ALL IN ONE: Cars, motorcycles and buses merge from three different roads onto one at Jl. Gatot Subroto, South Jakarta, on an afternoon in this file photo. Some cars continue to use the Transjakarta bus lane, as the buses are yet to start operating after repeated delays. (JP/J. Adiguna)
Congestion quickly becomes part of everyday life for anybody who lives in Jakarta.
A recent study showed that 60 percent of the time spent in the Jakarta road network is delayed time, meaning that we spend most of our travel time here stuck in traffic jams.
The economic loss attached to congestion in Jakarta is huge - it can reach more than Rp 8.8 trillion (US$755 million) each year.
This article starts with a discussion on how many roads Jakarta needs, followed by a look at efforts to control the volume of traffic and revitalize the public transport system.
The main argument is that to avoid the looming gridlock, Jakarta has to speed up its initiatives to improve public transportation services and discourage the use of private vehicles downtown.
Roads and vehicle ownershipenough road networks" is often cited as the main factor behind Jakarta's traffic congestion. Jakarta's roads are growing longer by only about 0.01 percent per year, while vehicle ownership is growing by about 9.5 percent per year.
Jakarta has one of the highest vehicle ownership rates of any of East Asia's megacities (see Figure 1). The number of registered vehicles in Jakarta is nearing 9.5 million, including about 2 million cars and 6.6 million motorcycles.
Each day around 1,000 new motorcycles and 300 new cars are registered in Jakarta.
It is forecast that, if everything continues this way, the city's corridors will be in gridlock by 2014. Do we have to build three-layer overpasses to deal with congestion?
Many studies show that increasing road capacity without discouraging use of private vehicles simply leads to even more traffic. This phenomenon is known as induced demand. In a simple way, it can be seen in the development of new roads, underpasses or overpasses in the downtown area.
Initially, congestion will decrease, but after a few months the traffic jams will return with a greater traffic volume.
The elasticity of traffic demand to road capacity is about between 0 and 1. This means that if road capacity is increased by about 1 percent, traffic volume also will increase by 1 percent. The regression model between traffic volume and road capacity in Jakarta shows the induced demand phenomenon.
Research conducted by universities in East Asia collaborating under the East Asia Society of Transport Studies (EASTS) shows that ve-hicle ownership has a positive correlation with income per capita.
Cities with a higher income per capita tend to have greater vehicle ownership.
The study also indicates three possible paths for cities in developing Asia. Cities such as Jakarta, Manila and Bangkok still have a low level of vehicle ownership but they have the potential for gridlock in the near future because of the explosion in the number of private vehicles.
The study reveals three paths for urban transport development, as seen in the United States, Europe and developed Asia (see Figure 2).
The first path is really troubling because U.S. cities tend to be car-oriented and sprawling, and thus considered inefficient in terms of energy use. The European model is ideal; there, the mixed-use cities tend to be more compact and dense, and have good public transportation.
The third, the Asian cities model, is inspired by Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The options for choosing the path are open, but one thing is clear: Jakarta must discourage the use of private vehicles and reform its public transportation to attract greater use.
Holding back the traffic
To discourage use of private vehicles, Jakarta could improve its traffic restraint policy applied through the 3-in-1 scheme by implementing congestion pricing.
Under the current scheme, only cars carrying three people or more can use certain roads at certain times. With the implementation of congestion pricing, motorists will be charged if they drive their vehicles into congested, downtown areas at particular times.
Congestion pricing can take the form of Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) or a simpler scheme such as "Stickerization", where a vehicle owner must pay for a sticker to enter downtown.
ERP has been successfully applied in Stockholm, London and Singapore. The money collected from ERP can be used to improve public transportation so that anybody who prefers to leave the car at home can use reliable and convenient public transportation.
If implemented properly, ERP could have a significant impact on energy use. An energy transportation model shows that a reduction of 20 percent in the number of cars in the traffic flow could increase the average traffic speed by 10 kilometers an hour, save Rp 6.6 trillion in fuel consumption each year and reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 35 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 23 percent.
Improving public transportation
Of all the public transportation initiatives in Jakarta, so far only the busway has been operating relatively well.
The busway, based on the system in Bogota, is now operating in seven corridors, with a total length of about 100 kilometers and a daily ridership of 200,000 passengers.
A consumer satisfaction survey this year, however, showed that the level of service has declined. Areas that need improvement include the ticketing system, the maintenance of infrastructure and the fleet, the feeder system and the park-and-ride facilities.
To attract more users, the busway system should be integrated with the urban railway system. The busway and railway network should be accompanied by the development of large-scale residential areas and apartment complexes along their corridors.
This is a concept known as Transit Oriented Development, where residential areas are developed together with transportation infrastructure in order to build a high accessibility level.
A commuter railway system and urban train circular line do have potential as a mass rapid transit system. However, the current service offered by PT KA still falls short as reliable public transportation. The circular line has another story: Potential passengers are still reluctant to use it because of frequent delays, inaccessibility of stations and poor feeder services.
The Jakarta monorail follows a similar story to the KL monorail and the LRT in Manila, where private initiatives ended up with a government bailout.
Started as a purely privately financed initiative, it was brought to a halt because the investor suffered financial problems. Negotiations are underway to settle the legal issues, and the government intends to step in and take over the project.
The notion of using the waterways for transportation was completely stopped after a trial because of inadequate planning. Unstable water levels and excessive garbage in the river were among the factors behind its failure. The waterway station was not designed properly, and thus access to the station never materialized.
Jakarta's so-called mass rapid transit system, the subway, has secured a soft loan from the Japanese government. The project will cost about Rp 12 trillion with a soft loan of 40 years, including a 10-year grace period, at an interest rate of 0.2 percent and a commitment fee of 0.1 percent. If everything is on track, we will see the first subway operating in Indonesia in 2014.
The new paradigm of urban transportation states clearly that we should not focus on car mobility. Instead, we have to put more effort into improving accessibility. What matters is people, not cars.
Accessibility has to be measured according to the ease of reaching the destination, regardless of the mode of transportation. It is not the speed of a car that matters, but the travel time and the comfort of the person traveling.
After examining the facts, it is fair enough to throw in three final questions: Is Jakarta falling behind in developing its mass transport system? Are current initiatives to deal with traffic jams in Jakarta enough? Can we avoid gridlock in the next five years? The answers, perhaps, are: Yes, No, and Not sure.
The writer chairs the Indonesian Transportation Society, a think tank based in Jakarta.