Commuting in traffic-clogged Jakarta is not for the faint-hearted, but the journey to and from work will be less dreadful for some after the launch of the city’s first metro system.
Jakarta’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), the first metro system to be built in Indonesia, began its public trial run on March 12 and was greeted with enthusiasm by many in the city of 10 million people.
“My impression riding MRT Jakarta? It’s very fast and comfortable,” said Helen Heldawati, an office worker in central Jakarta.
“Security is also very good. There are guards in all entrances and around the stations,” said Helen who, like about 200,000 other people, registered online to be the among the first to try the service.
Officials hope that the 16-kilometre MRT line will reduce Jakarta’s legendary traffic jams, which each year get worse as a growing middle class buys more and more cars and motorcycles.
A study by the app-based transportation firm Uber and the Boston Consulting Group released in 2017 revealed that Jakarta residents spent 22 days a year in traffic, longer than residents in any other major Asian city.
The study also found that 74 per cent of Jakartans had missed important events such as wedding parties, appointments with doctors, job interviews and funerals because of difficulty finding a parking space.
President Joko Widodo, who tried the service for the first time last week, said it would motivate people to use public transportation instead of private cars or motorcycles.
He said this month that traffic jams in the greater Jakarta area, home to about 30 million people, cost 4.5 billion dollars a year.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that members of the public are very enthusiastic in trying the MRT,” Joko told reporters.
“This is the beginning of a new culture of commuting,” said Joko, who officially launched the service on Sunday.
Joko, who became president in 2014, has made improving the country’s dilapidated infrastructure a priority during his first five-year term in office.
He is seeking re-election in the April 17 presidential poll and is eager to tout his achievements to voters.
After years in the pipeline, construction on the 16-kilometre line, funded by Japan, began in 2013 and cost 16 trillion Indonesian rupiah (1.1 billion dollars).
The line, stretching from Lebak Bulus in southern Jakarta to the Hotel Indonesia roundabout in the city’s centre, consists of six underground and seven elevated stations.
Construction will begin this year on a second line, extending 8.6 kilometres to the city’s north, officials said.
A light train service is being built to connect Jakarta and the satellite cities of Bogor and Bekasi and is expected to be completed by 2022.
The city administration has to heavily subsidize MRT Jakarta’s operations to keep fares low and affordable to commuters.
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan estimated that the MRT cost 1 trillion Indonesian rupiah in subsidies a year.
Fares have not been set despite the planned April l commercial launch, but Baswedan said he expected commuters to be charged 1,000 rupiah per kilometre.
“Money is tight, so there’s no way we will make it free,” Baswedan said, commenting on suggestions from some city councillors that Jakarta residents not be charged.
Some experts are sceptical that the new train service will reduce traffic congestion.
“It was long overdue and it should have been built many years ago,” said Djoko Setijowarno, a transportation analyst at Soegijapranata University.
“A 16-kilometre line won’t make a dent in traffic. The network has to be widened and it has to be more integrated with other modes of transport,” he said.
MRT Jakarta chief executive William Sabandar agreed.
“The MRT alone won’t solve the problem of traffic jams, but with integration with other modes of transport, such as the rapid bus system, hopefully congestion can be reduced,” he said.
Nonetheless, some Jakarta residents are relieved that their wait for a modern metro system is over.
“Jakarta is now on par with other modern cities,” said Albert Hendrik, a university student.
“The subway stations are very modern, like in Japan,” he said.
Akbar Mapaleo, a 35-year-old graphic designer, brought his wife and two young children to ride one of the shiny new trains.
“It’s very comfortable. I feel like I’m in Singapore. I’m going to ride it to and from work,” he said.