Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tyre Tracks All Across Your Back

Apparently, a 20 day long clampdown on traffic violations is just getting underway here and the police have three weeks in which to rub their avaricious hands with barely concealed glee and shakedown a few motorists before everything inevitably returns to square one. Operasi Simpatik Jaya 2010 has been set up with a remit to instill a little discipline and order into Jakarta's pell-mell traffic scrum and to say that its enforcers have got their work cut out would have to be the understatement of the century.

 In fact, the sheer enormity of the challenge ahead was brought home very vividly this week with two motorcyclists were killed when a landing plane hit them on the runway of Curug Airport in Tangerang. Apparently, motorcyclists frequently use the airport's runway as a shortcut. Chalk up another Darwin Award for Indonesia.

According to Ministry of Transportation Spokesman, Bambang Ervan, "Tight monitoring [of airports] 24 hours a day, day in and day out, is impossible, there's just not enough people to carry it out." Not enough people?! Surely there are 250 million of them out there. What's more, every privately owned office block in town sports its own 24 hour security force. I wish that someone in the government would just be honest for a change and admit that the real reason is that there isn't enough money because it's all been pinched and spent on cars, women and moustache trimmers.

I don't know, they make tourists wait in lines and undergo stringent new biometric scans whilst at the same time they've got Valentino Rossi wannabes popping wheelies on the runways whilst planes are trying to land. As with so many issues in this beautiful country, it would seem to be a question of the left hand not only not knowing what the right hand is doing, but utterly oblivious to the fact that there may even be a right-hand.

However you’ve got me sidetracked again, you cheeky swines you. Back to Operasi Simpatik Jaya 2010 and the perpetual nightmare of trying to get anywhere in Jakarta by road in one piece before the planet suffers the heat death. Apparently, during the 20 day operation, traffic police will be focusing on the following violations:
1. Motorcycles riding down the street in the wrong direction. Now this one is a definite menace to pedestrians and I think that a fitting punishment would be to get offenders to ride the wrong way down the middle of a busy Jakarta toll road for 15 minutes at no less than 60 km per hour.

2. Motorcyclists not wearing standard safety helmets. Apparently, Indonesian National Standard (SNI) helmets are now mandatory and all bear genuine SNI stickers (which are obviously utterly impossible to scan into a computer and fake).

3. Public transportation vehicles that stop where they shouldn't or that drive recklessly. That's pretty much all of them, isn't it?

4. Motorcyclists with no lights on in the day will face an on the spot Rp.100,000 fine. Hmmm, but bikers with no lights on at night will be given a bar of chocolate and a kiss on the cheek?
5. Bikers and passengers without helmets will be fined Rp.250,000. Ironically, this is about the price of a halfway decent helmet in Indonesia but there you go. 
6. Cars and motorcycles without rearview mirrors, horns, lights, proper exhaust pipes and which have worn tires will be fined Rp.250,000. I've encountered many vehicles here that fail on all of these counts. My particular bugbear is motorbikes that have noisy racing exhausts fitted so that they sound like a squadron of 747s having durians fed into their air intakes.
I thought that it might provide some valuable data for police statisticians and urban planners to get stuck into if I went for a drive around my local area whilst timing how long it would take me to spot an example of each and every one of these nefarious classes of miscreant. It would also offer me about five minutes of fun on a par with the, "I Spy" books that I used to try and fill in as a small child.

I set off with my stopwatch running, utterly confident of bagging all six before leaving my neighborhood. In fact, before I even let the handbrake out, our maid came careering around the corner on her Suzuki scooter, sans helmet. I crossed number five off the list and scribbled 0 minutes 2 seconds next to it.

I hit the traffic light queue on my nearest main road and immediately spotted a biker wearing one of those Rp.10,000 PVC baseball caps that are laughably sold as helmets here. That was number two crossed off at 1 minute 10 seconds. As I got to the lights and rounded the corner, I spied number one cheerfully riding against the traffic and then realized that he was also a number four, 3 minutes 55 seconds.

When the next set of lights hit green, traffic was somewhat hampered by the orange Metro Mini which had decided to stop in the middle of the junction to let off a middle-aged woman with a small child and some heavy shopping. God bless them. So that was number three at 5 minutes 32 seconds. A boy racer then roared past perilously close to my right flank, racing exhaust emitting a sound equivalent to a helicopter landing in the audience at a Metallica concert. Bingo! The full set at only 5 minutes 57 seconds.

It had all been too easy and so I thought that I'd try and tick a few bonus boxes. On my travels I also saw: a family of five all balanced precariously on one scooter - tick, plus an extra tick for the fact that both parents but none of the three kids were wearing helmets. I also gave myself extra ticks for a street vendor who was trying to push his baso trolley into the oncoming traffic, a biker carrying a stack of rice crackers so high that he couldn't see over the handlebars, a bajaj swerving violently at the last minute in order to execute a right turn and a parking attendant who was extremely insistent that I kept going in the direction that I was already travelling in. Job done. Like taking candy from a baby.