Reuters

But that won't solve its apocalyptic gridlock.

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.

Opportunistic vendors often weave between the stopped vehicles, selling snacks like fruit and nuts, and motorcycle taxis offer rides between lanes. But now the city is cracking down on one particular sort of gridlock-inspired entrepreneur: the pak ogah, or independent traffic guide. For a small fee, the whistle-bearing boys or men will help drivers merge into crowded lanes or make U-turns. They also often take charge of busy intersections and railroad crossings. A recent local news report, for example, showed an especially enthusiastic traffic guide.
 


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.
 
IBM
 

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."
 

In the meantime, commuters can cast a longing eye toward the day in 2018 when Jakarta’s first mass transit system, the MRT, is scheduled to begin operations. Until then, construction associated with the underground and overhead railway is expected to cause—you guessed it—even more traffic jams.

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a Google employee on a bicycle.
    Equity

    How Far Will Google’s Billion-Dollar Bay Area Housing Plan Go?

    The single largest commitment by a private employer to address the Bay Area’s acute affordable housing crisis is unique in its focus on land redevelopment.

  2. A person tapes an eviction notice to the door of an apartment.
    Equity

    Why Landlords File for Eviction (Hint: It’s Usually Not to Evict)

    Most of the time, a new study finds, landlords file for eviction because it tilts the power dynamic in their favor—not because they want to eject their tenants.

  3. Equity

    Berlin Will Freeze Rents for Five Years

    Local lawmakers agreed to one of Europe’s most radical rental laws, but it sets the stage for a battle with Germany’s national government.

  4. A map showing the affordability of housing in the U.S.
    Equity

    Minimum Wage Still Can’t Pay For A Two-Bedroom Apartment Anywhere

    The 30th anniversary edition of the National Low Income Housing Coalition report, “Out of Reach,” shows that housing affordability is getting worse, not better.

  5. photo of Arizona governor Doug Ducey
    Perspective

    Why FOMO Is the Enemy of Good Urban Mobility Policy

    Fear of Missing Out does not make good transportation policy. Sometimes a new bus shelter is a better investment than flashy new technology.

×