A key year for city public transportation

             Traveling alongside a congested road in an empty Transjakarta busway lanes makes one sympathize deeply with the hundreds of thousands of motorists using the regular roads, struggling against worsening traffic gridlock on a daily basis.

On a recent Saturday, most of the motorists, including myself, patiently passed through congested roads from the Harmoni intersection in Central Jakarta to the Tomang underpass in West Jakarta. Only a few motorists wanted to risk a fine of Rp 1 million (US$82.10).

The empty bus lanes are always tempting motorists, who are trapped in gridlock for hours during morning and evening peak hours. The enforcement of maximum fines — Rp 500,000 for motorcyclists and Rp 1 million for car drivers — since late November could significantly reduce the number of motorists entering the Transjakarta bus lanes.

But lately, more and more motorists have returned to these bus lanes. Perhaps they cannot bear worsening congestion, or maybe they know that police officers no longer tightly watch them. They may also think that persistently sticking to congested roads doesn’t make sense, as the bus lanes are unoccupied.

It is the task of the city authorities to set regulations and it is the task of good citizens to respect them. But it is naïve to enforce rigid bans on motorists entering Transjakarta bus lanes while the Jakarta government has not been able to use most of the 12 existing Transjakarta corridors optimally.

Citing a statement by Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, each Transjakarta bus lane needs at least between 120 and 150 buses for optimal use.

Meanwhile, existing buses only total 669, according to the Transjakarta busway website.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a regular user of public transportation and am one of the beneficiaries of the strong commitment of the city government to improve public transportation.
It is good to hear that the city government has allocated Rp 4.64 trillion in this year’s city budget to purchase 1,000 large buses for the Transjakarta busway and some 3,000 medium-sized buses, to try to double the number of passengers from 360,000 last year to 700,000 this year.

This is because this frustrating congestion can only be solved by providing alternatives to motorists for their daily trips to their workplaces.

In fact, thousands of motorists have given up driving to work, shifting to commuter lines, following improvements by state-owned railway operator PT Kereta Api Indonesia (KAI). They prefer to park their vehicles at home or at railway stations near their houses, rather than persistently fight their way along congested roads.

Like commuter trains, Transjakarta buses have great potential to increase passengers, if they reach their optimal capacity.

The total length of the 12 Transjakarta corridors is about 185 kilometers. The city government plans to construct another three corridors to complete the busway project introduced in 2004.

For years to come, both commuter trains and Transjakarta buses will still be the backbone of Greater Jakarta’s public transportation because we still don’t know when the government will develop the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system that could serve major parts of the city. Although the city plans to develop a 110.8-kilometer MRT network across the capital, it has so far only constructed 15.7 kilometers, scheduled for completion in 2016.

Therefore, the Jakarta city government’s efforts to improve the services of Transjakarta are commendable because the existence of convenient, reliable and affordable public transportation is a prequisite for the government to encourage motorists to shift to public transportation.

With the existence of good public transportation, the government could introduce even tougher policies than simply banning motorists from entering Transjakarta lanes.

It could introduce electronic road pricing (ERP) or vehicle-license plate restriction to reduce the burden on the city’s roads. If this still doesn’t work, it could impose high parking fees like in other developed cities, to force more motorists to shift to public transportation.

However, while the city government has not been able to provide a sound alternative to motorists, it is unfair to be too tough on them, given their long-standing suffering from the traffic chaos on Jakarta’s roads.

Perhaps the government could still partially impose rigid bans along certain Transjakarta lanes that are optimally used, like the Blok M-Kota corridor, the first corridor operating in the city. Public order officers or police officers in certain areas could be placed to guide motorists on when they can or cannot enter Transjakarta lanes.

But requiring motorists to keep using congested roads, while the Transjakarta bus lanes are unoccupied is certainly not sensible. Meanwhile, forcing them to shift to Transjakarta buses or other public transportation modes will only add misery to existing public transportation users, who must use overcrowded buses and trains.

To conclude, the city government’s move to deploy about 4,000 large- and medium-sized buses this year is a breakthrough in a bid to improve public transportation and a starting point to ease daily congestion.

However, while all of its efforts are yet to succeed, it is better for the government to delay any policies that could add to motorists’ frustrations
The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post

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