Jakarta Traffic And The Odd-Even Scheme

By N. Mark Castro

According to the latest report in the Jakarta Globe, Governor Joko Widodo has approved the implementation of the odd-even scheme in the hope of easing Jakarta’s infamous macet (traffic). Starting March next year, cars will be restricted from entering main business areas based on license plate numbers ending in odd or even numbers.

Just like in the Philippines, the new traffic regulation will take effect every weekday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Just like in the Philippines, it is certain to fail.

According to the same report, the governor said:

“If we don’t take some drastic measures [Jakarta’s traffic problems] will not be over, because the number of vehicles is not getting any smaller,” Joko said.

“Which is why we will inform the public and explain [the policy] slowly. This policy is to help people to switch to public transport and to urge people to conserve the use of fuel.”

THE PROBLEM

The thing about traffic is that it’s never just about cars. It’s never about traffic lights. It’s never about cops. It’s never about discipline. It’s never about public transportation. It’s never about roads.

It’s all of it.

Hence, you can’t start one without the other. You need to enjoin all ministries, including the public, to actively participate in the entire mess.

A common mistake in viewing the traffic problem is that it’s considered largely as a local administration problem.

In fact, the solution requires an integrated participation of many branches of government. Taking away unsafe vehicles means giving alternative jobs (labor) to displaced drivers. At the same time, government should also implement traffic rules strictly (The Powlis), provide viable alternative transportation methods (DPR, SBY), educate the drivers and the public (Ministry of Education, Jakarta Government, mass media), and much more.

Yet according to the same report, the governor said:

“In January we will add 200 articulated TransJakarta buses, with an additional 600 buses [in the future], plus 1,000 medium sized [Kopaja] buses. This means there is an effort to increase and revamp [public transportation],” he said.

Whoever gave him such information shouldn’t be shot. In the head.

No, he should be made to police the traffic.

Public transportation isn’t part of the solution. It’s part of the problem.

Where will you put all these new buses? The private lanes alone have already breached their maximum carrying capacity. You may think you have reduced the traffic with the implementation of the odd-even scheme, but you have not solved the congestion problem.

The primary solution to public transportation is to fully regulate the ‘worthiness’ of the existing vehicles, recall those unfit, and then introduce new vehicles that the public would truly prefer. On top of that, it’s best to ensure that each bus arrives at a certain time so that efficiency can be achieved both in traffic and public preference.

JOKI: A CRIMINAL LIFE OF A PAID HITCHHIKER 

One of those that would be displaced in the entire scheme of things would be the ‘JOKI’ or a paid hitchhiker during Jakarta’s 3-in-1 scheme.

True, we are all aghast at the existence of this cottage industry, often using small children to scavenge for loose change yet, ironically, we are all dependent on their existence to get us through to the next corner.

Joki’s usually dress in proper and received approximately $1-2 per ride. This is a niche market as the job field becomes more competitive, hence, resorting to bringing in infants and toddlers to generate pity and numbers.

But how many JOKI’s are out there in the city? Has the city prepared itself for the displacement of these people? Has the city prepared them for this transition? Or are they left out to fend for themselves, pushing them further into a life of crime or, worse, conservative terrorism.

LONG AND WINDING ROAD

One may argue that the reduction of vehicle production would be the solution.

Of course, one is welcome to profess their idiocy at any time.

As things are, the automotive industry is one of the most heavily taxed industries in the country. During the discussion group hosted by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents’ Club, top executives from various auto companies were invited to speak of their bold and courageous mission to overtake Thailand in terms of auto production. They also discussed the challenges they face but are very much open in working with the government in developing more roads because the government can’t seem to catch up with the progress of the auto industry, hence, too many cars, too little roads.

In terms of taxation, sedans are taxed more than SUVs and MPVs while imported cars are taxed up to 180%, money which should go to the development of more roads.

Instead, we see fat government employees doing, well, I leave it up to you what you think they do.

DISCIPLINE

Enforcing traffic rules and regulations is a tricky thing, of course, because it doesn’t require one to be a rocket scientist to understand the command of the ojek drivers.

They are the kings of the road.

So many rules have been applied to them yet they simply ignore it. Double that with the stubborn attitude of your average Jakarta driver who thinks that a yellow light is a suggestion then, et voila, you have the perfect recipe for Jakarta’s macet.

WHY IT WILL FAIL

Cynicism isn’t something recklessly applied on this proposed traffic scheme, but with hard evidence of driving in one of the worst traffic lanes in Asia, which is the Philippines. Road rage is as common as the sneeze and people have actually died from gunshot wounds because of perceived traffic violations.

And the Philippines was one of the first in the entire Asia to implement the failed odd-even scheme … way back in 1995, when most of the people in Jakarta administration were probably still in school.

Consider the population of Metro Manila and the number of cars that plied through its EDSA road and Ayala Avenue, then multiply it by two … that’s your Jakarta traffic.

So you still think odd-even scheme will work?

KEMBALI KE LAFTAF

There’s nothing wrong in going back to the drawing board. Prudent dictates that traffic management be given more time to study its impact both to the growing economy and the public. Look for best practices in the region. Understandably, this is one of the governor’s major political promise, but it’s one that requires time and cautious deliberations because the option of …

Prohibiting people from using their expensive cars is highly undemocratic.

About Asmartrock

N. Mark Castro is the chief political communications strategist for PT AsiaLeads, a political and communications policy-making body based in Jakarta, Indonesia. He is also the Executive Director at the Southeast Asia Consulting Group, an investment advisory company assisting clients roll out their presence for the ASEAN Economic Integration in partnership with government. The views posted here are his own and do not in any way reflect the views of the companies he represents.

Posted on December 7, 2012, in General, Politics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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