Indonesia’s transport planners hope that a metro system can ease congestion on Jakarta’s gridlocked roads, along with easing the daily anguish of long-suffering commuters the subway system is also expected to clear the way for economic gains.
The country’s higher personal income and fiscal growth levels – combined with cheap fuel subsidies and freely available consumer credit – have spurred a growth rate in annual car ownership rates estimated at 10-15%. There has also been a surge in motorcycle sales, which rose 14% year-on-year in September.
As a center of this expansion, the capital’s road and bus networks are struggling to keep pace, with the travel delays regularly faced by the city’s estimated 14m citizen costing the country more than $3bn annually. The figure is only set to rise unless new initiatives are implemented.
Vehicles move at an average of 13 km to 15 km an hour in the capital, a speed that is declining by about one km an hour each year, analysts say. Bangkok, known for its congestion, bottomed at around 12 km an hour before opening urban train lines and a sky train.
In response, state planners are taking another look at stalled over and underground railway projects. The major focus is on a metro system – Jakarta is the world’s largest city without one – and the Ministry of Transport announced in early October that it had approved the initial construction of a 15.5 km north-south line that will serve a total of 13 stations.
Tenders for design will be opened before the end of the year, with the line scheduled to be operational by 2016. The government has already secured capital for the project, with the Japan International Co-operation Agency providing a loan of $1.45bn. The initial track is set to form part of a much larger north-south and east-west network that will run for more than 100 km.
The city-owned company MRT Jakarta, which is managing the train project, says the line will be able to handle as many as 300,000 passengers a day on completion. Supporters of the project also cite the benefits of its cost-sharing model, which will allow the operating firm to fund infrastructure and day-to-day operations with ticket sales.
There are also plans to revive a 27.8-km raised monorail network that began construction in 2004. In mid-August, Transportation Minister Freddy Numberi said work would recommence on the failed project by 2013, with services to begin in 2015. However, analysts say it’s still unclear if it will get off the ground.
Meanwhile, critics have said that metro project will be expensive and that it may not have the passenger handling capacity to make a major impact on Jakarta’s traffic congestion. Others have criticized delays in the project.
While the metro project will be costly, it would be less of a strain on the treasury than the proposal mooted by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in August to move the site of the capital to another location, with either Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan or Jonggol in West Java as the leading options.
According to Wendell Cox, an urban policy and transportation expert, shifting the seat of government elsewhere would not have a major impact on the city’s population or its traffic problems.
“If a principal objective of the capital move is to reduce traffic congestion, then it would be far better to spend the money on the infrastructure needed rather than taking the approach of moving the capital to reduce traffic congestion,” he said in an interview with the Jakarta Globe in late September.
Whatever Jakarta’s future is as the capital of Indonesia, the city will surely remain home to many millions of people, and the economic hub of the nation. As such, even if one day it is no longer the seat of government, it will still need to a mass transit system to keep moving forward.