A new app hopes to get Jakarta walking again

The app in action. Image: Squee.

Growing up in Jakarta, one of the most vibrant yet congested cities in the world, I used to be highly dependent on cars for daily commuting. However, having moved countries several times over the past four years, I’ve come to realize that nothing beats moving around the city by foot: it gives a great sense of freedom and is far more enjoyable.

Even in Jakarta, where cars rule the roads, walking has the potential to be a faster and more practical alternative way of commuting, if successfully combined with public transport or taxis. By adopting this kind of “multi-modal” approach to commuting, I have far more liberty. I can speed up or slow down as I wish, fit down any outdoor or indoor pathways, reroute anytime or escape traffic congestion when necessary.

Every day, at least 15m commutes are completed on foot or by bike in the Greater Jakarta Area, up to 40 per cent of the total modal shares. This number has also increased by 6 per cent in the last decade, gaining popularity among young and professional Jakarta residents.

Unfortunately, Jakarta’s existing transportation landscape can be daunting and exhausting. Most of our formal urban sidewalks and bike lanes are located along motorised roadways. On top of the stress, danger and pollution from motorised traffic, finding a pedestrian shortcut to a destination in Jakarta can be a challenge. Further, since Jakarta has been car-centric for so long, we citizens lack the information as well as the motivation to build a mental map of viable walkable and bikeable routes within our city.

Tapping into the potential of urban kampongs

Yet, despite heavy reliance on cars, Jakarta holds a whole network of hidden, low-rise pockets that we call urban kampongs (villages). They are everywhere, located strategically between primary urban roadways, and near to our homes, work places, and public transport network.

Many of the kampongs have been developed into modern residential, commercial, or even superblock complexes, while some have persisted in their original form. Those that have remained retain their organically-shaped neighbourhood roads and passageways, which are generally separated from major urban thoroughfares.

Two of Jakarta's urban kampongs. Image: Squee.

Partly covered by greenery, these areas are less polluted and a have a milder temperature than the bustling main roads. By nature, kampong roadways are often utilised as short-cut accesses – referred to in by locals as Jalan Tikus – to reduce travel time or to avoid the hustle-bustle of busy Jakarta. However, routes through urban kampongs are generally unmapped and solely known to kampong-dwellers or frequent passers-by.

I got together with some other Jakarta-based innovators to try and solve this issue. Our desire is for Jakarta commuters to use these forgotten “rat-running trails” hidden behind Jakarta’s imposing network of wide, busy roads and high-rise buildings. The concept for Squee mobile app was born out of this desire.

Enabled by GPS-based mobile technology and crowdsourced information mapping, Squee aims to unify pedestrians and biking communities in Jakarta. The app encourages them to travel together in groups and helps commuters plan and navigate walkable, or bikeable rat-running routes.


By squeeing together, people can share real-time information and enjoy a more pleasant commute. Most importantly, they help keep these routes safe by embracing a new kind of mobility that we call ratwalk-sharing.

Winning the Jakarta Urban Challenge award at the New Cities Summit 2015 was a milestone: my three co-founders and I can now kick-start Squee mobile app as a tech-startup. The week following the Summit, the governor of Jakarta invited us to join him for lunch to discuss our project in more detail and explore the possibilities for future collaboration between us.

With the support from Jakarta City Government, Squee could also be integrated into Smart City Jakarta program. Thus, the Squeeians – our users – would be equipped with an integrated timetable and navigating information for all different types of transport available in Jakarta’s public transport system. Access to this information via Squee will enhance active transport to a more extensive transit-oriented level in the future.

Our ratwalk-sharing concept has a social goal: to bring back the good function of roads and urban kampongs. Aiming to revisit walking and biking as feasible alternative ways of commuting, Squee will not only improve kampong navigation but also help the Squeeians to experience and recognise different information, details, and puzzles of everyday streetscapes. This will eventually create a four-dimensional mental map of Jakarta that cannot be experienced when travelling along the primary roads.

Arlene Nathania Chryssilla is an architect and urban planner. She is the co-founder and CEO of Squee, a social media-based navigation app that unifies pedestrians and cyclists to travel together across kampong rat-running trails in Jakarta.

This article was originally published on the New Cities Foundation's blog.

 
 
 
 

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Seoul Metro System but were too afraid to ask

Gwanghwamoon subway station on line 5 in Seoul, 2010. Image: Getty.

Seoul’s metro system carries 7m passengers a day across 1,000 miles of track. The system is as much a regional commuter railway as an urban subway system. Without technically leaving the network, one can travel from Asan over 50 miles to the south of central Seoul, all the way up to the North Korean border 20 miles north of the city.

Fares are incredibly low for a developed country. A basic fare of 1,250 won (about £1) will allow you to travel 10km; it’s only an extra 100 won (about 7p) to travel every additional 5km on most lines.

The trains are reasonably quick: maximum speeds of 62mph and average operating speeds of around 20mph make them comparable to London Underground. But the trains are much more spacious, air conditioned and have wi-fi access. Every station also has protective fences, between platform and track, to prevent suicides and accidents.

The network

The  service has a complex system of ownership and operation. The Seoul Metro Company (owned by Seoul City council) operates lines 5-8 on its own, but lines 1-4 are operated jointly with Korail, the state-owned national rail company. Meanwhile, Line 9 is operated jointly between Trans-Dev (a French company which operates many buses in northern England) and RATP (The Parisian version of TfL).

Then there’s Neotrans, owned by the Korean conglomerate Doosan, which owns and operates the driverless Sinbundang line. The Incheon city government, which borders Seoul to the west, owns and operates Incheon Line 1 and Line 2.

The Airport Express was originally built and owned by a corporation jointly owned by 11 large Korean firms, but is now mostly owned by Korail. The Uijeongbu light railway is currently being taken over by the Uijeongbu city council (that one’s north of Seoul) after the operating company went bankrupt. And the Everline people mover is operated by a joint venture owned by Bombardier and a variety of Korean companies.

Seoul’s subway map. Click to expand. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The rest of the lines are operated by the national rail operator Korail. The fare structure is either identical or very similar for all of these lines. All buses and trains in the region are accessible with a T-money card, similar to London’s Oyster card. Fares are collected centrally and then distributed back to operators based on levels of usage.

Funding

The Korean government spends around £27bn on transport every year: that works out at 10 per cent more per person than the British government spends.  The Seoul subway’s annual loss of around £200m is covered by this budget.

The main reason the loss is much lower than TfL’s £458m is that, despite Seoul’s lower fares, it also has much lower maintenance costs. The oldest line, Line 1 is only 44 years old.


Higher levels of automation and lower crime rates also mean there are fewer staff. Workers pay is also lower: a newly qualified driver will be paid around £27,000 a year compared to £49,000 in London.

New infrastructure is paid for by central government. However, investment in the capital does not cause the same regional rivalries as it does in the UK for a variety of reasons. Firstly, investment is not so heavily concentrated in the capital. Five other cities have subways; the second city of Busan has an extensive five-line network.

What’s more, while investment is still skewed towards Seoul, it’s a much bigger city than London, and South Korea is physically a much smaller country than the UK (about the size of Scotland and Wales combined). Some 40 per cent of the national population lives on the Seoul network – and everyone else who lives on the mainland can be in Seoul within 3 hours.

Finally, politically the biggest divide in South Korea is between the south-west and the south-east (the recently ousted President Park Geun-Hye won just 11 per cent of the vote in the south west, while winning 69 per cent in the south-east). Seoul is seen as neutral territory.  

Problems

A driverless train on the Shinbundang Line. Image: Wikicommons.

The system is far from perfect. Seoul’s network is highly radial. It’s incredibly cheap and easy to travel from outer lying areas to the centre, and around the centre itself. But travelling from one of Seoul’s satellite cities to another by public transport is often difficult. A journey from central Goyang (population: 1m) to central Incheon (population: 3m) is around 30 minutes by car. By public transport, it takes around 2 hours. There is no real equivalent of the London Overground.

There is also a lack of fast commuter services. The four-track Seoul Line 1 offers express services to Incheon and Cheonan, and some commuter towns south of the city are covered by intercity services. But most large cities of hundreds of thousands of people within commuting distance (places comparable to Reading or Milton Keynes) are reliant on the subway network, and do not have a fast rail link that takes commuters directly to the city centre.

This is changing however with the construction of a system modelled on the Paris RER and London’s Crossrail. The GTX will operate at maximum speed of 110Mph. The first line (of three planned) is scheduled to open in 2023, and will extend from the new town of Ilsan on the North Korean border to the new town of Dongtan about 25km south of the city centre.

The system will stop much less regularly than Crossrail or the RER resulting in drastic cuts in journey times. For example, the time from llsan to Gangnam (of Gangnam Style fame) will be cut from around 1hr30 to just 17 minutes. When the three-line network is complete most of the major cities in the region will have a direct fast link to Seoul Station, the focal point of the GTX as well as the national rail network. A very good public transport network is going to get even better.