Jakarta Public Transport

Jun 2nd, 2008, in Opinion, by

Ross offers tips for travelling on Jakarta’s buses, and rails against those who view the city’s public transportation network as unsafe.

Public Transport Paranoia

A few weeks ago a short article on the ‘dangers’ of travelling on Jakarta public transportation appeared in the Jakarta Post. I’ve mislaid the original because I’ve been too busy to scribble much but I was so amazed by its tone of paranoia that I vowed to post a comment when I had time.

Buses are still cheap despite the price hikes, and in bad traffic, what advantage is there in paying a fortune to sit simmering in a taxi? Better to pay Rp6000 on a bus and share the groans with somebody sitting beside. Gives you a grand opportunity to widen your circle of friends.

As somebody who uses at least two angkots daily as well as an aircon or regular bus, whichever comes along first, I found the writer’s timidity quite astounding. He even went so far as to say we shouldn’t let our handphones be seen on a bus or some bounder would take them away from us. This is arrant nonsense.

I use my h/p most of the time to while away my 90 minute commute and so do most of my fellow-passengers. I also flourish my nice new digital camera on board buses and at major bus-stops and terminals including seedy old Blok M, where I snap dare-devil metro-minis and the like. Thus far, I have not had anything stolen at these locations.

Of course it can sometimes happen – an angkot 11 from Bekasi Terminal found me squeezed in with a crowd of copets and their jilbabbed molls, and because I was off guard against the guys, the unsuspected minxes got into my shoulder-bag. But it is absurd to exaggerate the threat. Twice I’ve lost things to the forces of criminality, out of thousands of journeys. (I don’t count my very first-ever metro-mini jaunt, 48 hours after my arrival, when somebody took my glasses out of my jacket pocket – that’s part of the learning process.)

The JP writer was correct to say that sensible precautions are in order.

  • Don’t leave a wad of notes hanging out your hip pocket.
  • Watch out for guys standing near the exits with jackets over their arms.
  • Common sense stuff like shout out ‘copet‘ if you are sure of your identification of the ratbag – embarrassing if you wrongly accuse somebody, but you are unlikely to be wrong.

My second round with Bekasi baddies had me yelling out that very word and four of them jumped off sharpish. If people stood up to them, showed some solidarity, the undesirables would soon be on a loser. (White-collar commuters could take a leaf out of the kampung book, where malefactors often fare badly at the hands of the citizenry.)

The author of that article seems to lack any optimism about civic conscience. His (or her) implication is that only Busway services are worth the risk of boarding. Apart from the fact that astute crims will no doubt be operating on the Busway too, that’s exactly the sort of fear-mongering that makes us afraid of each other, detracts from the joy of Jakarta. And Jakarta has a lot going for it, not least its people.

11 Comments on “Jakarta Public Transport”

  1. ruli says:


    As a frequent user of public transport, it’s so frustrating to hear colleagues constantly harp on about macet, BBM, etc., but then stubbornly insist on burning fossil fuels to propel a ton of metal on wheels just to transport themselves daily, when they could just as easily hop on a bus/busway/train/angkot instead. True, comfort is compromised, and true, you don’t want to be attracting too much attention, but in all my years commuting I’ve never been the victim of any crime. The benefits far outweight the drawbacks. It’s cheap, it’s environmentally friendly, and if you’re lucky enough to get a seat, you get to spend your time on the road working/reading/smsing/sleeping, rather than getting high blood pressure dealing with nutters on bikes.

  2. Rob says:


    You must have been busy as I have not seen your musings for a long while!

    Just a question. Are you advocating vigilante justice as a means of alternative dispute resolution or law enforcement in preference to the coppers doing their job?

    The city transportation network is unsafe. The copet thing is par for the course and is not a reason not to take public transport, on that I agree. It is unsafe because of the number of accidents that occur and the lack of enforcement of road rules.

    The government needs to commit to an upgrade of existing infrastructure and then commit to new infrastructure. People might be more inclined to take public transport if it is clean and comfortable! This could then be combined with such things as making the luxury tax on most cars prohibitively expensive, implement special toll zones in the city in addition to 3 in 1, and then have private car free zones at certain times. Or something similar for example.

    Right now I opt for ojek in preference to all others!

    It was a little disappointing that it did not include someting about the reds (or pinkos) and how they stuffed up the system way back when!

  3. Ross says:

    Yes, Rob, I read that Achmad was taking time off from the blog-game and followed his example, as wise people of course should. Been ultra-busy sun-bathing on Falatehan and jogging in Jaksa.(actually been really busy with important things like life and work)

    I did examine how communist subversion could be introduced to the transport issue but decided to give weary pinkos a break. However, we can agreeably concentrate on law and order as the sub-text.

    My comment on Kampung justice relates to the way folk there can sometimes band together to protect their neighbours. Why not on the buses too? If you see a brace of copet in a tussle with a fellow-passenger, kick them in the gonads. (the copet, that is!)

    Vigilantism will come to the fore only if crime is not checked by those whose duty it is. I don’t advocate that nor even welcome that but I do wonder about the commitment of the police here to maintain law and order impartially.

    How come, for example, could the cops be too busy ‘at a meeting’ to rescue Tempo from the gangsters’ goons? Priorities all wrong.
    That was a couple of years back, but the same question must be asked of Komdak today, how come all those journos and cameramen were on the scene at Monas but no police? There was no need for a battalion, just a few officers with the gumption (or permission?) to draw their guns and take out a few Islamonazis, who, according to TV One this morning, assembled at Isltiqla Mosque in full view of all and sundry, with their big sticks.

  4. rima says:

    I wish you’d give us the link to this JP article. If the writer is an Indonesian, the article is probably exaggerated.

    When I lived in Jakarta, I didn’t take public transportation much (except when I was in Junior High, and one semester in college when dad decided to punish me and I had to go on without a car then). But on the time I used public transportation, never once did I experience anything ‘terrifying’. There were the usual stares, and I had a guy standing too close to me twice – but he stepped back after I shouted “could you please not rub yourself around me, we are not muhrims”. So it’s not that bad, but like you said, take the necessary precautions.

    For the foreigners who had never been on public transportation, try it at least once, it’s somewhat of an adventure.. 🙂

  5. therry says:

    I see people using their mobile phones on public transport all the time. Though I personally wouldn’t do it (for safety reason, has lost a mobile once on public transport), I think it’s human habit to fidget with something when they are bored and has no one to talk to. So they fish out their mobiles to chat or play Snakes.

    I’ve experienced going to and fro work using any kind of public transports, you name them – AC bus, non-AC bus, metrominis, omprengans and ojeks. I’ve also experienced chasing the car whilst it was moving just so I could get on it and not be late to work. Omprengan, in the other hand could be a luck thing; I usually caught the one lined up next to Atmajaya University that would take me to Bekasi Barat and you’d have to sit squashed in until there was literally no space left to do anything but sleep. But omprengans are pretty safe since the ones using them are all office workers.

    True, Indonesian public transport is not comfortable and sometimes far from safe, but it is cheap and most of the time once people got on they’d just sleep since they’d be too tired from work or lack of sleep.

  6. Cukurungan says:

    There were the usual stares, and I had a guy standing too close to me twice – but he stepped back after I shouted “could you please not rub yourself around me, we are not muhrims”.

    Mbak Rima,

    You are not so honest because you did not tell story in the complete fashion, of course
    You shouted on him because he is not so sexy like me or Pak Ahmad the Master to be sexy, if the guy is me, you would say in your heart “Lumayan juga cowok ini bisa ngilangin BT”

  7. It’s common sense that people should care about their surroundings, but it’s different when the environment was unfriendly. Well, it’s city syndrome that people doesn’t care anything else except themselves. As a common example is when you are asking for direction, see how many people respond with great enthusiasm. If their answers are satisfying, then you can trust the safety of yourself in their hands. If not, then you are on your own.

    *FYI: I lost my digital camera on Busway and no one ever spot somebody suspicious. That’s just neat or every one else in the bus is his/her thief colleagues.

  8. indahs says:

    I am a loyal costumer to public transport where ever I live. Most of my activities since I was in school until I work and finally managed to buy my own car, I keep using public transport as my main transportation – despite of lousy experiences that my family and I had. I was harrassed in public transport in Jakarta, my brother was robbed in front of the condectur in metromini at night after returning from his study. No one helped us and police was hopeless.

    Public transport in Jakarta is badly managed and not safe. That is the fact. I am glad that there is still a critical writer about this issue. If he/she becomes paranoia, well, who can blame him/her with such public services? I am surprised that half of Jakartan public transport users are not burned out or depressed yet! That article should bity and big slap towards the city administrators. I wishe used to raise awareness on how lousy public transportation management in the capital c there will be more and more people who keep criticize (and angry) with this lousy management by Jakartan administrator. Jakartans nowadays are “too comfortabe” to the living condition in their own city that is actually going down instead of improving.

  9. sputjam says:

    indah mentioned –

    Jakartans nowadays are “too comfortabe” to the living condition in their own city that is actually going down instead of improving.

    I think this comment described the apathy of the whole administration, from public transport, to ports and airports/schools/airlines/railroads/highways/law and order etc.

    And that is the reason why most things are crumbling down due to indecision on improvement and lack of innovative ideas in sorting problems.

  10. Bas says:

    Jakartanese’s buses suck and are not safe. Titik.
    Of course you don’t get in trouble every day. If you take them every day you can get in trouble 1 to 3 times a year. That is way too much and I am sorry to say that makes them relatively unsafe (but not to the point of being dangerous). Besides, doing daily long distance in the traffic is just like being in hell for me.

    Those westerners who say they like Metromini at peak hours just make me smile. May be the “everything is beautiful in Indonesia” or the “I can live like the locals” syndrom? Let’s talk again about it it 15 years gentlemen.

    By the way I am taking Metromini everyday (not because I love it but because I have no choice) and I have never seen any other westerners seating in any of them in the last 2 or 3 years. Strange.

    Let’s say I am not lucky enough…

  11. Ross says:

    Hello, Bas
    I use Metrominis when their route serves my purposes, but prefer angkots. due to their size, less roomy but equally less accessible to pengamen, whose rarely sweet singing raises the cost of the journey up to four-fold.
    The 66 is my most common trip. Semanggi to Rasuna Said, and often the no.19 kopaja, down Sudirman to Blok M – never had any problems on those.

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