All aboard

All aboard

Indonesia's first subway gears up to ease traffic woes in capital. By Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata in Jakarta

Unlike other major capitals, Jakarta doesn't have the kind of appeal that makes it the go-to destination for foreign visitors who come to Indonesia. Unless they have business to do in the city, many don't get much farther than the international airport before they continue on to somewhere else in the country.

Given the city's notorious traffic jams and a bewildering maze of unreliable public transport networks, it is no wonder that few foreigners want to spend time in Jakarta. But that may change with the long-awaited opening next month of the city's first mass rapid rail system.

Work will also begin soon -- the original schedule called for groundbreaking in January -- on a second phase to extend the line to the northern part of the city. Construction is expected to be completed by 2024 with operations to start in 2025.

"We are still in preparation, the groundbreaking will take place anytime but there is nothing hindering or delaying the Phase 2 construction. All is going according to plan," William Sabandar, president director of PT MRT Jakarta, told Asia Focus.

During a commissioning test on Jan 30, guests had the chance to try the ride back and forth between the Hotel Indonesia roundabout in Central Jakarta to Lebak Bulus in South Jakarta. The train ran on time for 30 minutes with 30-second stops in each of the 13 underground and elevated stations.

"We are testing with a scenario for a late departure in one of the stops and a system to catch up on the time so that all train schedules will be back to normal again," Mr Sabandar said during the ride.

Construction of Indonesia's first subway line is now 99% complete and the company is running integrated testing and commissioning. Eight trains are being run at the same time at 10-minute intervals to test the punctuality of normal operation, and to ensure that platform doors are working in accordance with train departures and arrivals.

By the end of February, the company will have a full trial run, along with simulations for emergency situations, until March 11. The trial runs will be open for limited public participation before full service debuts at the end of March.

Muhammad Kamaluddin, head of corporate strategy for MRT Jakarta, told Asia Focus that during the initial operation, each six-coach train built by Nippon Sharyo and Sumitomo Corp of Japan will be able to carry a maximum of 1,900 passengers. Operations will start at 5.30am daily with departures from both ends of the line, and the last departure at 10.30pm. Coaches dedicated for disabled people will stop closest to the elevators at stations, and there will also be a designated coach for women only during rush hours.

"Gradually we will increase the number of trains to 14. The trains will run at a speed of 30 kilometres per hour for the 16-kilometre trip," he added.

MRT Jakarta expects to transport about 65,000 passengers per day in its first year of operation. Fares are still being decided but Mr Sabandar told the Jakarta Post earlier that without a subsidy, the average fare would be around 17,000 rupiah (38 baht).

Januar Wibisono, who works at an office in one of the buildings in Sudirman-Thamrin business area where the line operates underground, said he is excited about trying the service and hope the train would make his daily commute from the southern suburbs of Jakarta much easier.

"My office building is located near the Bendungan Hilir station," he told Asia Focus. "I will just park my motorcycle near the Lebak Bulus station and take the train from there. If it's 30 minutes to the end of the line, I estimate it will take me 20 minutes to get to my destination."

The Bendungan Hilir station is one of the six underground stations in the business area and rest are elevated, starting at the Sisingamangaraja station. The company offers sponsorship for naming rights for each station to go along with the station's original name, as part of its strategy to generate non-fare revenue and keep fare costs as low as possible.

"But the Sisingamangaraja station will be an exception. It will be named Sisingamangaraja Asean to mark the Asean Secretariat building near the station," Mr Sabandar said.

Phase 2 will extend the line from the hotel roundabout to Kampung Bandan in North Jakarta and upon completion it will be a complete line running from the southern to the northern end of the city.

"We set a target to complete the project in five years," Mr Kamaluddin said, adding that all eight stations in the second line would be underground and some would be integrated with the city-owned Transjakarta bus network.

But construction for the second phase will be tricky since it will have to go through the National Monument or Monas, the so-called Ring 1 area in Central Jakarta, where the presidential palace and government offices are located.

The service, along with the light rail transit (LRT) system that will also begin operation this year, is expected to shift people from using private vehicles to public transport and eventually reduce traffic congestion.

In some parts, public transport modes will cross tracks in integrated stations, such as the Duku Atas station in Central Jakarta, which is integrated with the airport train, commuter train, and regular and Transjakarta buses.

Jakarta's roads are already clogged beyond capacity, due in part to a big increase in the number of motorcycles, spurred by easier motorcycle leasing financing and the proliferation of app-based motorcycle taxis. The hours spent stuck in traffic jams in Greater Jakarta are estimated to cause 100 trillion rupiah (US$7.1 billion) in annual economic losses, according to data from the National Development Planning Agency.

To support the shift to the MRT, the city administration has also been revamping its patchy sidewalks to encourage more pedestrians and to enable passengers exiting stations to walk to their destinations.

Jakarta has been dubbed one of the least walkable cities and Indonesians among the world's laziest walkers, taking an average of just 3,513 steps daily against a worldwide average of 5,000, according to a study conducted by Stanford University and published in 2017.

"I gave up driving cars as a way to commute for my daily activities about 15 years ago since I really couldn't stand the traffic," said Rani Cahyawati, an office employee who works near the Hotel Indonesia circle.

"I have been relying on whatever's available on the day, whether it's the dirty, old buses, Transjakarta buses, taxis, motorcycle taxis -- especially now made easier with ride-hailing apps -- and walked through the polluted streets to get around. So I am really looking forward to the MRT and the LRT to be in operation.

"It's time for Jakarta to get itself modernised and more civilised for its people and its visitors," she added.

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