Business

A correspondent, a trucker and an Indonesian traffic jam

  • 30 June 2014
  • From the section Business
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Traffic jam in Jakarta

Jakarta traffic is famously slow. Traffic jams in the Indonesian capital alone are estimated to cost 0.6% of GDP in lost productive time and extra fuel.

To put that in context, the OECD estimates that logistics costs in Indonesia are 14% of total sales compared with 4% in Japan.

That's a substantial drain on business profitability and so on the success of the entire country.

So, we went to see for ourselves the extent of the problem with the profession most familiar with the roads.

We needed to find a willing trucker. We spot a truck on the side of the road and ask the driver if we can come along.

He agrees and says that we can leave after he has had his lunch. We thank him and go and wait in our van.

A short while later, we see our truck go past. A scramble ensues as our local producer runs out of the car and down the street waving his arms wildly.

Sadly that had no effect, so we are now on the chase.

Since it's Indonesia, we are speeding along at an underwhelming 20 miles per hour.

In this low-speed car chase between a white van and a haulage truck moving at crawl speed, we finally catch him up. Now a debate ensues, do we do what we see in the movies and pull up ahead of his truck to halt him in his tracks? Or do we honk alongside?

Fortunately, there was no dramatic manoeuvre and we manage to flag him down and get in.

The truck was of an older vintage. The fourth gear could be shifted into only with the help of a rubber band attached to the dashboard. My passenger door only closed if a piece of cloth tied the door handle to the back of my seat. The suspension was also minimal so each pothole made its presence felt.

Budi was hauling T-shirts destined for Jakarta airport. His route is 600km, which takes him 24 hours.

A journey from the outskirts of Jakarta into the city would take him one hour in the middle of the night but usually four hours, he told me. On a bad day, it has taken him eight hours. I asked him how he coped, he says that he gets bored.

Wouldn't we all.

The average speed of travel in Jakarta is about 8km per hour. As a sometime 10km runner, I realised that we were moving more slowly than some people can run. And that's when we were moving at all since most the journey is "stop and start."

When I ask Indonesians about the traffic jams, the most common response is that you get used to it.

That's not great economics, and I'll be looking at some of the challenges facing the government as it struggles to get to grips with the country's infrastructure in a blog post later this week.

In the meantime, I wonder whether my next journey around Indonesia should involve the hire of a caravan or Winnebago. I suspect a hot meal on the road might make the congestion somewhat easier to cope with.