Gridlocked Jakarta launches subway project, 20 years late

Fri May 3, 2013 4:42am EDT
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JAKARTA (Reuters) - Jakarta's popular new governor, who threatens to shake up Indonesian crony politics, has launched the first mass transit railway project to help end the gridlock that brings the capital to a near halt during rush hour.

It is also the first major test of Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, who swept to office seven months ago with the promise to sweep away the corruption and inefficiency that has long been the hallmark of Indonesian politics and the way the world's 17th-largest city has been run.

The project, announced late on Thursday and which has been delayed for over two decades, would mark a rare bright spot in Indonesia's growing infrastructure bottleneck which threatens to throttle what have been record levels of investment in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

"Jokowi has no choice but to build the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit railway) to satisfy the emerging middle class," said Marco Kusumawijaya, head of Rujak, a Jakarta-based urban planning think-tank.

"But this will not solve the traffic problems of the city in the long run because the backlog of demand for public transport here is so huge. You can't solve this with one or two inner-city (subway) lines."

Two consortia of Japanese and Indonesian state-owned companies were due to begin construction on the initial US$1.7 billion phase of the MRT later this year, Jokowi told reporters.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency has pledged to fund nearly 75 percent of the first line with a soft loan, with the Indonesian government picking up the rest.

The city of 10 million has tried various options to reduce cars on the streets. A rule in place for years which limits car using the main thoroughfare during rush hours to cars with three people is largely ineffective because "jockeys" line the roads to be extra passengers for a small payment.

There was an attempt at building a monorail in 2005, but it became mired in bureaucracy, ran out of funding and left unfinished concrete pillars dotting the business district.   Continued...

Joko Widodo, 48, a former furniture salesman who was recently elected mayor of Jakarta takes part in a Batik carnival in Solo, Central Java June 28, 2009. REUTERS/Andry Prasetyo