In Defense of the Angkot
Daniel Alan Bey
Of all the modes of transport which hurl people through the busy streets and across the crazed roads of Jakarta, it is probably the public minivan (angkot) which is most lambasted by critics. Inefficient and uncomfortable, the criticism directed towards the angkot is matched only by the criticism directed towards those who drive it.
If the angkot is criticized for being dangerous, old-fashioned and unclean – a vehicle meant for the past – then angkot drivers are generally denigrated as reckless, wild, madmen, the cowboys of Kuningan, Kelapa Gading and beyond. These various criticisms come from experts, government officials and citizens alike.
Admittedly, there have been some serious instances of violent crime in the past, particularly the recent past. In April this year, four men were charged with the rape and murder of Livia Pavita Soelistio, a student of Bina Nusantara University. This tragedy follows in a growing list of women who have been subjected to violent crime while traveling alone by angkot.
In turn, the government has been slow to implement preventive measures which might stop such incidents taking place again in the future. And the government – as well as the people – know this.
Tragic and brutal, one must still put these incidents of violent crime into perspective. Statistically, Jakarta is one of the safest cities in the developing world. In terms of violent crime, including rape and murder, it is a safer city than London. Statistics, of course, do not count for everything; often they’re a poor indicator, a falsification of truth and reality.
It is obvious, for example, that universally speaking, many rapes go unreported each year. This might be through shame and fear on the woman’s part, or poor infrastructure, which often makes it difficult for women to report the crime.
Yet statistics count for something, and it’s clear that Jakarta is, for the most part, a surprisingly safe city, with residents who’re for the most part incredibly helpful and friendly. This is probably why it’s so surprising for the residents here – both local as well as expatriate – to read about these crimes, which are both shocking and barbaric in nature.
You see, like many people, I take the angkot every day, both during the morning and the evening. I have taken the angkot around the entirety of Jakarta, through the north and south, on main roads as well as through slums. And, of course, I have never experienced anything remotely close to the violent crimes already mentioned nor have I been the victim of any form of petty crime.
In fact, I have never felt in the slightest bit endangered when traveling by angkot – even when traveling alone during the early morning. That is not to reduce reality to the lens of my own experience. As already mentioned, there have been incidents of crime in the past and more incidents will undoubtedly occur in the future. Such is the reality of city life.
The problem I have is that the coverage of the angkot in the mainstream press here is almost always negative, so much so that extraordinary, localized incidents, violent to the extreme, have now become universally accepted as part-and-parcel of the risks associated with angkot travel. It is difficult to estimate how many people travel by angst each day, but in Jakarta alone, the number must certainly be in the hundreds of thousands. Relative to the statistics on crime, it’s also clear that the vast majority of these passengers travel safely and securely.
Of all the violent crime which occurs in Jakarta, it is also clear that very little of this occurs on the angkot. Why, then, does crime on the angkot receive so much attention? That it is not to say it does not warrant attention; only that, often, it receives more attention than violent crime which has been committed outside of the angkot, crime which is equally as brutal?
It is unlikely that the angkot is going to disappear any time soon. The angkot offers a service which enables many passengers, especially from poorer communities, to travel cheaply and efficiently. These people rely on the angkot in order to go about their daily lives and make a living. Any attack on the angkot, especially by the privileged, must therefore be placed within the context of urban inequality. It is all too easy easy to criticize from the outside.
For now, the government’s plans to equip angkot’s with tracking devices – on-board unit – seems to me like a good one. For one, if implemented correctly, it should act as a deterrent to those few who’re willing to commit violent crime. For another, it means that the money spent (should the plans come to fruition) will ensure the future of the angkot and its drivers as part of Jakarta’s ever-growing cityscape.
Right now, with an ever-increasing population and growing urban inequality, Jakarta needs more angkots on the roads, not less.