Saturday, May 24

A Month in Jakarta: The traffic

While my pre-departure Indonesia research was disappointingly little, I did manage to catch one article that appeared on the front page of BBC News. It tended more towards the novelty aspect of journalism. To keep people from catching rides on the roofs of Jakarta's subway cars and subsequently falling to their deaths, guards were being ordered to spray a special colored solution on rule breakers, so they could be identified and fined later. I have yet to see this subway, but considering what I have seen of the traffic in Jakarta, that exterior seat was probably as safe, if not safer, than the roads.

Since making good my escape from rural Minnesota, I have seen some frightening traffic. The circle around the Arc de Triomphe and all of Istanbul rank high, but at least there was some vague conception of law there. Here, the only rule anyone seems to care for is stay on the left side of the road, and even that is fairly flexible. Fading across the centerline on major thoroughfares in heavy traffic is a common enough occurrence that it no longer draws my attention, and a motorbike may drive, as far as possible on the right, against traffic until the driver spots an opening large enough to cross on.

Passing on either the right or the left is no big deal and made all the more frightening by the plethora of slim vehicles which like to fill every possible gap and improve their position, regardless of dividing lines. Unless the nearest motorbike is 50 meters back, you can never just assume it is safe to go on a right-hand turn because they will make room to get by if they cannot get on the outside.

Instead of slowing at intersections, drivers just lean on the horn to warn others they are coming through. To say it is a change from Spokane where drivers would stop and wave the pedestrians across is an understatement.

The city seems to have accepted this state of affairs. In my near-two weeks here, I have only seen two traffic lights and cannot recall any stop signs. Rather than try to enforce the speed limit in residential areas, speed bumps are used a stronger reminder than signs. The motorbikes still skirt around their edges.

There is one odd thing about the traffic, the vehicles especially, in Jakarta which I would like to point out. Ignoring the obvious examples of the 15-person buses (vans) and banjajs (three-wheeled jalopies that pour blue smoke like a garden hose), there are no old cars. Everything is shiny and new. No rust stains or any of that. Seriously, it surprises me to see anything earlier than 2000. I imagine its because it takes a while for used cars to enter the system, and cars were just not that common a decade or two back. That or the income disparity is just that great. While the majority scrimp by buying fuel-efficient motorbikes, the upper crust buy a new car every other year. Really, I have seen families of four on a single motorbike and others packing tables on the things. I doubt the latter, though, because there are just too many of the things.

1 comment:

Emmett said...

I've been told by a reliable source that Singapore is worse.