Jakarta's ill-famed traffic grief to residents but boon for some

Thu Jun 11, 2015 7:48am EDT
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By Nicholas Owen

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Jakarta's traffic jams are a constant vexation for the city's 10 million residents. With the chaos not looking to abate anytime soon, entrepreneurial types have made it their business to help fellow commuters circumvent the world's worst gridlock.

Commuters spend three to four hours a day in their cars on Jakarta's roads, a situation which Indonesian businessman Nadiem Makarim described as a huge waste of productivity. The average speed of traffic is 8.3 km per hour (5.2 mph), slower than a runner of average fitness covering the same distance in a race.

Yet the Indonesian capital's glaring inefficiencies have also created opportunities for the likes of Makarim, who has launched a smartphone app that lets users summon a motorbike rider to weave them quickly through gridlocked traffic, deliver a meal or even get the shopping.

Since the launch of the app in January, the number of distinctive, green-jacketed drivers on its books has jumped tenfold to 10,000. The app itself has been downloaded nearly 400,000 times in six months - a national record.

"I created GO-JEK because I really needed it," Makarim told Reuters this week in Jakarta on the sidelines of the annual New Cities Summit, where over 800 CEOs, mayors, thinkers, artists and innovators met to discuss urban change.

Jakarta's congestions are one of the biggest brakes on economic growth. Officials say the traffic - adjudged recently by motor-oil firm Castrol to be the world's worst based on an analysis of stopping and starting by drivers - costs the economy about 65 trillion rupiah, or nearly $5 billion, a year.

A slump in infrastructure investment after the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, problems freeing up land for development, turf wars between city departments, and poor planning all means Jakarta's public transport cannot cope with the numbers of people moving about the city.

The city's population is growing by 120,000 a year partly due to rural-urban migration, putting enormous pressure on already-stretched infrastructure such as transport.   Continued...

A Gojek driver pillions a customer as he rides his motorcycle through a business district street in Jakarta, June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Beawiharta