A lesson in polite chaos

21 Sep

Jakarta city view

Jakarta traffic is insane. I’d been warned before I got here about the traffic, but it’s something else to see it up close. Everyone is always trying to get somewhere. In a hurry. In a city of more than 12 million, and in one of the most densely populated parts of the city, that’s a lot of people in a relatively small space. Thankfully, there are rules … kind of.

Rule #1 – Every space is a usable space. It’s common to see a swarm of scooters, sometimes with 2 or 3 passengers, crowded at the front of a line of traffic, waiting on the light to change so they can squeeze ahead of cars. And when traffic is moving, they are everywhere, inching between cars, snaking around buses, all the while blowing their horns just in case.

Rule #2 – Lane markings count, except when they don’t. Try to drive in a straight line and you will find most people are in their lanes (well except scooters, see rule #1). But try going around a corner, merging on or off a main road, or my personal favourite – going around a roundabout – and all bets are off. It’s more of a case of who goes first wins. It’s the strangest thing because as soon as you are back on a straight road, the order returns.

bus lane

Bus lane

 Rule #3 – Bus lanes are for buses. So far this is the one I’ve seen respected without fail. Not sure if this is because there are major fines for violating this rule, or because of the big curb that divides regular traffic lanes from the bus lanes.  I’m sure that the fact that TransJakarta bus drivers swing the buses around like they are training for F1 competition has nothing to do with it.

Rule #4 – HOV lanes are serious business. Certain streets are designated “3 in 1” especially during rush hour, which means that there must be a minimum of 3 people in any 1 vehicle to travel in these areas. Here’s how I discovered how this played out. One evening leaving the office, the car I was in was stopped by police. The office driver hadn’t done anything wrong that I could see, but 2 other cars were also pulled over so I assumed a routine traffic check. After a brief conversation where the office driver seemed to be trying to persuade the policeman of something and what looked like a “financial exchange”, we were allowed to pass. The next night, I noticed a number of young men standing along the driveway exit, all holding up 1 finger like they were asking for a ride, or counting to 1. Soon after we pulled out of the gate, the driver stopped and picked up one of these men, seemingly at random. He turned to me apologetically and explained this was the “jockey for 3-in-1”. Then it hit me. The rules are so strict that drivers will pay to have a 3rd passenger or “jockey” in the car in order to access the restricted areas! After a few blocks when we had cleared the 3-in-1 zone, our “jockey” hopped out and went his way, presumably to rescue another driver. Serious business indeed.

policeIncredibly, I’m yet to see so much as a fender-bender, although sometimes I’m pretty sure scooters are routinely touching cars or each other in the crush. As I said, it’s chaos, but polite chaos. Don’t forget to look both ways.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: