The Facebook entry summed it up. “Stupid Metro Mini driver, picking up passengers at a level train crossing,” wrote the incensed Jakartan.
His anger was genuine: He was concerned about what would have happened if a train suddenly roared through the crossing in Kemayoran and slammed into the Metro Mini bus, which was full of passengers.
But he was stunned to find that most of the comments posted by his friends sided with the driver. “This is Jakarta, not Singapore or Kuala Lumpur,” one said. Others said this kind of maneuver was expected from Metro Mini drivers.
“LOL. Funny how my friends see this reckless behavior as part of the package of living in Indonesia,” he wrote. “Those reckless drivers put people’s lives at risk and that’s unacceptable.”
Anyone who has been on a Metro Mini knows it is a thrill ride. But the privately operated buses help fill the cracks in Jakarta’s woeful public transportation system. As a result, motorists and commuters seem resigned to the fact that Metro Minis are a law unto themselves.
Of course, people can and do get hurt. The buses often never really fully stop, which opens up the possibility of passengers tumbling to the pavement trying to get on or off. Women wearing skirts or high heels are at particular risk.
Complaints abound in letters to newspaper editors, on radio stations and in phone calls to state-owned bus company PT Perum Pengangkutan Penumpang Djakarta.
“But all those complaints disappear with the wind,” said one angry female commuter in South Jakarta.
Other complaints center around the fact that the buses don’t always complete the routes they claim to serve. “This is crazy. I take a minibus to go to Blok M because this bus serves the Tanah Abang-Blok M route,” complained Natasha, an Australian expatriate in Jakarta, who was dumped along with several other passengers about a kilometer from Blok M.
“It’s written on the front window. Now I have to take a long walk to Blok M,” she said.
The standard excuse from drivers is that “heavy traffic” justifies the detour, but the real reason is the desire to beat rival Metro Minis back along the route to Tanah Abang. Moving slowly — and safely — means losing money to other buses, which all compete against each other.
How this behavior — stopping everywhere, disrupting traffic flow, reckless driving — adds to Jakarta’s jams is hard to quantify. But data from the Indonesian Transportation Society showed public transportation contributed to 65 percent off all traffic accidents in Jakarta in 2008.
The lack of discipline extends to passengers, who stand at intersections to flag down buses or minivans and then expect drivers to stop exactly where they want, even if it’s unsafe. As a result, minivans, such as the infamous light blue Mikrolets, stop at crossroads, on bridges, in the middle of roads and even on train tracks.
Recently, at an intersection in Slipi, Central Jakarta, a group of people stood on the side of the road waiting for a bus, ignoring an official bus shelter 20 meters away. Along came two giant city buses that illegally stopped right in the middle of an intersection, blocking all traffic.
A stampede ensued as passengers tried to get in and out of the buses, while a conductor shouted “Kampung Rambutan! Kampung Rambutan!” to attract more passengers.
This scene plays itself out every day, seemingly on every bus.
There are at least 78,000 public buses, minibuses and minivans in Jakarta, according to the city administration’s communications office. Other transportation experts and officials put the number closer to 110,000. And most of the vehicles are more than 20 years old.
Hendah Sunugroho, an official at Jakarta’s Land Transportation Agency, said private transportation companies didn’t want to buy new vehicles for budgetary reasons. “One big bus, for example, costs Rp 800 million [$84,000]. Minibuses are only slightly cheaper. So the companies prefer to just repair their old vehicles,” he said.
Bambang Susantono, chairman of the Indonesian Transportation Society, points to poor law enforcement as the source of Jakarta’s traffic problems, but Muhammad Akbar, head of road traffic engineering at the Jakarta Transportation Agency, sees it otherwise.
Akbar said the drivers’ unruliness and bad behavior by passengers were caused by the lack of an efficient, integrated public transportation system, and the absence of a set wage for drivers of buses, taxis, bajajs and even ojeks.
“People would act more calmly and sensibly if they were sure they would get seats on comfortable public transportation,” he said. “And drivers would not go crazy if they knew they would get regular salaries every month or every week.”
Meanwhile, the mad scramble for passengers remains a pocketbook issue for drivers.
Lack of capacity at Jakarta’s bus terminals is another cause of congestion. According to Hulma Sitorus, head of East Jakarta’s district communications office, the Kampung Melayu terminal can only hold 100 vehicles, while the number of buses and minivans that use it is often three times higher. As a result, vehicles overflow onto the streets, causing continuous traffic jams.
“It becomes a very complicated situation,” he said. “Reducing the number of public transportation vehicles is impossible, and so is expanding the terminal’s capacity because it’s surrounded by huge buildings and busy roads.”