Everyday, we hear the grumblings in Jakarta from our friends, our colleagues and ourselves as everyone faces the prospect of making their way through congested roads and grid-locked traffic.
Risky Ayudria, a secretary in North Jakarta, is no different.
“My experience of the traffic in Jakarta is that it is jammed,” Risky said. “Sometimes I feel so exhausted waiting for the busway queue, and the pollution also gives me headaches and makes me breathless. Because of this, I think using private transportation is an advantage, but the negative side of that is we have to spend a lot of money for petrol since we are stuck in traffic for so long.”
For the majority of Jakartans — rich, poor and anywhere in between — traffic is an unavoidable and inconvenient part of life in the capital.
With 10 million motorcycles and 3 million cars on Jakarta’s roads, according to Yoga Adiwinarto from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, the management of these 13 million vehicles is becoming an increasing challenge for the local and central governments.
Suryo Suwignjo, the president director of IBM Indonesia says he is as frustrated as anyone by the congested roads.
“Now in Jakarta, distance is not relevant, the travel time is more relevant. If you would like to have a three o’clock client meeting in Pacific Place, what time will you actually leave from the office? In the end you can be way too early or very late so it’s very difficult. A lot of unproductive time is spent on the road,” Suryo said in an interview at his office in Jakarta last month.
The president director believes that it may now be time for the capital of the world’s fourth most populous country to follow the lead of metropolises around the globe and implement technology-based systems to give a leg up to those in charge of managing the traffic.
IBM has experience developing a number of systems tailored to the needs of various local governments.
Its Smarter Cities Unit’s hallmark project was implemented in 2010 in Rio De Janeiro, where an operations center was designed by IBM at the request of the city’s mayor, Eduardo Paes. Brazil’s second-largest city, which is gearing up to host the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, is now coordinated by a control room where data on conditions affecting the city — such as weather, risk of natural disasters, traffic, crime, and major events like large parties or riots — are collected and displayed in real time.
The information is then monitored and processed by the center’s workers who can communicate with relevant authorities — helping with the responsiveness and interconnectivity between public agencies.
Closer to home in Asia, in the southern Phillippine city Davao a command center has been set up with the aim of increasing public security against accidents, flooding, fires, crime and other threats to safety.
Meanwhile, in Zhenjiang, a city of three million in eastern China, IBM software has been integrated into the city’s transportation system to predict traffic jams before they happen, allowing authorities to be better prepared as well as initiating new bus schedules to better reflect the times at which public transport is most needed.
IBM’s Infrastructure Partnership and Knowledge Center estimated that traffic congestion in Jakarta created a loss in productivity of as much as Rp 12.8 trillion ($1.3 billion) in 2012.
A number of different systems could be tailored to reduce traffic congestion in Jakarta based on the government’s priorities and budgets, according to Suryo.
One straightforward option would be to take full advantage of the monitoring systems already set up at most major intersections.
“Now, if you have a camera in that intersection, you will be able to look at it from your command center, meaning that, if there is a traffic jam, you will know,” he said.
“If there is a traffic jam at an intersection, everybody from the busy direction will get stuck because all directions get an equal 60 seconds of green light. A good system, at the very minimum, will enable the police or whoever takes control of the traffic system to say that, ‘Hey the queue on this road is very long so I will give them two minutes of green light and cut down the amount of time on green for the other roads.’ ”
Suryo adds that even better would be to use predictive technology to analyze traffic headed towards congestion hotspots so that traffic jams could be predicted. This would allow for preventative action to avoid a jam.
“Basically the software predicts the future, but in this case it is the future of traffic … and then if you have that information and combine it with your ability to adjust the traffic lights, you can actually avoid the congestion,” he said.
Suryo confirmed that IBM has consulted with a number of different government departments on systems that could be implemented in Jakarta, although no formal projects are planned.
“We’ve been sharing a lot with them on what we have. Everyone acknowledges that this is a good thing, but when it comes to implementing it is a different story,” he said.
Suryo added that while one barrier may be the cost of implementing new systems, another is the difficulty of the many different agencies involved in running Jakarta’s roads coordinating with each other.
Yoga of ITDP agreed and said that while IBM’s systems should not be considered the only viable solutions to Jakarta’s traffic problems, they are one way in which greater coordination could be brought about between government agencies.
“Most often, this vacuum in the agencies is caused by the strict procedures and regulations restricting them doing something beyond their responsibility, even though they know the problem is there. … Due to a lack of staff and the amount of workload borne by each agencies, simple improvement can easily fail due to lack of communications and coordination between agency,” he said.
It seems the Jakarta government may finally be moving to increase the cooperation of those responsible for managing the city’s traffic.
“To solve the problem, we need to work on all sides simultaneously,” Udar Pristono, the head of Jakarta’s Transportation Agency told the Jakarta Globe.
Pristono explained that the Jakarta Transportation Agency has built a great cooperation with the Jakarta Traffic Police. They will soon have one traffic monitoring system instead of the two separate systems run by the Jakarta Police’s Traffic Management Center and the transportation agency’s Intelligent Transport System.
“The combination of both systems is hoping to be able to identify congestion points as soon as they detected, so that personnel from both units can react quickly and help ease the flow of the traffic,” Pristono said.
Suryo said strong leadership will be critical in resolving Jakarta’s traffic deadlock and that the city’s new administration may be able to make progress, thanks to Governor Joko Widodo.
“Start with leadership and only if you have that can issues be resolved. Because, as much as I would like to say that IBM technology is No. 1 here, what I am saying is that some of these solutions are not as sophisticated as people think,” he said.
Additional reporting by Ronna Nirmala