Commuter groups work for a better Jakarta The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Wed, 07/18/2007 11:20 AM
Anissa S. Febrina, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
They suffered together on the streets or in public transportation, felt that they had a common goal -- if not enemy -- and decided to fight for their rights and make a change.
For the people behind and involved with community groups Bike to Work (B2W), KRL-Mania and Nebeng.com, Jakarta is a glass half-full.
While most Jakartans would rather just endlessly complain about the city's traffic, polluted air and public transportation, members the three groups are making a difference and providing solutions, no matter how small.
They started from simple goals but their efforts have snowballed into movements that are having a significant impact on Jakarta's urban life.
KRL-Mania, a group started by train commuters alighting at the Dukuh Atas station, has grown into a consumer group that wields enough power to influence state train operator PT Kereta Api.
Located in the Sudirman-Thamrin business district, most of the people using Dukuh Atas station are middle-class office workers living in Jakarta's suburbs.
The genesis of the group was in the frequent complaints shared among commuters about delays and overcrowded, poorly maintained trains.
KRL-Mania was born when the commuters decided to stop complaining and join hands in identifying the main problems facing passengers and pass them on to Kereta Api.
In less than three years, what started as a forum for irritated passengers has turned into a movement that has managed to persuade the train operator to improve some of its services.
PT KA added another train to the Depok express route after being peppered with complaints from the group.
The company also now provides more information on train delays for passengers waiting at stations, another move encouraged by the group.
""Public transportation passengers here do not have a forum to channel their problems and try to solve them,"" said one of the group's active members, Anthony Ladjar, during a discussion last week on transportation.
""KRL-Mania tries to be fair by having close ties with PT KA. We play it fair, we criticize and praise equally,"" he said.
PT KA's spokesman in Greater Jakarta, Akhmad Sujadi, said the KRL-Mania helped the company prioritize the improvements needed by passengers.
If KRL-Mania's biggest achievement was increasing the bargaining position of train passengers, B2W works on a slightly smaller scale.
And while the group may be relatively small, it is playing an important role in helping the city's environment.
Set up in 2004 by a group of mountain cyclists, the non-profit organization now boasts more than 500 members.
""The tropical climate should not hinder the community from taking up cycling as an environmentally friendly alternative means of transportation,"" B2W representative Toto Sugiarto said.
Biking is cheap and it avoids time-consuming traffic jams, but it sure takes a lot of guts to ply Jakarta's streets, with the fumes and the buses, cars and motorcycles that seem to have no regard for human life.
""Let's say that 10 percent of the city's population left their cars at home and cycled to work, there would be a significant decrease in vehicle emissions.
""In other cities, cycling is part of the transportation network,"" Toto said.
Although getting the administration to build bicycle lanes in the city is going to take a lot more effort, the B2W community has succeeded in getting some office building owners provide a special space for bicycle parking.
A handful of office and commercial buildings in the city, including South Jakarta's Arcadia and Central Jakarta's Plaza Indonesia, provide an area for owners to lock up their bikes.
B2W is also promoting the cycling lifestyle with Jakarta ""car-free days"" along the Sudirman-Thamrin strip.
""It will still be a long time before Jakarta is cyclist-friendly. But we will continue pushing our agenda,"" Toto said.
While KRL-Mania and B2W are pushing the administration and businesspeople to make changes, a website developer has taken hitchhiking to a more organized level with the Nebeng.com community.
Through the website, people who need rides to and from the office can meet people with space to share in their cars.
It is, once again, a negative being turned into a positive.
Rudyanto, founder of the community, started the group just after the fuel price hikes hit owners of private vehicles as well as bus and minivan passengers.
It now claims to have brought together 21,000 office workers living in the suburbs and in the city.
All three of these community groups are addressing problems with the city's transportation system. And all three have grown thanks to the internet.
Most of the people behind the groups are middle-class people unafraid of taking on the challenge to make Jakarta a more livable city.
""These kinds of civil society movements would die out if there was no response from the administration and businesspeople,"" sociologist Imam Prasodjo said.
""Culturally, the middle class can be a potential driver to stimulate stronger synergy and link social capital in a city,"" he said.
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