If Jakarta is famous for one thing, it’s bad traffic. Castrol’s 2014 index ranked the Indonesian capital as the city in the world with the most ‘stop-starts’ per kilometre, confirming what we already suspected: this is officially the world’s worst traffic. The reputation for mind-bending macet precedes the Big Durian – so much so that the infamy of Jakarta’s roads is often the first thing prospective expats worry about. But once you know how to navigate it, you can live with it.
The Jakarta metropolitan police note at least 67 places as prime locations for severe traffic jams. Some of the key areas in Central Jakarta susceptible to macet total are the Semanggi interchange, Jl. RE Martadinata, Jl. Joglo, the Pancoran traffic lights, and Jl. Prof Dr. Satrio. New areas of concern are Jl. Kapten Tendean in South Jakarta, where a flyover is being built, and the ever-problematic Jl. Fatmawati, also in South Jakarta.
In general, jams tend to occur during rush hour, when the size of the streets simply lose out against the sheer volume of vehicles. 6:30am-9:30am and 4:00pm-8:00pm are the peak times, with Monday mornings and Friday nights often worse. Weekend evenings can also be difficult near popular shopping centres.
In the hopes of easing rush-hour traffic, there is a “three-in-one” rule aimed at private vehicles. The policy stipulates that a car must carry at least three passengers through the main city thoroughfare (chiefly up the length of Jl. Sudirman and Thamrin) between 7:00-10:00am and 4:00-7:00pm. But many people get around this rule by paying “jockeys”: for-hire passengers who wait at the side of the roads before the three-in-one zones and hitch a ride into town for a nominal fee of around Rp25,000-30,000 (US$2).
According to the metropolitan police, private vehicles represent 98 percent of those on Jakarta’s roads, whilst the remaining two percent – i.e., public transport – serve 56% of journeys. Road length has only grown about 0.01% in the last five years, and the total demand for public transport has now reached just over 17 million trips per day.
Jakarta’s much-hyped Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) is due to open in 2020 – if everything goes to plan! At over 110.8km, the MRT’s two main lines will run north-south and east-west. The large-scale construction has created lane closures in already-clogged streets, particularly at Sudirman and Thamrin – so we can enjoy a bit more pain before the pleasure of a new subway system.
TransJakarta buses operate in an exclusive bus lane. There are twelve corridors, across which a flat ticket price of Rp3,500 applies before exit. Service is from 5:00am to 10:00pm, and is linked by feeder services operating on smaller roads beyond the main city out to the suburbs.
There is also a commuter rail line (KRL), which transports 800,000 passengers a day. Currently passengers pay Rp2,000 (US$0.15) for the first 25km. There are nine routes connecting 75 stations, running 872 trips per day ferrying passengers in and around the capital.
For expats, the recommended way of getting around (if not by private car) is taxi. BlueBird taxis are generally safe, clean and convenient. They use a meter and there’s a user-friendly app for call-out orders too. Their premium SilverBird service is nice for longer journeys such as to the airport. Global taxi company Uber is also here, with affordable private hires starting at Rp3,000.
For traffic-battling, try Waze, which uses crowd-sourced and anonymous data from GPS devices around Jakarta to update a map with real-time traffic levels: green good, red bad!
If you’re in a hurry and sitting in a car just won’t cut it, the brave (and helmeted) hop on an ojek – a motorbike taxi. These can be hailed from the street, just like the orange or blue bajaj (tuk-tuks) in South Jakarta. But recently apps have taken over this market too, with Go-Jek the originator and GrabBike a close second. GoJek also offers myriad add-on services via their slick app, such as shopping, courier and van hire.