The Jakarta Post
As part of president Sukarno’s campaign to counter foreign influence during the Cold War, he organized two international sporting events in Indonesia at the beginning of the 1960s.
He imported thousands of vehicles from Japan for the Asian Games in 1962, one of which was the humble bemo, a three-wheeled vehicle used for public transportation, which was known as the Daihatsu Midget in its country of origin.
A year later, the country hosted the Games of the New Emerging Forces (Ganefo), a sports event held as an act of resistance in response to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspending Indonesia for not inviting Taiwan and Israel to the 1962 Asian Games.
The bemo were used to ferry athletes and officials from their accommodations to event location at Istora Senayan, Central Jakarta.
The mini pickup trucks, which were used to transport goods not humans in their country of origin, were expected to replace becak (pedicabs) and the smaller bajaj (three-wheeled taxis) due to their larger passenger capacity, higher top speeds and ability to travel down narrower streets.
In 1971, the Jakarta government officially launched the bemo as a public transportation mode to replace the traditional becak, which were both slower and held fewer passengers.
It was a favorite mode of public transportation until the early 1980s. Next year, Indonesia will once again host the Asian Games, but this time, there will be no more bemo.
The Jakarta administration has officially banned them from operating in the city starting from June 6, after a year phasing out the old vehicles, which are considered to be environmentally unfriendly.
Despite the ban, on Thursday, several bemo were still found transporting passengers from Pejompongan to Bendungan Hilir in Central Jakarta, with their drivers saying they were still unsure how they would make a living otherwise.
Iwan Setyawan, one of the bemo drivers, said he had not received any formal announcement from the Transportation Agency but had heard about the ban from his fellow drivers.
“I do not mind. Once I am asked to really stop I’ll do it. There are many ways to survive; I have a car driver’s license,” the 34-year-old told The Jakarta Post.
Iwan started driving a bemo in 1998, butut he has no vehicle of his own, so he drives both bemo or public minivans on a commission basis with the owner.
“In the last one and a half years I have also borrowed a car and drove for [online ride-hailing service] Grab, but lately the competition is very tight. The income I get from driving a car is the same as what I get from driving a bemo,” Iwan explained.
Driving a bemo he can earn Rp 70,000 to Rp 100,000 a day in net income. In his first year of driving for Grab he could earn up to Rp 300,000 in net income per day but lately he has only managed to make about Rp 100,000.
The administration has offered four options to bemo drivers. The first is a Rp 5 million down payment to help them purchase new bajaj. The second is financial assistance to apply for a car driver’s license and start driving a public minivan. The third, which only applies to those whose bemo is still in good condition, is joining one of the city’s tourism programs. The fourth is a job as a sanitation worker.
“I am not willing to drive a bajaj, which is just the same as a bemo. I expect something on a higher level than a bemo,” said Iwan, who has three children.
University student Sellyana Dwita lamented the banning of bemo, saying that it had been a useful transportation option for areas insufficiently served by other modes of public transportation.
She said she often took a bemo from her campus, Persada Indonesia University, on Jl. Diponegoro to Manggarai Station in South Jakarta.
“There are no public minivans from here to the station. While the bajaj fare is two times higher than the bemo,” said the North Bekasi resident.
She takes a train to get from her home to the city. (dra)