Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A city on the verge of total gridlock

Jakarta. The political and economic capital of Indonesia. And a city which is increasingly turning into an urban nightmare.

Anyone travelling to Jakarta will with little doubt comment on the major traffic jams the city experiences. At peak hours and during monsoon downpours, millions of cars, vans, and motorcycles bring the city to a standstill. A few numbers illustrate the scale of the problem: between 2011 and 2012, car sales increased by 11%, and the total number of cars increased ten times faster than the number of roads they roll on. Amongst the total population of the city, 30% uses public transport while the remaining 70% use private cars to get around. In 2014, the government expects Jakarta to experience total traffic gridlock.

The Indonesian authorities have been surprisingly slow in reacting to the traffic situation. Regulations limiting secondary car ownership and auto loans deposits were introduced last year, but with little success thus far and with wide discontent. The Transjakarta busways, implemented on the format of the Bogota TransMilenio, introduced separate road lanes for buses but remains inefficient due to poor urban planning and an inexistent sewage system, a big problem in a city affected by major floods. The 3-in-1 car passenger policy is widely ignored, and a proposed monorail project is still in limbos.

The economic consequences of the Jakarta traffic congestion are serious. Every year, the city loses US$1bn due to gridlock, and in 2020 the total economic losses – including vehicle operating costs and travel time – are expected to reach US$6.9bn.

New plans urgently need to be implemented. The recent election of Joko Widodo to the role of Governor of Jakarta has raised hopes to have the traffic situation finally tackled, with his main pledge being to defeat Jakarta’s traffic problem. Widodo has revived the option of a long-abandoned railway project, and introduced new laws regulating street stalls which clutter the streets and aggravate congestion.

In an emerging country growing at 6% and international car makers investing $2.2bn annually, communication, collaboration and strong leadership will be needed to eliminate the traffic problem.