No one can deny that motorcycle riding is hazardous. It is reported that motorcycle accidents kill on average two to three Jakartans daily, and as motorcycle sales surge, fatality figures will also rise. Something needs to be done to keep vulnerable road users safe, and Jakarta’s new governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, has a plan.
In response to high fatality rates in the capital, Basuki’s grand plan is to ban motorcycles from riding, on Jalan M.H. Thamrin, between the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle and Monas — a stretch of road approximately one kilometer in length. Motorcyclists will instead be provided free buses to use along this stretch of road. Basuki says the ban, and bus service, will begin in December.
There is no doubt that this absurd ban will have absolutely no effect on motorcycle fatality rates. Everybody knows Jakarta’s vast road network extends far beyond Jalan M.H. Thamrin.
Under Basuki’s plan, motorcyclists will be provided space to park their bikes at a bus terminal. However, upon alighting from the bus, how do they get to their final destination? A motorcycle taxi? I’d assume only a very small portion of motorcyclists traveling north on Jalan M.H. Thamrin actually want to go to Monas.
A much more effective way to start reducing motorcycle fatalities in Jakarta would be to enforce safety regulations. The sheer number of motorcyclists riding without a helmet, with bald tires, and with ineffective brakes is alarming.
And whatever happened to the humble head and tail lights? Light bulbs are such a simple and cheap item to replace when blown, but it seems many motorcyclists aren’t fazed by being effectively invisible while riding at night.
As a keen motorcyclist, I’ve been stopped by police many times both in Jakarta, and while touring Indonesia’s diverse provinces, but the checks are never more than a simple look at my license and registration papers. No concern is directed toward my tires or any other vital component of the motorcycle that keeps me upright.
So why then is Basuki hell-bent on implementing such a short-sighted policy against motorcyclists?
A popular thought among the more wealthy of Jakarta is that motorcycles cause traffic congestion, an issue that plagues Jakarta’s road network.
This cannot be further from the truth. Rather than causing congestion, motorcycles allow for more people to share the roads. Motorcycles are able to slip through lines of stationary and slow-moving cars, rather than simply joining the end of an increasingly long queue.
Australian state governments have acknowledged the fact that motorcycles ease congestion, and are currently repealing legislation to allow motorcycles to lane filter, or split lanes. The US state of California also allows lane splitting, acknowledging the benefits for riders and drivers alike.
I fear the problem is the continued stratification of Indonesian society between the rich and the poor, or the car drivers and the motorcyclists. Motorcyclists are being marginalized, currently banned from toll roads, many overpasses, and unable to park at locations Jakarta-wide.
The amount of times I have visited Jakarta’s pricier restaurants and bars — as a paying customer — only to be told to park my two-wheeled contraption someplace else, preferably away from the premises, is telling.
With a net worth of Rp 7.1 billion ($580,000) in 2012 according to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Basuki can enjoy many of the finer things in life, including expensive automobiles. Just because someone has accumulated enough wealth to enjoy an expensive car — or several — does not mean they therefore are entitled to exclusive use of Jakarta’s roads.
Basuki mustn’t let the smell of premium leather go to his head, and disregard millions of Jakarta’s motorcycle riders who also share the road. Motorcyclists pay road tax, so why should they be banned from Jakarta’s main avenues?
“I’ve been kind all this time, allowing motorbikes to pass because there are no buses. But when the buses arrive, it will be the end of your bikes,” Basuki arrogantly said earlier this year.
I have often defended Basuki — and his pointed remarks — from friends of mine who take issue with his religion and ethnicity. However, this unenlightened jab at motorcyclists is simply another blow to riding in the archipelago, which I fear will further infuriate his critics.
Basuki must acknowledge the important role motorcycles play in Indonesian society as a low-cost and relatively environmentally friendly transportation option, especially when compared to cars. Riders understand the risks associated with their transportation of choice. So Basuki, don’t further persecute riders with this draconian policy, under the false guise of saving bikers’ lives.
Samuel Bashfield is an intern at the Jakarta Globe and a motorcycle enthusiast who blogs at samuelbashfield.wordpress.com.