How Jakarta’s Buses … Cough, Cough … Are Sending Us All to an Early Grave
Vehicle emissions, says Fransiskus Trisbiantara, a transportation expert at Jakarta’s Trisakti University, are a “cold-blooded killer.”
“Why do you think more people are suffering from cancer?” he says, pointing out that dirty air is responsible for various types of cancers as well as acute respiratory tract infections. “And it’s dangerous because it’s all around us.”
Most of the air pollution in Jakarta comes from the horde of aging buses, Metro Minis and Kopajas plying the city’s clogged streets.
Although public transportation vehicles account for just 3.2 percent of the vehicles on the city’s streets, they are responsible for 70 percent of all emissions – including from industrial sources, says Ridwan Panjaitan, head of the public order unit at the Jakarta Environmental Management Agency (BPLHD).
The choking clouds of black fumes that follow in the wake of most of these vehicles compel commuters like Christina Arsi to put on a mask whenever they leave home.
“The black smoke from the Kopajas and Metro Minis is horrible. Why haven’t they been fixed or replaced with new ones?” the 24-year-old Christina says. “It’s dangerous for the people on the street.”
She says the situation has gotten worse over the years, and those most at risk from the dirty air include not just the bus passengers but also pedestrians like herself.
Trisbiantara says he believes the city authorities are fully aware of the problem, which is why it is so perplexing that they continue to let these old vehicles ply the city’s streets.
In late 2010, the city administration called for mandatory emissions checks on all road-going vehicles. Under the plan, vehicles were to be tested for carbon monoxide emissions, with a 3 percent cap for cars manufactured before 2007 and 1.5 percent for cars manufactured in 2007 and later. They were also checked for hydrocarbon emissions, with a 700 parts per million limit for cars manufactured before 2007 and 200 ppm for those built in 2007 and later.
The limits are the same today, says the BPLHD’s Ridwan. What he doesn’t say is that after an initial flurry, the mandatory checks have largely been forgotten.
M. Tauchid Tjakra Amidjaja, the head of the BPLHD, says that if the program were properly enforced, vehicles that failed the tests would not be allowed on the street.
“Before letting any vehicle out on the road, the authorities must test it. But for public transportation vehicles, that’s out of our jurisdiction, of course,” he says. “That’s with the transportation office.”
He acknowledges the importance of monitoring the emissions levels because of the direct impact on public health. “It’s not only about the passengers or pedestrians, it affects the whole city,” he says.
So why are smoke-belching buses still allowed to operate? Azas Tigor Nainggolan, chairman of the nongovernmental Jakarta Transportation Council, believes he has the answer.
Many of the vehicles, says Azas, who also owns a Metro Mini himself, lack the full paperwork to be on the street. Yet they manage to keep operating because “it involves bribing the transportation office and the police.”
But Udar Pristono, the head of the Jakarta Transportation Office, denies that this is the case. He says his office, working in cooperation with the city traffic police, routinely stops polluting buses on the street. But fully enforcing the regulations will take time, he says.
He also argues that the overriding factor that makes it so difficult to crack down on violators is that many public transportation vehicles are operated by private individuals. That means most don’t operate out of depots, which makes it difficult to check all the vehicles. Drivers also work according to a daily target rather than a fixed salary, which means less money being spent on maintenance.
“If they were operated by a registered company, then they would have a workshop and we could check their emissions regularly,” Udar says. “There are a lot of problems with public transportation that we can’t fix as long as ownership is dominated by private individuals.”
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