By Newley Purnell, December 16, 2013
Jakarta's traffic is simply brutal: Commuters spend hours every day stranded in cars and crammed into battered busses in the congested Indonesian capital, which has about 28 million residents but no rapid-transit system.
The guides have faced scrutiny, however, following a deadly collision last week between a train and a fuel truck. Some bystanders said the local guides failed to prevent the truck from driving across the tracks. Jakarta’s governor, Joko Widodo, now wants to fine guides at railroad crossings 500,000 rupiah (about $41), and his deputy wants them banished city-wide. "We have to catch them all, and clean this up," said Vice-Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, according to the Straits Times.
Dark thick smoke billows from the fire after a commuter train collided with a truck hauling fuel on the outskirts JakartaAP Photo/Tatan Syuflana
Comparative data about traffic congestion is scarce, but by any measure Jakarta has it rough. About 10 million vehicles hit the roads each workday, and commute times are further worsened by seasonal factors like monsoon rain and workers leaving their offices at set times during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. As in other Southeast Asian megacities like Bangkok and Manila, newly affluent middle-class car buyers are making matters progressively worse: In 2012, average car speeds in the city were just 16 kilometers per hour (about 10 miles per hour), compared to 20 kilometers per hour in 2008.
Jakarta wasn't one of the cities surveyed for this 2011 IBM study of the world's worst cities for road traffic, but based on the metrics that included commuting time, time stuck in traffic, worsening conditions and standstill conditions, it would probably rank near the top of the list.
It’s hard to see how blaming the pak ogah or cracking down on their attempts to impose a bit of order on the chaos will help ease the severity of Jakarta’s traffic.
"They have been here for the longest time and there is some sort of informal understanding that they are allowed to operate," one traffic guide told the Straits Times. "So as long as there is weak enforcement, they will be here."