The Jakarta Post
For decades, the Jakarta Pedicab Drivers Union (Sebaja) has been fighting for permission to work in certain neighborhoods in North and West Jakarta in peace, without risking raids.
After Governor Anies Baswedan gave them the green light to operate in limited areas in January this year, the drivers now face an unexpected enemy in Jakartans who look down on them and their pedicabs as embarrassing relics of the past.
Last month, City Council Speaker Prasetio Edi Marsudi vowed to never approve the revision to a bylaw prohibiting becak (pedicabs), saying they would “downgrade Jakarta residents”. People in Jakarta should be encouraged to use “good quality” mass public transportation, such as the Transjakarta bus, commuter line and later MRT, Prasetio said.
The Jakarta administration has prohibited becak from operating on its main roads since 1970.
Needed in lower-income areas
But in the back alleys in certain neighborhoods, about 1,600 becak drivers have still been operating for years, risking raids every day. When leaving Pejagalan Jaya traditional market in West Jakarta with bags full of groceries, just call out “becak” and pedicabs will come pedaling up to take you to your destination.
The Pejagalan Jaya traditional market has one of the few official shelters for becak in Jakarta, situated at the market’s entrance on Jl. Pejagalan 2. More than five pedicabs can be seen waiting for passengers on the 15-meter square shelter on Saturday morning.
The pedicab drivers, mostly in their 60s, who gathered at the shelter told The Jakarta Post that it was their morning routine to go back and forth from the market to transport passengers. Most of their customers are housewives carrying groceries. Some are regulars who hire becak to pick up their children from a school nearby.
Sebaja chairman Rasdullah said the group had engaged with a team at the University of Indonesia (UI) to discuss the development of becak, which led to the idea to develop a solar-powered becak.
“Some [drivers] are not as strong as they used to be to pedal their becak,” he said.
To solve the issue, a solar-powered, environmentally friendly alternative was proposed.
Sebaja, UI and the Urban Poor Consortium (UPC) have been working together to realize the idea.
Herlily, a lecturer from UI’s school of architecture who is involved with the project, told the Post that modifying the becak was part of a bigger improvement in the becak’s operation. Her team has been working to collect data on Jakarta’s becak and becak drivers, improving the route and now providing an ergonomic vehicle.
“We will still keep the classic vintage form of the becak. Its mechanical operation will be modified,” she said.
Gugun Muhammad of the UPC said the innovative becak would be powered by solar cell panels attached to the roof.
“[The solar-powered becak] aims to show the City Council that pedicabs can be more humane,” he said, adding that the installment of solar cell panels would be optional for the drivers.
Anticipating accusations that the new models would swarm larger roads and be speeding, he emphasized that the solar panels would help the old drivers, not increase the speed of the vehicle.
Becak drivers, who were in the hundreds of thousands in Jakarta during their heyday, had been accused of causing traffic jams and disorder.
Herlily, however, said solar power was only one option; the modification could be as simple as attaching a dynamo, like those on electric bicycles.
Rasdullah joked that he had already thought of the name for the vehicle: Becak Online Cepat dan Irit (fast and economical app-based becak), or Be'ol Cepirit for short, which can also be loosely translated as excreting.
The name became viral after his joke was picked up by several online media platforms last week. Gugun has since clarified that there were no plans to actually call the new becak that.
But he did express the hope that the modified becak would fit the modern image of the capital.
“[Hopefully], the becak can operate within tourist areas such as Ancol Dreamland Park [North Jakarta] and Monas [The National Monument], where passengers can order becak through an app,” he said.
Rasdullah said he always envisioned modern-looking pedicabs in Jakarta to silence critics and convince the City Council to allow them to operate.
He said Sebaja was trying to push for legal certainty, which could only be achieved by the revision of Jakarta Regulation No. 8/2007 on public order.
The city administration submitted a draft revision to the City Council on Sept. 13. Until now, there has been no progress on the deliberation.
Improving drivers’ behavior
In an attempt to combat the stigma attached to the becak and its drivers, Rasdullah said Sebaja was trying to improve how they worked.
“We want to show that we are organized, behave in an orderly fashion and can be trusted,” the 54-year-old said.
Therefore, he said, Sebaja has locked its registered members at 1,685 drivers across 16 subdistricts, obliged them to attach to their becak a joint-agreement letter signed by the union and the Jakarta Transportation Agency and wear a green vest as part of their uniform.
“Some people still need becak, especially in disadvantaged places and lower-middle income residents. Becak drivers in pangkalan [base] or within neighborhoods are always there when needed,” he said, recalling his midnight experience when he pedaled some neighbors to the hospital.
Jakarta resident Fadila Paramitha, 28, said she opposed becak for being old-fashioned and nearly obsolete as a mode of transportation.
However, she supported having becak in tourist areas, citing countries like Japan that had implemented a similar idea.
“Becak powered by solar energy sounds cool. I think it would be great for our tourism,” she said. (sau)