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Jakarta Post

Street vendor relocation back to square one

  • Bambang Nurbianto

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, March 1, 2014   /  11:08 am

It seems the Jakarta administration'€™s attempts to relocate street vendors '€” one of the landmark programs of
Governor Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo '€” is facing a serious challenge, if not a setback, now that many of the traders have reclaimed the sidewalks from pedestrians.

Hopefully, Jokowi, former mayor of the Central Java city of Surakarta, more commonly known as Solo, will not give up his bid to emulate the efforts he took forward in his hometown, where he successfully resettled thousands of street vendors and earned international recognition years later. The governor should renew his efforts to make the program a success.

In Jakarta, the high profile relocation started from the hustling and bustling Tanah Abang market in Central Jakarta
last September when the administration herded about 900 street vendors into the Blok G cluster of the market.

Jokowi'€™s initial success was widely appreciated not only by pedestrians, but also road users who cherished the improved traffic in the Tanah Abang area. Then the relocation focus shifted to other parts of the city.

Regrettably, however, many of the street vendors were uncomfortable with their new places and returned to familiar locations. Their justification for doing so was the low number of visitors, which hit their businesses.  

The return of street vendors to the sidewalks of Jl. Palmerah Barat, West Jakarta, has proved to be another lesson for the city administration.

The relocation took place on Sept. 27 last year. That day, all street vendors, along with their tents and carts, were cleared from the sidewalks. For several days following the clearance, Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) officers stood guard to prevent the vendors from returning. As time went by, the officers resorted to parking their cars near the market without showing up. They thought it was enough to scare off the street traders, but they were wrong.

In the absence of the Satpol PP officers, several vendors reopened their street business. One fruit vendor, for example, resumed trading next to the fence of Palmerah market a few days after the relocation. Having been reprimanded, she moved a step closer to the roadside in front of the market until finally she reclaimed her old territory at the expense of pedestrians. Many other vendors followed suit and succeeded.

The relocation was purely for the good of the public and for the sake of law enforcement, without ill intent to negatively affect the business of the street vendors.

The city administration did help former street vendors relocated in Blok G of Tanah Abang sell their goods. The fact that the vendors abandoned their new places should cast doubt on whether the government has done enough to assist the micro entrepreneurs. Or perhaps it is impossible to relocate the street vendors.

 Of course, Solo is easier to manage than Jakarta. There are only about 7,000 vendors in the sultanate city, as against 100,000 in Jakarta, according to the Jakarta Cooperatives and Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises Agency.

The problem facing Jakarta is that the city administration has not explored all opportunities to sustain the relocation program. In Palmerah for example, another market located a few hundred meters from the traditional market is in place to keep vendors from trading on the sidewalk.

Known as pasar pisang (banana market) because the traders mostly sell bananas, the two-story market has failed to attract the street vendors to set up shop. The second floor of the market is nearly empty. A food vendor said she had been relocated to the market from sidewalk but returned to the street after a few days as she lost many customers.

The banana market stands a great chance of accommodating more street vendors, provided there are extra efforts, such as a makeover of the front part of the building just to make it more attractive to potential customers. More importantly, the city administration may consider changing the market into a fruit center, which Jakarta lacks. This specialty can help traders develop their business.

Street vendor relocation is not merely intended to restore pedestrian rights, which have been long denied. It will also help the local government renovate the poor condition of most sidewalks across the city.

Better sidewalks will enable public transportation users to easily change modes of transport.  As seen in many developed cities, people enjoy walking to nearby bus stops or railway stations, which has a good impact on their health.

Jokowi cannot completely address annual flooding and traffic congestion within the five years of his tenure. However, he must not fail in the street vendor relocation because it is only a matter of commitment. Of course, Jokowi needs help from his subordinates to discover possible places to resettle the vendors.

The governor is now very busy. Sooner or later he may start to consider running for the presidency given the various surveys that see him as the most electable candidate.

But whatever his future political choices, he is still the Jakarta governor who is responsible for the resolution of all the city'€™s problems, as promised during his election campaign.

If Jokowi fails to impress with his efforts to ease traffic gridlock and mitigate floods, he stands a good chance of making the street vendor relocation program his legacy if he does choose to contest the presidential election.

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The city administration has not explored all opportunities to sustain the relocation program.

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The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.

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