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Jakarta Post

Jakarta needs tough air pollution control; are we ready?

  • Bambang Nurbianto
    Bambang Nurbianto

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, September 14, 2019   /   07:22 am
Jakarta needs tough air pollution control; are we ready? Smog blankets Jakarta’s skyscrapers on Monday, August 19, 2019. Air pollution in the city is among the worst in the world. (JP/Donny Fernando)

On Monday, the Jakarta administration started to enforce the expansion of the odd-even license plate policy from only nine to 25 roads for private cars and other four- or more-wheeled vehicles in response to a lawsuit against the governors of Jakarta, Banten and West Java as well as against President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and several ministers, who are being blamed for the poor air quality in the capital.

As a city with one of the worst air-pollution problems in the world, Jakarta and its satellite cities need tougher policies on air-pollution control, particularly to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, whose contribution to air pollution in urban areas amounts to about 70 to 80 percent, surveys show.

Therefore, traffic restrictions such as the odd-even policy should not only target cars but also motorcycles to significantly cut emissions, because motorcycles account for 75 percent of all vehicles, while cars only account for 23 percent, according to the Greater Jakarta Transportation Agency.

Jakarta is among Indonesia’s first cities to have introduced a bylaw on air pollution. The 2005 bylaw was introduced a year after the opening of the first corridor of the Transjakarta busway or bus rapid transit (BRT), now the backbone of the capital’s transportation service along with the rail-based commuter line service.

The bylaw and the BRT initiated by then-governor Sutiyoso were considered the most important steps toward improving air quality in Jakarta, which in 2005 was the world’s third-worst after Mexico City and Bangkok. They also show that from the beginning, policymakers were aware that efforts to ease traffic congestion were an integral part of improving air quality.

Progress in public transportation deserves appreciation as city-owned bus management PT TransJakarta reportedly operates about 2,200 buses, compared with fewer than 500 city buses in 2005. Meanwhile, PT Kereta Commuter Indonesia, a subsidiary of state-owned railway operator PT KAI, transports about 1 million passengers per day in Greater Jakarta now, double the number in 2005.

Unfortunately, the success story in public transportation has not been followed by a significant reduction in vehicular emissions, because the administration has failed to enforce the air pollution control bylaw. It is 15 years since the bylaw was introduced, and the city has been led by five governors since then, including Governor Anies Baswedan.

Meanwhile, many motorists are still reluctant to shift to public transportation. Instead, they rely on private vehicles, mostly motorcycles, purchased through easily available loans.

The bylaw actually mandates the city administration to enforce regular checks on vehicular emissions. It also requires the use of natural gas for vehicles operated by the administration and public transportation. It further requires the government to provide vehicles with more environmentally friendly fuels.

In addition, the city also has Bylaw No. 5/2014 on transportation, which is another strong legal basis to improve the city’s air quality. The bylaw stipulates traffic restrictions, which could be in the form of electronic road pricing (ERP), the odd-even policy, three-in-one policy or others.

The odd-even policy was introduced for the first time by then-governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in May 2016 to replace the three-in-one policy — because the city was not ready to enforce the ERP as a result of a failure in the tender process for the infrastructure. Meanwhile, Anies believed the odd-even policy to be an effective way to force motorists to shift to public transportation.

AirVisual recorded Jakarta’s air quality as the worst in the world on Aug. 3 with an Air Quality Index (AQI) level of 174. On Monday, Jakarta’s AQI level was recorded at 135, or the world’s third-worst after Beijing and Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Jakarta’s AQI level improved to 95, or at 12th position at 3:53 p.m. on Friday.

While Jakarta’s air quality is fluctuating, there is still a long way to go until we get Jakarta’s blue skies. Therefore, the lawsuit being heard at the Central Jakarta District Court will hopefully result in forcing the city administration and the other defendants to enforce the regulations.

The city’s plan to enforce mandatory emissions checks for all vehicles in Jakarta in early 2020 will require sufficient workshops and other emissions-check facilities.

The court also needs to ensure that the government will expand the gas network in the city to facilitate more compressed natural gas (CNG) stations. Meanwhile, the transportation sector should only use environmentally friendly fuels.

However, eventually, a strong commitment by the people is the key to significant improvement of the city’s air quality, because any policies on air-pollution control demand trade-offs from residents and commuters. For example, we will have to give up the convenience of riding private vehicles, pay more for environmentally friendly fuels and regularly check our vehicles to meet the emissions standards.

The court may hand down a strong ruling leading to tough enforcement of air-pollution control as demanded by the plaintiffs. So are we ready to shoulder the costs needed to significantly clean up the city’s air?

The greater our commitment, the cleaner Jakarta’s air will be.