My Jakarta: Ateng, Bicycle Taxi Driver
People often wonder where else in the world one could find a bicycle taxi, which differs from the ubiquitous pedicabs and rickshaws. The classic bicycle, known as ‘sepeda onthel,’ is often associated with traditional and communal transport during the Dutch colonization.
Kota Tua is where you can find 40-year-old Ateng, who makes a living giving rides to visitors who either want to experience the whole package of ‘Jakarta Tempo Doeloe’ (old-fashioned Jakarta) or just want to go somewhere fast amid the crippling traffic.
That looks like a really old bicycle — does it break down often?
Occasionally, yes. I often find the wheels deflated when I taking my customer for a ride. Sometimes the gear and chain are also damaged. But fortunately my customers always understand the situation and never complain much. Some even offer their help to repair it, while others patiently wait while I fix the damages.
Planning on offering your service outside of Kota Tua?
Not really. Kota Tua has a little bit of both the good and ugly stuff. This is a tourist attraction, so visitors use my service to enjoy the whole Kota Tua experience. And because this is a tourist area, it’s always crowded with traffic. So many people end up choosing bicycle taxis over other kinds of transportation.
But we all have be really careful here. Theft and pickpockets are quite a problem here, even for small-time workers struggling for a living like me. When I was sleeping in a stall near here, a thief cut open by my pocket and took my wallet. But I guess, despite all the down sides, I don’t think I will ever offer my services anywhere but Kota Tua.
How much do you charge?
Transportation services like bajajs, motorcycles and bicycle taxis don’t have a fixed rate. It depends on the distance and on how good you are in haggling with us [laughs]. But mostly it’s around Rp 5,000 to Rp 7,000 [53 cents to 74 cents]. The biggest payment I ever received was Rp 15,000. Some people actually pay through installments [smiles].
Has there been any talk of the Jakarta government banning bicycle taxis because they are considered a traffic disturbance?
No, the government does not seem to have any problems with bicycle taxis. Besides, bicycle taxis don’t give out any forms of pollution whatsoever and because bicycle taxis only serve short distances, we rarely use the main roads, let alone cause traffic jams. The government never supports us in any way, but they never prohibit us from making our living.
How long you have been working as a bicycle taxi driver?
I have been pedaling since 1985. Around that time I didn’t have my own bicycle yet, so I had to rent one. At that time I remember the rent of the bicycle was just Rp 300. Imagine what you can rent now with Rp 300 [laughs].
I assume you eventually lost customers over the years — how was the decline?
The first time I worked as a bicycle taxi driver, I got many customers, ranging from workers and students to housewives and tourists. But now the customers are mostly are workers and students, with tourists showing up only certain days or during vacations.
I now work from 9 a.m. until midnight. Some days, I only get one or two customers.
That sounds tough — do you have a second job?
No, this is the only job I’ve ever had. My schooling stopped after finishing primary school, so I think this job is suitable for me.
How much do you enjoy your life?
People can make their own standards for happiness. For me, I always feel happy when I see my customers satisfied with my service, and with the great respect and friendship that we fellow bicycle taxi riders have with each other in Kota Tua. We always help each other whenever we have a problem. We always sit down and solve our problems together. But my most joyful memories are with this bicycle right here. She has accompanied me over all this year.
How about upgrading to a motorcycle taxi driver?
I’ll need to think about no longer using my companion here. But if I have enough money, maybe I will.
Ateng spoke to Erwin Chanputra.