Depending on where you look for statistics, and where you draw the boundaries of the metropolitan area, Greater Jakarta has a population of nearly 30 million. Just let that sink in for a second. That’s more than the population of the whole of Australia.
It also lacks any kind of subway or proper mass-transport network, meaning that the roads are, well… you know where I’m heading with this.
The congestion in the city is indeed legendary, but life goes on and people find ways of avoiding the worst of it. We’ve compiled a few of the top tips and tricks from locals and people who’ve lived here for a while, in the hope that it will help to make your stay in Jakarta more comfortable, more productive, more enjoyable and relatively stress-free.
Generally speaking the peak of the madness on the roads (and on trains) on working days is from around 8AM to 10AM and from around 4.30PM-8PM (sometimes much later). Plan your day accordingly – try not to travel during these times and if you’re already out-and-about during these times find somewhere interesting to wait for the traffic to subside. One of Jakarta’s many restaurants, food courts, markets, malls or pubs perhaps?
On weekends and public holidays the situation is far calmer and roads flow freely, except perhaps for around main entertainment areas such as malls.
Rain makes it worse. Perhaps there’s some localised flooding, or perhaps it’s because every bridge in the city becomes shelter for hundreds of ill-prepared motorcyclists – rain doesn’t help and on a rainy day the evening rush ‘hour’ can stretch well into the night. Not something you can plan for, but certainly something to be aware of.
Take control of your journey around the city and tell drivers where the worst traffic is. The coloured traffic lines on Google maps are a huge help, and show exactly where the bottlenecks are and which is the fastest route to where you’re going. A couple of minutes research before you set off can save you hours on the road.
Jakarta has a reasonable train network which can sometimes be useful for a visitor to the city. Most of the train lines serve commuters who live in the suburbs and work in one of the central business districts, but visitors can find some useful lines too. For example from Cikini you can easily get the train to Kota (the old town) in the north and Bogor (botanical gardens) an hour-and-a-bit south of here. HERE is a link to a network map.
Trains coming into the city in the morning and out of the city in the evening are obviously the most crowded. And ‘crowded’ is an understatement.
Around 13 years ago the city began developing a busway network, with relatively good buses in relatively car-free lanes. The network has expanded significantly, and the quality of the buses has improved in the last couple of years. As has the policing of their ‘dedicated’ lanes. HERE is a network map – the closest busway station to Six Degrees is Kramat Sentinong, and non-buslane feeder services run right outside the hostel.
If you take a taxi, we’d strongly recommend sticking to Bluebird Group. They are blue, newer cars and always have ‘Bluebird Group’ sticker at the top of the windscreen. Be careful of blue taxis that are not Bluebirds – they can be some of the worst. Bluebird will always use the meter, and almost always pick the best route to get to your destination. A good tip which nobody ever follows is making a note of your taxi driver’s name and number (take a photo), just in case you need to complain or in case you leave something in the cab.
Buses are one of the main causes of the traffic and pollution in Jakarta. They stop wherever they want, and are generally poorly maintained. Sometimes you wonder if the driver is old enough to see over the steering wheel, let alone have a license! This said, it’s certainly the cheapest way of getting around the city. It’s a very complicated network with several different types of bus all plying slightly different routes. It’s best just to ask someone ‘in the know’ once you’re here.
Certainly a fun way to get around, but not necessarily cheaper or quicker than even a taxi. You have to negotiate the price, and they love to overcharge foreigners. Bargain hard, and ask a local what the correct price should be. The newer blue Bajaj are cleaner and faster than the old red ones.
Ojek (motorcycle taxi)
Negotiate the price and jump on the back of a motorbike to whizz through traffic jams. Just look for a bunch of guys sitting on a corner smoking cigarettes, often with a home-made ‘ojek’ sign nearby. These guys are unregulated and of varying quality. They’re also becoming more and more difficult to find because of the increasing domination of…..
A really clever idea, and one of the main (and fastest) ways of getting around the city. Download the app for Go-Jek or Grab, click a few buttons, and a man in a green jacket will arrive in seconds. Fares are fixed so there’s no need to barter, and fares are generally a lot cheaper than traditional ojek.
A really great way to get around, but there are obvious risks associated with being on a motorbike in Jakarta, and you’re at the mercy of the weather.
Following some significant resistance a couple of years ago from traditional transport people (i.e. violent demonstrations), Uber, Go-Jek and Grab all now have a solid foothold in Jakarta, offering privately-owned cars which are generally significantly cheaper than taxis. In fact, Bluebird taxis are now available via the Go-Jek app at cheaper rates than if you use the taxi meter. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”
You’re going to get stuck in jams with all the other cars, but drivers are usually savvy with using Google Maps, cars have to be of a certain standard, and you’ll save quite a lot of money. They’re especially good for getting to the airport.
When you look at a map of the city, take note of the scale. Jakarta is huge and it’s unrealistic to think that you can walk everywhere. Bear in mind that sidewalks are of varying quality (if there is one at all), crossing roads be can nigh-on impossible, and the heat means you’ll generally arrive at your destination in need of a cold shower. This said, the area around the hostel (Cikini and Menteng) is a good area to explore on foot, and you can reach the national monument, museum, and two of the big malls within around 20 minutes.
Worthy of note is car-free day. Every Sunday morning the two biggest roads in the centre of the city (Jalan Sudirman and Jalan Thamrin) are closed to cars, and fill up with walkers, joggers and cyclists. It’s a nice atmosphere and a good way to get some exersise, meet people, and see the business district with no noise or air pollution.
The traffic is the worst thing about Jakarta but it doesn’t have to play a major part in your stay at Six Degrees. If you do find yourself stuck it’s good to be prepared – get a local sim card so you can browse the web or play a game, or watch a movie, listen to music, read a book, or take a friend to talk to! There’s no need to get frustrated, and it’s an insight into what living in one of the busiest cities in the world is like for the people who do it every day.
If you plan your journeys ahead of time, try to avoid peak times, use the right kind of transport and have something to do if (when) you get stuck, then you’ll be getting around in no time and will have more of your day available to see the sights, meet the people, eat the food, and have the adventures that make Jakarta such an exciting place to be.