Saturday, December 5, 2009

Transportation Trauma

Jakartan traffic is notorious.  The streets are a constant tangle of cars, trucks, semi-roadworthy bajaj, and the ubiquitous motorcycle and even a few lunatics on bicycles.  As someone without their own vehicle, I am forced to rely on the various forms of public transport.  These are numerous and varied
1. Blue Bird Group taxi
This is basically the best way to travel.  Safe, air-conditioned, RELIABLE (a big factor, more on that later) knowledgeable, and if you remember the cab number, you can even retrieve items if you happen to leave something in the back seat.  Starting price 60 cents, which takes you a certain set distance before increasing by 30 cent intervals.  5 minute trip is about a dollar.  Not cheap here, but by TO standards its a real bargain.  Going from my area to downtown is about 5-7.50.  
2. Non-Blue Bird Taxi 
These guys are cheaper and start at 50 cents but their reliability is highly suspect.  They might not genuinely know where they are going, as many rural people have migrated to the city and don't necessarily know their way around.  They might take you around the entire city, or not turn on the meter and try to hustle you.  Cheaper but riskier, and even the locals tend to avoid them.
3. Ojek
This is a motorcycle taxi.  A guy with a motorcycle and sometimes a spare helmet spends his day ferrying people around the city.  They hang out at these stands indicated by a hand-drawn sign, with a platform bed or bench where they play chess and nap.  The cost is highly variable and basically depends on your negotiating skills.  Quick tip, be prepared to walk away, and always agree on the price in advance.  The one advantage of the ojek is that it is not really affected by traffic jams, which are constantly a looming threat in Jakarta.  Conversely, most ojek drivers are also not 
4. Angkot
This is a third-world thing through and through.  It is a small, SUV shaped vehicle, but riding low to the ground.  There is no door, it is an opening into the back, lined with benches and no AC.  The open windows provide natural AC.  There are no stops, you just flag him down.  To get off, you yell out "kiri" or knock on the roof/window.  Again, no stops, he'll let you out as soon as he can when he hears you knock.  The big advantage, it costs only 20 cents flat fee!  This is my favourite mode so far due to the price and the fun.  And, you get to briefly mingle with the people, and you all know me, a man of the people!  
5. Bajaj
These guys are the champions of the city.  They drive these old two stroke three wheel covered motorcycles imported from India (you know you're in the developing world when they import vehicles from India!).  These little orange devils will shake your eyes right out of their sockets as you slowly rumble along, inhaling more fumes than you ever thought possible.  Price on these is a total crapshoot and there isn't as much room for negotiation.  I rode around with an Indonesian guy and on the way we payed double what we payed on the way back and he didn't blink. 
Getting from point A to B is not a small matter, but instead a herculean feat of patience, and bravery.  When you step out into the fray, every form of transport greedily stops, assuming that you want on.  Every shady cab and scruffy ojek calls out to you, beckoning you into their conveyance.  You see the coveted Blue Bird wiz by in the far lane, knowing that he won't see you in time.  Crossing the street is a nightmare, a game of chicken where you as a pedestrian need to act like a car, with the same confidence and aggression, but with the full knowledge that you are delicate blood and bone, while those you compete with are fatal metal and shearing plastic.  Further, the roads are a tangle of non-existent urban planning and I have seen born and bred Jakartans get lost driving around their own city! 


  1. "They hang out at these stands indicated by a hand-drawn sign, with a platform bed or bench where they play chess and nap"

    That is too funny. I would love to see pictures of some of this stuff too.

    Sounds very interesting over there.

  2. Hey Sahm, I like your writing style! I would also like to see pictures of this place.

  3. those angkots sound fun, gotta get in on that!

  4. Sahm, i agree with you. those bajaj are friggin noisy and that's one of the orange devils reincarnation hahaha. you better use angkot, the cost is cheaper than bajaj. and also, if you wanna use bajaj, bid the price till less 50% from the price. it works :)