inspectors there makes me cringe every time I see them board the public transport systems.
Until more trains and carriages are added to the Jakarta-Bogor line people will continue to defy the law in Jakarta, as unsafe as it may be, but in a city steaming with millions trying to survive, at this present time there is no other option but to travel in these conditions and to somehow learn to be ‘santai’ as is the usual Indonesian way.