Jakarta faces lengthy wait for metro fix to gridlock
Officials expect new rapid transit system won't be ready until mid-2020s as city faces growing economic losses due to the chronic traffic jams
Ajeng Dewanti wakes up every weekday before sunrise, squeezes into an overcrowded car, and spends the next two hours making the 17-kilometre journey through the Jakarta gridlock to her work.
The tortuous slog in slow-moving cars and on motorbikes in the oppressively hot, smog-choked Indonesian capital is common for commuters, many of whom long ago abandoned an inadequate network of crowded buses and trains.
"I spend a good deal of my life on the road," said Dewanti, 30, who travels with other commuters in a private car that has been converted into a makeshift taxi to reach her work.
But hopes are now high the perennial traffic chaos could be eased after one of Asia's last major cities without a metro set out clear plans to build one, after more than 20 years of discussing the idea.
Officials on Thursday revealed the two consortia of Japanese and Indonesian firms who will build the first section of the network, a key step before building starts this year.
Shimizu-Obayashi-Jaya Konstruksi and Sumitomo-Mitsui-Hutama Karya will build an underground section from a rich southern suburb to the landmark Hotel Indonesia roundabout in the heart of Jakarta.
The six-kilometre stretch is part of one line, which Jakarta's new governor, Joko Widodo, says will be completed in 2017, decades after other cities such as Singapore and Manila inaugurated their metros.
The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system will eventually stretch over 110 kilometres in the city, whose metropolitan area has a population of 27 million, and will have both overground and underground sections.
But Jakarta still faces a lengthy wait as officials don't expect the whole system to be finished until the mid-2020s.
The MRT was first mooted more than 20 years ago, but in a graft-ridden country with a notoriously inept bureaucracy, the central and city governments only managed to agree this year on how to share the funding for the project.
Pressure had been mounting for officials to finally move the project forward following repeated warnings about the damage the traffic chaos was doing to Southeast Asia's top economy.
The chronic jams cause losses of 17.2 trillion rupiah (HK$13.7 billion) a year, according to official figures that take into account working hours lost, fuel wasted and health care costs for illnesses caused by noxious exhaust fumes.
And the situation has only worsened as Indonesia's economy booms, clocking up annual growth of more than six per cent in recent years, and hundreds of new cars and motorbikes flood onto the ageing road network every day.
A row of concrete columns with rusty metal protruding from the top in south Jakarta are all that was ever built of a monorail, halted soon after building started in 2004 as funding dried up.
Widodo also wants to revive that project, although it is much smaller than the metro.
"Like it or not, people will be forced to use public transport," he said.