Photo Credit: CIFOR via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: CIFOR via Compfight cc

If you are new to Jakarta, macet – or traffic jam – is one of the first Indonesian terms you will learn. Jakarta traffic is notoriously bad and affects every aspect of life in the Big Durian.  It determines where you live, shop, work, go to school – and how much you can do in a day.

With a metropolitan population of 28 million people and no rapid transit system, Jakarta is plagued with major transportation issues. Every day more than 13 million cars, trucks, buses and motorbikes hit the city’s flood-prone roads. With traffic speeds averaging below 20 kph and thousands of new vehicles joining the gridlocked throngs every day – it’s a recipe for constant congestion and frustration.

Although it is impossible to completely avoid traffic, I am lucky in many ways. With the exception of the school run, most of my daily life takes place within our local neighborhood:  my office, gym, shops, restaurants, friends and activities are all within 15 minutes from home. This makes things infinitely easier.

Since my husband bikes to work (yes, really!), I have free access to our car. And like most people I know, we have a driver, which is fortunate since I wouldn’t dream of attemping to drive here.

Jakarta driving is not for the faint-hearted. Traffic rules (and lanes) are mostly suggestions, driving strategies are creative, a buffer of a few inches between cars is considered normal, and motorcycles are everywhere. Despite it all, there is a remarkably zen approach to driving here, with little road rage and relatively few accidents.

There is also a natural give and take to driving that continually impresses me. The language of “pushing in” or “being cut off” is irrelevant; sometimes you have to give way and sometimes you have to make way. No one will get anywhere otherwise. You also learn quickly that getting angry is pointless. There’s nothing  you can do about the traffic, so sit back, read a book and be glad that someone else is driving. Not bad life lessons, really.

On good days, I find myself enjoying the sights out the window…glimpses of colorful urban life, busy street vendors, impressively balanced items on motorbikes. On bad days, I couldn’t live without my iPad…or my patience.

The unpredictable nature of Jakarta traffic is the hardest part to deal with. Everyone has a horror story. The time it took 3 hours to walk home in the rain because it was quicker than sitting in parked gridlock.  When your friend was stuck in standing freeway traffic for 2 hours with a vomiting child. When it took 7 hours to get to/from a birthday party on a Friday afternoon. When you find yourself measuring traffic speed by meters per hour, rather than kilometers.

Suddenly, the “crazy driving” I once described in tiny Dili doesn’t seem so bad at all!

For our family, the long school commute is the main down side of life here. Each morning we leave the house at 6:45am and I don’t return home from school until 9am. Fortunately my kids take the bus in the afternoons, but it’s still a long time for them (and me) to be on the road. For many Jakarta kids, extended periods of car time can result in a lot more screen time — and less play time.

Another challenge for families is the long workdays for parents. Lengthy commutes and daily traffic jams add hours onto the average workday and generally reduce quality family time. Our family manages to have dinner together most nights, but many parents get home from work long after the kids are in bed. This can be a real strain on family life.

In entrepreneurial Indonesia, many do benefit from the transport problems. There are the informal traffic controllers directing cars for small change, “jockeys” that will ride in your car for a few dollars so you can use HOV lanes, street vendors catering to gridlocked passengers, motorbike taxis to speed people to their destinations and even mobile apps to help drivers avoid jams.

Though a few may profit, there is no doubt that the costs of Jakarta’s traffic problems – in terms of time, money, health, environment and more – are enormous.

Hopefully things will improve in the long-term. But for now there’s little to do but go with the flow. As they say in Jakarta, pelan pelan, tidak ada kecepatan…Go slowly, there is no hurry.

How does transportation affect your daily life? How do you usually travel? 

This is an original post by Shaula Bellour for World Moms Blog.

Photo Credit: CIFOR via Compfight cc

Shaula Bellour (Indonesia)

Shaula Bellour grew up in Redmond, Washington. She now lives in Jakarta, Indonesia with her British husband and 9-year old boy/girl twins. She has degrees in International Relations and Gender and Development and works as a consultant for the UN and non-governmental organizations. Shaula has lived and worked in the US, France, England, Kenya, Eritrea, Kosovo, Lebanon and Timor-Leste. She began writing for World Moms Network in 2010. She plans to eventually find her way back to the Pacific Northwest one day, but until then she’s enjoying living in the big wide world with her family.

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