The Jakarta Post
This article is part of The Jakarta Post’s "Forging the New Norm" special coverage series on how people are forging their lives anew to adjust to the new realities of COVID-19 in Indonesia.
As the Jakarta administration gradually eases COVID-19 social restrictions and reopens certain business sectors, people are preparing themselves for a safe commute on public transit.
Triastuti boarded a commuter line train to her office in Jakarta for the first time last Thursday after two months working remotely from her house in Tigaraksa, Banten.
She was anxious about the risk of contagion on public transportation.
The 40-year-old contract employee of a ministry decided to wear a pair of fabric gloves during her commute in addition to a face mask.
“Because I have children at home -- one of whom is a toddler,” she said. “That’s why I am more prepared when boarding the train.”
State-owned commuter line operator PT KCI made it a requirement for passengers to wear face masks inside the station and on the train when the large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) were first imposed in April. Passengers not wearing a mask will be prohibited from using their services. Fabric gloves and other protective gear for passengers are optional.
“I wear [fabric gloves] so that I do not come into direct contact with surfaces. Many people may have touched, for instance, handrails. Who knows, they might be carrying the disease,” Triastuti said.
The Jakarta administration began loosening restrictions last Friday by allowing houses of worship to reopen, while offices and shops resumed operation at half capacity on Monday. The reopening has caused a surge of passengers at several commuter line stations during rush hours, according to local media reports.
To cope with the increasing number of passengers, KCI, Transjakarta, as well as the MRT and LRT have now extended operational hours and the number of trips.
Besides continuing to enforce mandatory mask-wearing on public transit, the commuter line operator is also introducing additional health protocols in its facilities, including a ban on elderly people boarding trains during rush hours and a blanket ban on infants. All rail operators are advising passengers on trains to avoid talking directly with fellow passengers or making phone calls on the grounds that the virus spreads through droplets. The number of passengers allowed to enter each car is also limited.
Floribertus Oni, 54, a private employee who cannot afford to work from home during the pandemic, has long been alarmed by the risk of contagion on mass transit.
Oni works in a logistics and transportation company in Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta, one of the essential sectors allowed to remain operational during the PSBB and the city’s current transition to a “new normal”.
He always wore a mask when commuting from Serpong in South Tangerang, Banten, to his office in the past two months. But as he observed the number of commuter line passengers increasing day by day after the Idul Fitri holiday in late May, he said he would consider wearing more protection.
“I do not think it is necessary for now. But at some point in the near future, wearing a face shield and gloves will be necessary,” Oni said. “Many passengers will cram into the train, even the security might find it difficult to control the situation.”
Transportation experts were cautious about the potential surge in the use of private vehicles, particularly motorcycles, after Jakarta relaxed restrictions, as people feared getting infected while using public transportation.
But commuting by motorcycle is not an option for Triastuti, who must travel over 35 kilometers from her house to her office in Kebon Jeruk, West Jakarta.
Oni, meanwhile, cited high fuel prices and exhausting driving as reasons why he did not drive his car to work.
Theresia Ajun, 54, has seen a face shield as mandatory for commuting in the past month. “I feel something is missing if I only wear a face mask. I have to be more cautious because of my age. I am in the age group vulnerable to COVID-19.”
Before the pandemic, Theresia commuted around three times a week from Maja in Banten to Grogol Petamburan in West Jakarta to take care of her grandchildren. When the outbreak hit the country, she reduced the frequency of her visits to once a week.
As cities began gradually easing restrictions, she said she hoped all commuters would implement health protocols as mandated by public transport operators.
Around 3.2 million Greater Jakarta residents are commuters, according to the 2019 Greater Jakarta Commuter Survey by Statistics Indonesia (BPS). Of that figure, 2.5 million are office workers who commute daily.
Some urbanites such as Fitra Andika, 33, prefer commuting to work by bike to avoid possible crowds when using public transit. Fitra had relied on the Transjakarta buses before the outbreak hit Indonesia. His employer is implementing temporary work shifts to prevent contagion.
Deddy Herlambang from Transportation Study Institute (INSTRAN) said traffic congestion, air pollution and the traffic accident rate would worsen if not addressed properly. “Unlike during the previous phases of PSBB, congestion might now return to the city roads, thus worsening air pollution. [Exposure to air pollution] would weaken people's immunity.”
Jakarta has long struggled with traffic congestion, with private vehicles making up over 70 percent of vehicle use in the city. Many believe this has contributed to the dirty air in the capital.
Deddy suggested that public transportation operators improve hygiene and deploy more workers across the transit networks to report overcrowding and assist passengers in applying physical distancing in order to lure people back to public transit, at the same time protecting them from the disease.