The world’s largest transportation system is accessible to all individuals, regardless of social status, through the use of buses.
In 2004, Ananda Putra Fajar, also known as Nanda to his loved ones, was one of the individuals testing out Jakarta’s recently introduced initial fleet of buses. Jakarta had a notorious reputation for its heavy traffic and environmental pollution, and in its quest for a resolution, it looked to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. Bogotá had created a system called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which is a sophisticated bus network that features a main route of frequent and rapid buses with their own infrastructure. Passengers are able to access this network through feeder buses that extend into residential areas.
A few years ago, Bogotá implemented a system similar to Jakarta’s TransJakarta, which initially covered a 12-kilometre lane specifically for buses. 19 years later, Nanda now relies on the bus system for her daily commute, and TransJakarta has become the longest BRT system in the world, covering over 251 kilometres (156 miles) and serving up to 1 million passengers per day in a city with a population of 11 million.
Nanda, who is now 29 and works as a recruiter in Jakarta’s central business district, expressed her satisfaction with using TransJakarta for her daily commute. She stated that there is no need for her to rely on a personal vehicle.
The cost for one trip is Rp3,500 (equivalent to approximately 18p) and has remained the same since the beginning, thanks to financial support from the government. A network of hundreds of small buses and cars assists the BRT in reaching 88% of Jakarta’s expansive neighborhoods and surrounding cities. Currently, there are 240 routes available throughout the city, a significant increase from only 22 routes ten years ago. During this time, the number of buses in TransJakarta’s fleet has grown fourfold to 4,642.
As the bus network grows, the number of passengers also increases, from approximately 100 million in 2013 to over 264 million in 2019. Mutia Zakia, a frequent rider, shared with the Guardian that she has completely switched to using TransJakarta for transportation. She stated, “I have abandoned my motorbike and solely rely on TransJakarta, especially since it has expanded its routes. It is more cost-effective and often saves me from being stuck in traffic as the buses have designated lanes.”
Gonggomtua Eskanto Sitanggang, the interim director of the non-profit Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) Indonesia, which has been assisting TransJakarta, said: “When we have, say, 40 passengers on a bus, that means we’re taking 40 private vehicles off the street. Each bus passenger emits four times less carbon than a private motorbike user and two times less carbon than a private car user. With further improvements, emissions can be further suppressed, including by using electric buses.”
However, the use of private vehicles is also rapidly increasing in Jakarta, with a total of 20.2 million private vehicles, 16.1 million of which are motorcycles, according to a report by Greenpeace and Resilience Development Initiative in 2022. In 2020, Jakarta’s transportation sector was responsible for emitting over 22.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, with 15.8 million tonnes attributed to private motor vehicles.
The city is relying on the BRT system to aid in achieving its goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The city also has plans to transition to electric buses and aims to have 100% electric buses by 2030. According to Daud Joseph, the director of operations and safety for TransJakarta, the city currently has 74 electric buses and has observed a decrease in pollution as well as operational and maintenance costs over the past 18 months.
However, the expense – which amounts to 10,000 buses based on the current growth rate – is a significant worry and Gonggom suggests that TransJakarta should consider alternative business models to encourage private involvement and speed up the implementation of the plan. There are those who propose redirecting government subsidies for private electric vehicles towards improving public transportation in order to effectively decrease traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Gonggom, TransJakarta cannot operate without support from the government. The government should implement measures that discourage the use of private vehicles, even though these policies may not be popular.
Joseph is optimistic that increased competition among countries in the electric bus manufacturing industry will lead to a decrease in prices. However, he acknowledges that in addition to the government’s current tax incentives for purchasing electric buses, other forms of incentives will also be needed.
According to him, switching to personal electric cars may decrease air pollution, but it will not alleviate traffic congestion. The significant reduction of both can only be achieved by utilizing public transportation.
While it may not be flawless, the progress of TransJakarta serves as evidence of how an effective public transportation system can positively impact society. According to ITDP representative Fani Rachmita, the bus system has gained a devoted following, particularly among those who may not have access to other affordable modes of transportation. This means that the bus is accessible to individuals of all economic backgrounds.
The alternative series delves into regions and societies across the globe that are implementing low-carbon measures. To learn more about this series, continue reading.