After being in a love-hate relationship for decades, I could sense that my affair with Jakarta’s public transport had changed for the better once I had hopped on a ride a few days ago with the capital’s first mass rail service, MRT Jakarta.
I could not remember the last time I used public transportation in Jakarta while smiling. As far as I could recall, taking public transportation in the capital of 10 million people was a nightmare. I endured hours of traffic every time I traveled from my house in Sawangan, Depok, West Java to my office in Central Jakarta. If I was lucky, it took me 1.5 hours for my 25-kilometer commute to the city.
And I’m not the only one.
Millions of commuters struggle every day traveling from their houses in the suburbs to their offices downtown, all stuck together in this abusive relationship of bad congestion and poor public transport. Whether for economical reasons or the illogic of driving our own cars to risk being trapped in endless traffic, we didn’t have any other options.
But the day I took the MRT, the nightmare lifted.
No hassles, no traffic. Everyone enjoyed the ride, including me. How could I not? It took me less than 30 minutes to take the MRT from the originating station in Lebak Bulus, South Jakarta, to reach the final station at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in Central Jakarta. It definitely makes my arduous daily commute to the office bearable. Not only is it faster, for the first time, I could take public transport in Jakarta with a sense of pride. I sensed I shared this feeling with the other passengers, who couldn’t stop taking selfies and videos during the trip.
The MRT is a dream come true for Jakarta. Initiated in 1985 by B.J. Habibie, who was president in 1998-1999 and state minister of research and technology in 1978-1998, the MRT has finally opened 34 years later. The first phase of project targets a daily passenger capacity of 170,000.
It was love at first sight for me. The train is punctual. On my first trip, my train left on time exactly at 10:10 a.m, which is rare in this country. The interior of the train car was still clean and neat with rows of spotless bright blue seats facing each other. The seats were a bit uncomfortable, as they are made from fiberglass, but I didn’t really notice because my attention was on the scenery outside the window.
From Lebak Bulus station, the train runs on an elevated track over the traffic in the southern part of the city and then goes underground in Senayan, South Jakarta. Traveling above the congestion, I was awestruck by the blue clouds as well as by a sense of privilege that the MRT offers me in beating the traffic.
But will this feeling last? Wise men say that love is a verb that requires efforts from both sides.
The government has made their effort in turning this 34-year-old dream into a reality; now, it’s our turn.
However, some think that we are not ready for this, pointing to photos of families picnicking at MRT stations as kampungan (yokels) and disrespectful.
But don’t they understand that different people have different ways of expressing their feelings? These people are probably as proud of the MRT as their accusers. They simply don’t post it on social media. These people show how they feel by sharing the experience with their loved ones with a picnic, which is considered a luxury by some Indonesians.
Love also takes time to grow. Not all people have traveled abroad and taken an MRT before. It may take time for some people to get used to the experience.
But, learning from the progress the Commuter Line railway service has made, I believe we will all get there someday. When I took my first trip on the Commuter Line in 2005, the train was rowdy, dark, smelly and dirty, with passengers eating food and littering in the train car. But years later, the service has improved, as has passenger behavior.
Could we also wait patiently for progress with the MRT Jakarta?
I really don’t mind waiting, as the MRT actually belongs to us taxpayers. Government leaders and their supporters may be busy claiming the success of MRT as theirs, but I believe we taxpayers also deserve credit. We are the ones who will pay off Indonesia’s debts to the Japanese government for funding this project.
Since the MRT is ours, let’s just wait for the improvements. I will, because the MRT is more than just an infatuation for me. It just might end my love-hate relationship with Jakarta’s public transportation system; and I hope others feel the same.