I’LL never complain about Sydney’s traffic again.
Not after spending a week in Jakarta — the Indonesian capital where time stands still the moment you enter a vehicle. My taxi journey to my hotel was only 25 kilometres. It took four hours.
When you put 10 million people into a city with no proper transportation system or road rules, things get crazy. The result is a city plagued with terrible air quality, non-stop congestion and health problems.
But despite the pollution, potholes and pandemonium, Australia could actually learn a thing or two from Jakarta when it comes to finding solutions.
‘THE WORST TRAFFIC IN THE WORLD’
Traffic jams are so frequent in Jakarta that Indonesians have their own special word for it — macet.
How long does it take us to get to work? See how long the average travel times are for our capital cities and around the world.
Picture this: Thousands of cars wedged bumper-to-bumper, with the tiny spaces between them occupied by hundreds of motorised scooters. Many people wear surgical masks, because the toxic air quality wreaks havoc on your health.
All down the motionless highway, men sell dodgy meats to drivers from tiny vendors.
At every intersection, kids as young as eight or nine dangerously direct cars and motorbikes; traffic lights are largely for decoration here.
When I asked if there was an accident, my driver laughed at me. “First time in Jakarta,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
In 2015, Jakarta was deemed the world’s worst city for traffic congestion. The study, by motor oil company Castrol, found motorists were stopping and starting their cars an average of 33,240 times per year on the road.
Worse still, the city has no real public transport system. Trains are non-existent and the mini-vans used to carry hoards of passengers do little to ease congestion.
But over the past decade, the city has increased its measures to address problems with transport and air pollution, with some interesting results.
WHAT AUSTRALIA CAN LEARN FROM JAKARTA
According to World Bank data, Australia is the world’s 12th highest emitter of carbon dioxide per capita, at 16.3 tons per person. Indonesia sits at around 1.9 tons.
We have one of the world’s most lenient sulphur standards for petrol compared to other developed nations.
We also don’t have any real or significant measures to reduce vehicle emissions.
Jakarta, by comparison, has taken a number of measures to reduce its pollution levels.
Every Sunday the city runs an initiative called “Car Free Day”, in which two of the city’s main roads are closed to all private cars.
When you walk down the street on Sunday morning and see people strolling and cycling, it’s a totally different world.
This is many locals’ only chance to get some outdoor breathing space in the notoriously non-“walkable” city.
Transport and urban planning expert Doctor Stephen Greaves, from the University of Sydney, told news.com.au Australian cities could implement something similar, if only there was any political will to do so.
He noted we have the occasional event designed to encourage sustainable travel, but said they have little impact.
“We have been slow adopters of renewable energy sources, largely due to the political might of the carbon-based energy producers and resources sector,” he told news.com.au.
“We also underplay the role of transport in producing carbon emissions but in net terms it is growing as people are generally buying bigger vehicles and travelling more kilometres.”
Meanwhile, start-ups in Jakarta are encouraging the use of bikes over cars, which are much more fuel-efficient.
Go-Jek — an Indonesian company similar to Uber — now offers motorbikes for transport and deliveries at a lower cost.
The method is fast gaining popularity, with more than 20 million app downloads since launching.
Between 2002 and 2010, the use of motorcycles in Jakarta has almost doubled, from 21 per cent to 41 per cent (I rented one myself — it’s damn good fun!)
The amount of people using a bicycle has also increased, while the overall use of cars has dropped over the past decade, despite an increasing population.
Dr Greaves said Australia could be doing a lot more to encourage the purchase of cleaner vehicles at point of purchase through to the disposal of the vehicle, but so far, this isn’t a national priority.
“We are putting in more major public transport projects in Sydney, but this is concurrent with the biggest expansion of the underground road network in our history, which would seem to only encourage more car travel,” he said.
The scariest part? If we remain complacent, we could end up going down the same road as cities like Jakarta.
“I suspect in 5-10 years’ time, we will be seeing notable increases in respiratory problems, cancer etc, as the real story on fine particulates and toxins is exacerbated as we spend more of our time travelling in cars underground,” said Dr Greaves.
At any rate, I’m getting a motorbike when I’m back in Sydney.
Continue the conversation with Gavin Fernando on Twitter @GavinDFernando