What can a megacity like Jakarta do to tackle pollution and end gridlock?

Another day of gridlock on the streets of Jakarta. Image: Getty.

Action on mobility and climate need to be taken now. As one of the most congested cities in the world, Jakarta encapsulates the urgent need to find innovative solutions for mobility and climate change.

We sat down with Widya Anggraini, a Jakarta-based urban planner and community manager for urbanism forum urb.im, to gain some on-the-ground insights into Jakarta’s complex transport system.

NCF: What are the greatest challenges for urban mobility in a city like Jakarta?

WA: Firstly, the lack of reliable and safe public transportation and poor spatial planning policies. A study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy illustrated that motorised vehicle ownership is growing over 9 per cent per year: more than 2,000 newly registered motorcycles and around 500 cars are joining Jakarta’s congested streets per day. Hence, there is an urgent need to provide affordable, reliable and safe public transport as well as to support policies that reverse the growing popularity of motorized vehicles.

NCF: Public transport in Jakarta is said to be one of the most dangerous in the world for women. How important is gender safety when planning and managing public transport?

WA: Gender perspective has not always been part of planning and managing public transportation in Jakarta. However, there has been a considerable improvement to strengthen public transportation safety and acknowledge women’s special needs.

This is due to the high number of sexual harassment cases on public transportation, with both trains and buses becoming overcrowded during peak times. The current suburban rail system has greatly benefitted women in Jakarta by providing dedicated women’s carriages. The same can be said for the new mass rapid transit system (Trans Jakarta).

However, these precautions for female safety have not been adopted by other Indonesian bus providers such as Kopaja. Thus these transport options continue to be unsafe for women.

In the future, there should be careful planning and consideration for women. This is because women in Indonesia have a double burden – employment and care work – so safe and fast travel is vitally important.

NCF: Which mobility solutions that combat climate change do you think can successfully be implemented in Jakarta?

WA: There are two alternative solutions that might work. Firstly, the use of non-motorszed vehicles should be promoted. This means that the government should start to encourage people to walk or to bike by improving pedestrian and bike lanes. 

Secondly, policies that discourage people to use cars and motorcycles could also be implemented. This could be done by adopting alternative policies such as congestion pricing for several busy main roads; increasing the fuel price for private vehicles; applying higher taxes for both car and motorcycles ownership; and changing the perception of people towards motorised vehicles. 

Above all, Jakarta needs good leadership and political will to ensure these policies take place.

NCF: What social implications can gridlock create in a city like Jakarta? 

WA: There are several social implications that gridlock could create in a city like Jakarta. These include increased stress and exhaustion from long hours spent commuting, and a severe loss of productive time due to the slow average speed of travel in Jakarta

There is also the increased air pollution that comes from motor emissions and higher energy consumption. Finally, large levels carbon dioxide in a congested city can have a hazardous health effect.

Widya Anggraini  is an urban planner with an economics and public policy background. She has worked for a city-planning agency in the areas of child protection, youth and civil participation, women’s empowerment, and good governance.

This week, the New Cities Foundation is hosting the New Cities Summit in Jakarta. This Q&A was originally posted on the foundation’s blog.

 
 
 
 

Transport utopianism is stupid, and Elon Musk should shut up

No. Image: Getty.

One of the things that’s most irritating about politics in 2018 – and goodness me, aren’t there a lot of choices – is the utopianism that’s crept into the transport debate. There is an apparently endless supply of people who wouldn’t be seen dead on public transport, or using any other service labelled with the word “public”, if they can possibly help it, yet who have come to the conclusion that they are the people staid and dusty world of transport policy has been waiting for. 

And the message they are keen to send is that the old ways of doing things is over: shiny new technologies are going to disrupt the transport sector, just as they disrupted the music industry or retail. Why bother investing in mass-transit, when autonomous vehicles (AV) and ride-hailing apps are about to take over the world? Why waste money on high speed rail, when Elon Musk’s exciting new hyperloop will be along any minute? Silicon Valley types ask these questions, even as they earnestly suggest some kind of fixed route, ride-sharing service based on vehicles larger than the private car, blissfully unaware that they’ve just re-invented the bus. Again.

It’s true that new technologies will have huge, and occasionally unexpected, effects on our transport systems. AV, for example, could reduce the need for parking spaces, freeing up huge amounts of land for other uses, and may eventually make roads safer, too. As sci-fi as it sounds, the hyperloop – pods in vacuum tubes, travelling at up to 760 miles per hour – is, technically, feasible; if it happens, it could radically reduce demand for carbon-spewing short-haul flights.

But these two technologies have something else in common: low capacity. The pods on most of the – still largely theoretical – hyperloop designs can carry only a few dozen people each. And however clever AVs are, they don’t change the rules of geometry. A world in which every journey involves a private car, travelling at a limited speed, means continuing to give over a load of space in our cities to roads. If cars end up taking longer routes to avoid traffic, we might even need more.


There are transport technologies that don’t face these problems – that can carry a lot of people, at decent speeds, while producing relatively little pollution and taking up relatively little space. But they aren’t excitingly sexy and new things like AV or Hyperloop: they’re boring ones, like trains and trams and buses.

New technologies will improve those, too. Smarter and more integrated payment systems will make them easier to use. Big data will help planners spot gaps in the network, that could be usefully or profitably filled. Apps will help users to plan more efficient journeys, and spread them out so they don’t all travel at once.

But the point remains: if you want to move large numbers of people around limited space in the most efficient way possible, you should invest in fixed and predictable high-capacity routes. The solution is the same as it ever was: decently run mass transit networks. There is a reason Silicon Valley keeps re-inventing the bus.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

This article first appeared in the New Statesman’s sister publication Spotlight.