In traffic-clogged Jakarta, monorail remains a mirage

Sick of being stuck in gridlocked traffic or jostled in overcrowded buses, Jakartans wonder whether their public transport dream, the city’s first monorail, is ever going to become reality.

One-and-a-half years after its ground-breaking, the only sign that the saga-riddled project is under way is a few concrete and steel shoots poking into the polluted main street of South Jakarta’s business district.

In June last year, then-president Megawati Sukarnoputri inaugurated the 27km scheme to be managed by consortium Jakarta Monorail, which expected to spend $600-million to complete it by 2007.

Two lines, Green and Blue, will serve the business districts and Jakarta’s outer areas and are expected to carry up to 270 000 passengers a day.

A United States blogger in Seattle was amazed at the apparent efficiency, contrasting it to a similar project in his city a month after the initial fanfare.

“Now, can someone please explain to me why Jakarta can build a longer monorail system for a third of the cost, and about a year faster than the city where much of the world’s software and commercial jets are made?” he asked.

Snags

However, the outlook seems to have been optimistic, with the project being dogged since by financial snags and technology changes.

A memorandum of understanding to get construction under way was first awarded in 2003 to Malaysian company MTrans, builders of the KL Monorail. The deal was then cancelled and instead awarded to the Singaporean-led Omnico consortium.

In July this year, the project changed hands again in a fresh deal with a consortium of Indonesian companies: Bukaka Teknik Utama, railway-car builder INKA and Siemens Indonesia.

The consortium will now employ cheaper “straddle-type” wheels-on-rails technology instead of magnetic levitation technology as earlier promised.

But financial backing has yet to be finalised, with Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso ordering Jakarta Monorail last week to secure investors immediately or face termination of its agreement with the city administration.

A Jakarta Monorail director, Sukmawaty Syukur, said after meeting Sutiyoso last week that the company would “sort things out” by the end of January next year.

“We’re strongly confident” that the project will be completed on schedule, she said.
“We have secured funding commitments to complete the financial closing as required by the agreement with the Jakarta government.”

She said closing the deal was complex because of the project’s scale and the involvement of many parties, including investors from Singapore and Hong Kong.

Scepticism

Some Jakartans, tired of the endless dithering and lack of real progress, are sceptical.

“They’ve been causing traffic jams with their drilling rigs but it’s been one-and-a-half years and the work is on and off. There’s no progress,” muttered resident Muhammad Zein. “I don’t think they have the money.”

Unlike most other major Asian cities, Jakarta has no subway or light railway. Public transport in the city of 8,7-million now consists mainly of buses, many of them elderly and smoke-belching.

Heru Sutomo, head of the Centre for Transport and Logistics Studies at Gadjah Mada University, warned anyway that a monorail would not be a magic bullet to Jakarta’s traffic woes.

“I doubt the effectiveness of the monorail,” Sutomo said. “The lines mainly run through the commercial centres and some people may leave their cars at home—but it doesn’t answer the problems of commuters from Jakarta’s outskirts.”

Every day, millions of commuters from Jakarta’s outskirts swarm into the capital to work and study. Currently, four railway lines serve commuters from the city’s outskirts.

Sutomo has prepared a master plan for Jakarta’s mass rapid-transit project incorporating a planned elevated train and subway system, taking into account the monorail as well as a new busway launched last year.

He said a light train system like Bangkok’s Skytrain would be more suitable.

“Monorail is still a peculiar technology. This will make our dependency on the provider very high,” he said.

Proponents of the monorail argue that its streamlined shape makes it easier to route through built-up areas.

The city administration has earmarked $13,5-million to kick off the elevated rail system that will eventually trail from Jakarta’s old city to the capital’s south.

Its construction is due to begin next year—but even the first stage is only slated to be completed in three years.—AFP

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