Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Traffic in Jakarta

Ah, the Jakartan traffic. The cars. The motorbikes. The bajaj (bah-jai). The ba-what??? This one! ==>

Before I begin, may I just say that this is not intended to be a criticism of Jakarta, but merely an observation. I use Kuala Lumpur as my yardstick simply because I've lived there for 7 years, have driven round most of it and that is what I know best.

First things first: KL roads are NOT perfect. Every time I'm in Singapore, I wonder why they can get it right and we can't. KL roads have their fair share of potholes. It has a mix of highways, large main roads and smaller roads. Most of these are well-paved, fairly well-maintained and well-lit. KL road signs, while large, well-lit and fairly visible, are usually placed where they are of no use to the motorist. By the time you get close enough to read them, you would have completely missed your turn-off. Some signs simply disappear along the way. You could be navigating along a road, following signs for Damansara and about 2km along your drive, the signs to Damansara simply disappear. The only constant signs in KL are those that lead to Seremban and Ipoh. As far as my Dear Hubby is concerned, all roads in KL lead to Ipoh. You could be in the middle of nowhere and a sign will pop up with an arrow on it and it will say "IPOH".
Driving in KL requires some amount of skill and courage. This is because our dear city planners frequently put exits where they shouldn't be and drivers are forced to enter the highway from one side and bravely cut across four lanes of killer traffic in order to make their exit. Miss your exit and you could end up making a huge circle round the city. So everyone takes their chances and makes the dash to the exit, which is usually placed far too close to the entrance and means you have very little distance in which to navigate across.
Traffic in KL is usually congested at peak hours and is quite all right at other times. The huge amount of motorcycles weaving in and out of lanes doesn't help any. A driver has to be vigilant at all times to watch for these deadly two-wheelers as well as other fellow drivers who haven't the slightest clue what they're doing in a car. It's common knowledge that most drivers in Malaysia bribe their way to a license, so we do have a lot of clueless idiots on the roads. Perhaps this is the government's way of population control. I was once asked by a British expat about the incidence of drink driving in KL. My response? "Drink driving? Nono... we kill enough of our own driving around sober!"

What about Jakarta then? Er... 10 times worse. Imagine a city where the population is 3 times that of Klang Valley, where traffic is forced to navigate through mainly narrow streets that are badly built, where roads are frequently flooded when it rains, where there is an absence of coherent road signs and street lamps and you get the idea.
Driving in Jakarta means No Rules. You honk if you want to warn someone that you are overtaking or cutting in and then you just pull out. Hesitation will be fatal. Just pull out and the other drivers will be forced to stop for you. Otherwise, you'll be stuck at the intersection forever and a day. Driving in Jakarta means you need an intimate knowledge of the smaller streets that criss-cross the city and wind in and out of local settlements if you do not wish to be stuck in the traffic jams that clog many Jakartan roads.

So we clueless expats are usually assigned a local driver. Our guy, S, is brilliant. I have no idea how he knows where he's going. He's safe, he's reliable and boy, can he drive. When S is not available to ferry me around, I use a cab. Now, it's not a good idea to use just ANY cab in Jakarta. You're bound to be fleeced especially if you're a bule like Dear Hubby (bule = local slang for Caucasians, kinda like our term angmoh). Most visitors to Jakarta are advised to use cabs from the Bluebird Group. They're safe, they always use the meter, their drivers are well-trained and efficient and they can pick you up from anywhere.
Do not simply flag down a cab on the street, it's always best to get the hotel or shopping centre to get you a cab. Make sure you have small change for the cab, you don't always get the right change back.

So belt up, hold tight and enjoy the ride!

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