Sunday, October 07, 2007
  A New Broom?

Sooty and Sweep

Today is the last day of Governor Sooty's régime and his erstwhile deputy, Fauzi Bowo, who likes to be known as Mr. Moustache for some reason, takes over. This past week, the Jakarta Post has been trumpeting Fauzi's supposedly stupendous feat* by asking readers to SMS or email their expectations of him. I submitted this article to the Jakarta Post a few weeks ago, but it wasn't published, even though it's topical, to the obvious detriment of my bank account.

But hey, if you're the only readers of it and you like it, then email me for details of my non-existent PayPal account.
I had a conversation a week or two ago about our governor-to-be and I had great difficulty in not calling him Fauzi Bodoh (stupid) or Fauzi Bozo (a clown or, in my Sarf Lunnon argot, a prat). I was near Harmoni, a busy thoroughfare which hosts a Busway interchange above the stinking sewer that is the River Ciliwung in these parts.

We agreed that if Fuzzy Bear had ever ridden the Busway, he would not have been through the experience of queue jumping, or of almost tumbling down the gap between the shelter and the bus. Nor would he have experienced strap hanging as his fellow passengers are jolted along the special bus lanes. These are now pitted, potholed and rutted on most routes thanks to sloppy workmanship or, more likely, the criminal diversion of construction funds into the pockets of bureaucrats and contractors.

Nope, he would have enjoyed a seat alongside his cohorts. The rest of the citizenry would have been shunted to one side and onto another bus as his entourage set the example of how to get ahead in the queue. No doubt too, his ride would have had outriders, possibly a formation of those Harley Davidson motorbikes he's so fond of. (They're presumably a salary perk.)

It's quite probable too that he would not have had to navigate his way along the sidewalks in order to get into one of those pre-fabricated bus shelters. He definitely won't have entered the bus at Atma Jaya University in Jalan Sudirman, which has recently been given an award as "the best street in Indonesia". That's because the footpath is virtually non-existent. The bridge giving access to the bus shelter in the middle of the street takes up the entire width of the pavement so that pedestrians have no choice but to walk in front of those buses which occupy the 'proper' road, being denied the special bus lane.

The bridge itself could comfortably accommodate those going up and those coming down, if there were no hawkers selling handphone accessories and outdated magazines. They, of course, do not occupy those places through which the ground below can be seen. Nor do they squat on those sections where the rivets have gone and it would be so easy to trip up.

Recently, Harvard graduate Zenin Adrian wrote a critique in the Post of the design of the shelters. He ought to know what he's talking about because, with his wife, he runs an architecture design office based in Jakarta, which "operates on green design platform with specialization on complex geometry and digital fabrication" - whatever that is.

His main focus appeared to be that these shelters do not achieve 'locality', passengers have a hard time distinguishing one stop from another. That could be, of course, because bus stops are generally designed with functionality in mind. And if passengers are confused, then they can listen out for the announcements which precede each shuddering stop.

In English one can faintly hear, "Next stop, Tosari (or wherever). Please change your belongings and step carefully when exciting." That I'd never heard of Tosari until the arrival of the Busway is beside the point. That the Tosari busway stop on Jalan Sudirman is at least 500 metres from the Sudirman train station is more relevant.

Functionality has to be about meeting public needs. I'd like to say expectations, but a public used to a self-serving administration can expect very little. The public needs are secondary to those of the public servants. After all, these functionaries have made their fortunes from mark ups in the budgets rather than from the tax revenue.

Statistics published recently in the Post show that the original aim of the Busway project, to reduce the number of cars on the city’s streets, has yet to be achieved. This is symptomatic of the blinkered approach practiced by city planners since the days of horse-drawn carriages.

Only 7% of the passengers surveyed actually owned cars. And fewer still would have left their cars at home because there are few feeder routes from the outer areas. Folk have to struggle to even get to the Busway ‘corridors’. The rest of the passengers have merely changed their preferred mode of public transport because parallel services have been rerouted.

It’s so easy to complain, and complain I do. I’m not someone who’s going to allow myself to be swept aside on the sidewalk as a phalanx of Hell’s Cherubs drives past because their bit of roadway is typically macet. I am quite happy to remonstrate and sweep them back in the road where they belong.

There’s a simple answer to the Busway woes too, one that’s observable in many cities. Mr. Moustache doesn’t have to go as far as Bogotá in Colombia, which is where Governor Sooty borrowed the Busway idea from. Nope, all he has to do is open his eyes on one of his regular shopping trips to Singapore.

Firstly he needs to create a Public Transport Authority, one which not only sets the ground rules but also ensures that they are followed by all public transport operators. This PTA must set minimum salaries for drivers and conductors; if bus crews have a guaranteed salary, then no bus needs to wait for every seat to be filled before departing, creating traffic jams in the process.

The PTA should also create exclusive bus lanes for all buses at the side of the road rather than in the middle. Make each bus stop an indentation, allowing the limited stop service, the Busway buses, to pass. Bus shelters must be accessible and allow each passenger to wait in comfort, even if this means that itinerant hawkers are banned and that no motorcyclist can drive by.

If the Busway were part of such a co-ordinated public transport policy, I would be even more of a fan. And you too?
Whilst on a buy-a-lot-of-pirated-DVDs expedition yesterday with Our Kid we observed a large number of repairs to the various sidewalks, including those in front of Atma Jaya University. Whether this will make them passable with eyes aloft is a matter of conjecture (and serious doubt on my part). Sections of the busway lanes were also being relaid.

* The election of Governor Fauzi Bowo has been applauded as a demonstration of democracy because another pair stood against him and his minion, whose name most of us have forgotten already. Firstly, he isn't ex-army. Secondly, he has risen through the ranks of City Hall. As this merely proves that his nose is browner than most, electors should be asking about the source of his declared $4.4 million wealth, which isn't bad for a career bureaucrat.

But then, Governor Sooty has done so well for himself that even before he's passed the keys of his office to his recent underling, he's declared himself ready to challenge for the nation's presidency.

Citizens, be scared, very scared.

Mind you, the joy of all this is that, as Vice-President Kalla (another candidate-to-be for the Presidency) has pointed out, all bets are off. The public is now free to examine Sooty's probity and records of self-perceived achievements. (Fencing off Monas anyone?)

There are two years before the next Presidential election, time enough for an honest, trusted candidate to present herself. (Obviously someone other than Ibu Mega Shopper.)


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