One of the most populous cities in the world, Jakarta is notorious for its jam-packed traffic. Gridlock, more than pollution, is the number one thing that Jakartans complain about.
According to a 2015 report from the Central Bureau of Statistics, there were more than 13 million registered motorcycles and 3 million registered cars in Jakarta, operating on puny 7 million meters of roads.
Also according to the report, the number of vehicles in Jakarta has increased by 9,93% on average every year since 2010. It's no wonder that traffic in Jakarta is getting worse and worse.
Djoko Kirmanto, the former Minister of Public Works, said back in 2014 that Jakarta will see total gridlock by 2020. Traffic will practically start at your doorstep when that happens.
The main causes of Jakarta's bad traffic are clear: an inadequate public transportation system, the ever-increasing number of vehicles that causes overcapacity on its roads and recently, many infrastructure constructions which often block those same roads.
Aside from that, there are also the problems of having too many level crossings in the city and the unscrupulous behavior of its road users, especially bikers and car drivers.
Level crossing is a point where a railway track and a road cross each other. It creates congestion because every time a train passes, a rail gate will close and vehicles will stop for at least three to four minutes waiting for the train to pass.
When we drive through the streets of Jakarta, we will see a lot of these level crossings — most of the times from inside the car we are stuck in.
Data show there are 481 level crossings throughout the Jakarta Metro Area, including illegal ones. They cause many unnecessary traffic congestion in Jakarta, especially during peak hours.
As an illustration, one of the busiest lanes on the Commuter Line rail network, the Bogor-Jakarta Line, has a total of 81 scheduled one-way trips from Bogor to Jakarta Kota every day. The train departs every 10 to 15 minutes, which meansevery five minutes a Commuter Line train will pass a level crossing, creating many gridlock-prone spots.
Jakarta road users: born to be wild
Jakarta's road users can always find ways to break traffic rules and regulations. They ride their bikes at high speed against the flow of traffic, seem to think traffic signs are nothing more than road ornaments and park illegally as if by nature.
Jakartans have become desensitized to the sight of cars accelerating when the light turns from green to yellow instead of slowing down, and the sight of a "No Parking" or "No Stopping" seems too draw motorists, like moths to a flame, to actually park their bikes or cars at the very spot.
Solutions still far away
There are several ways to ease bottlenecks created by level crossings. One way is to build railway tracks not on the same level as the road. This means, we either elevate the railway or build it underground.
Mass Rapid Transportation (MRT) and Light Rail Train (LRT) systems, like those in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, are both success stories of reducing traffic congestion in a densely populated city.
LRT and MRT kill two birds with one stone: reducing congestion while at the same time giving people more commuting options.
The downside is that its development requires an enormous sum of money and effort. In addition, the project takes a long time to complete, so people have to stay patient as they endure even worse traffic from the construction work.
Yet this seems to be the best option to solve Jakarta's traffic problem in the long run.
To improve discipline on the road, there is no other way than to enforce traffic laws and regulations with a heavier hand.
Punishment should be meted out to every misconduct, though it is also the police's responsibility to increase awareness of those rules. Start from the very beginning: make it harder for people to get their license.
Unless they know all the road rules and how to follow them to a T, they should not be given one.
And as always, all these solutions will not work unless there is cooperation between the government and the road users themselves.
Nopriyanto Hady Suhanda is a staff member of the Center for Regional and Bilateral Policy, Fiscal Policy Agency of the Ministry of Finance. All views in this article are his own.