Thursday, October 05, 2006

Corridor Surfing

Seeing as I have forsaken the pleasures of motorcycling since my recent bone crunching brush with death, I decided to brave the City's Busway for the first-ever time last weekend. Busways seem to be springing up everywhere these days. The latest addition to the system is currently being skillfully engineered by workmen with showing bum cracks near my current abode in Mampang, causing the traffic nightmare down there to intensify even further. Eventually I envision multi-laned Busways along every major thoroughfare in the city. This will reduce all the other private cars to a two foot wide corridor, forcing all motorists to burn along on two side wheels like Starsky and Hutch stunt drivers.

The city's Busway is essentially that old urban chestnut, the park-and-ride scheme... only without the park bit, which kind of misses much of the point of having a system like this in the first place. But no matter, I rocked up at Blok M's bus terminal on my trusty crutch (the old leg’s still a bit wobbly after the accident you understand although the doctor assures me that I will be running down to the corner warung for a packet of Sutra before I know it). I descended the steps into the bowels of the bus station /shopping arcade in which, incidentally, one can pick up some good bargains, provided of course you can take the high temperatures which approach that of the core of Jupiter.

After buying my ticket, only R.3500 to cross town, I headed up into the waiting area. It is actually possible to purchase a 50 trip ticket for Rp.175,000 however I thought that I'd start with a single journey first in order to see if a man on a crutch can compete with Jakarta's notorious commuter rabble without having his support kicked from under him by a volatile Bapak.

The screen in the shelter was playing a recording of Jakarta's governor, Sutiyoso (or Snooty Bozo as a friend of mine would have it). Thankfully the volume had been turned down so I have no idea if he was welcoming everyone to his ingenious brainchild mass transportation system, explaining away the dubious financial tendering of the monorail project or singing a karaoke version of Smoke on the Water. After a mere three minutes, two buses came along at once (typical) and the doors opened. The assembled commuters, I am pleased to report, failed the consideration-paid-towards-man-on-crutch test admirably and I was almost knocked over by one lovely gentleman in his eager pursuit of a seat. After visiting several local expletives on his head and calling him the illegitimate whore son of a bajaj driver I settled down to enjoy my trip.

The journey was event-free aside from passing a demonstration by the dangerously subversive Chinese aerobics cult, Falun Gong on Jl. Thamrin. A year in jail for every press-up apparently, who'd live in China? After half an hour I disembarked at the end of the line at Kota Station (which is looking unbelievably shabby these days). All the way across town in 30 minutes, I couldn't argue with that.

So is the Busway much of a long-term solution to the city's inexorable jams? Is it really possible to prize people away from their increasingly huge, Sherman tank like SUV people carriers? The monorail project is underway of course and a handful of concrete pillars stick up pointlessly into the air at various sites around town like some modernist Stonehenge. At this rate it'll be ready to shuttle its first passengers across the city at the same time as NASA opens up a space/time wormhole to a neighboring galaxy, circa the year 4000. A proper underground subway would be fantastic of course but, according to the geologists, the city's swampy ground is continually subsiding. I suspect that any subway tunnels wouldn't last more than a couple of years before buckling. Also, if they flooded, which given the city's record in this department would be extremely likely, casualties would be huge as the underground stations turned into vast people filled aquariums.

Perhaps the simplest way is just to wait until global oil prices hit $500 a barrel, that should quieten the roads down a bit. Ha, it’s easy to chastise the petrol heads now that I've divorced my motorcycle and stand on the other side of the fence. Next month I will be setting up a skateboard to work campaign. Watch this space all you car driving swine.

Simon Pitchforth