Ojeks rule!

Well today was my second day back at work. Yesterday I managed to sleep right through the alarm but was showered, dressed and out of the door in 30 minutes (a miracle!) but inevitably I was late on my first day (duh!). This morning I did wake up on time and left early, 6.30am. Of course, luck was not on my side as my Ojek driver ran out of gas half way to school and I had to hoof it to the next Ojek stop; luckily it wasn’t raining. When I left though it was tipping down and, since I’m nervous on the back of a bike in the rain, I decided to get a Bajaj home. These are odd little vehicles with three wheels and a very loud engine. They do zip along however, so I got home around the normal time. They are known as rickshaws in Africa, Tuk-Tuk in Thailand and MotoTaxi in Peru; Jakarta has some 20,000 around the city.


On the subject of transport systems, Jakarta has quite a few but none of the traditional ones we associate with a big city. There is a train system of sorts, with different classes of service. The first class or executive service has AC and can be comfortable and run inter-city as well as in parts of Jakarta. The commuter trains (Kerata Api) are another matter altogether: dirty, packed to the gills, no AC but incredibly cheap. I recall going on one of these trains into Jakarta with a friend of mine a few years ago, the fare was only 7,000 Rupiah one way I think (about 50p) and I have never again sweated as much as I did on that train! On  the way back there were no lights and people selling food and drinks wandered up and down the train with candles on the boxes to light the way; quite a sight.

Kereta Api, packed to the gills

Kereta Api, packed to the gills

Aside from the trains, there isn’t a lot else; no underground, no tram system and no MRT (wonderful over- underground systems in KL and Singapore), so most people drive, use the trans-Jakarta bus system, local Angkot (like a minibus) or ride motorcycles.

The traffic in Jakarta is horrendous and you have to have nerves of steel to sit on the back of a bike, I can tell you. One of my Ojek drivers decided to take a phone call on the way to work one day and I went slightly nuts as he wove in and out of busy traffic with one hand on the bike, the other holding his mobile phone, having some sort of argument with someone. Eventually I screamed with fear in his ear and he got the message!


Traditional Becak

One other traditional form of transport which I’ve yet to try is the Becek, I used to see Becek outside one of the schools I used to teach at. Most of the drivers were slumped across the seat, often asleep, and I rarely saw anyone take one of these contraptions. How these guys made a living, I have no idea.


Typical traffic at a junction

It is hard to convey just how much traffic there is here. The concept of lanes just doesn’t apply and if a car, bike , bajaj or Angkot can get somewhere quicker by creating another lane, they will. This results in huge, unending traffic jams and I’ve been caught in some for hours at a time in a taxi. The sheer number of motorcycles on the roads also never ceases to amaze me and they will go through the narrowest of gaps to get ahead (believe me!). I’ve seen whole families on a motorcycle, a mother breastfeeding a child, children crammed in between mother and father and all often not wearing helmets. I’ve been trying to snap one of these families on a bike for a while but no luck so far! I’ve also seen motorcycles so loaded up with stuff it’s hard to believe they can actually move.

One other major contribution to traffic congestion here is people walking portable food stalls through heavy traffic to their ‘spots’. I haven’t managed to capture a shot of this either but I will keep trying.

Ojeks are probably my favourite form of transport here for local trips as they’re so quick but for longer journeys, only a taxi will do. Hopefully, I”ll manage to make it in early tomorrow!


Categories: Just Plain Blog

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3 replies

  1. You are a very brave woman, Sally! These posts about life in Jakarta are always fascinating. We have a variation of those three-wheeled Becaks in nearby Vancouver. The local version (called a pedicab) has the cyclist out front instead of behind. To my mind, placing the “driver” out of sight behind the seats makes a lot more sense. This would be far better for Vancouver where the primary users are tourists.

    Am I right in assuming that your school is downtown while you live in the ‘burbs?

  2. I shall never complain about a bus or train being late ever again!

  3. Interesting piece Sal, it makes commuting in London a piece of cake, India was very similar

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