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Indonesia's monorail struggles to get on track JAKARTA - Gridlocked cars. Noxious traffic fumes. Indonesia's capital is crying out for a new transport network, but stop-start plans for a monorail illustrate the country's chequered efforts to build badly needed infrastructure. The idea of a gleaming monorail gliding above the congested tropical city of nearly 9 million people is an enticing one and proponents point to neighbouring Bangkok's Skytrain or Kuala Lumpur's monorail in at least easing equally grim transport woes.

The privately backed $650 million Jakarta monorail project was launched in June 2004 with a groundbreaking ceremony by then president Megawati Sukarnoputri, but since then it has battled funding problems, partners dropping out and general red-tape. It also has detractors who believe that the project could be an expensive white elephant and that the chaotic, developing city would be better served by focusing on cheaper alternatives.

Iwan, a 33-year-old who works in a downtown media firm, just wants a less painful way to commute to his home in south Jakarta. "I think the monorail will be beneficial for Jakarta because as you know the streets are not really able to cope with the rise in vehicle numbers," he said. He regularly faces a 2 1/2-hour commute each way, which is not unusual in a city that has seen little planning and swells when commuters pour in from a catchment area of about 14 million.

Putting aside the pros and cons, the monorail is well behind schedule, although the head of the project hopes a recent official letter of support will help resolve funding woes. Lenders led by Dubai Islamic Bank had asked for the letter before committing $500 million in loans, seeking some form of guarantee in case the project misses a projection of 160,000 passengers per day, viewed as too ambitious by some.

"Without public guarantees they are a bit nervous," Sukmawaty Syukur, director of PT Jakarta Monorail, told Reuters, referring to private investors in Indonesian infrastructure in general. Once financing is sealed, she hopes a 14.8-km (9.2-mile) Green Line serving the glitzy "Golden Triangle" commercial area will open by mid-2008 and a 12.2-km east-west Blue Line by early 2009. The initial targets had been 2007 and 2008 respectively.

Half-built concrete supports

For long-suffering commuters, the half-built concrete support struts for the monorail that are visible dotted around Jakarta merely take up more space on the crowded roads. One popular Web site aimed at expatriates living in the Indonesian capital gives a long list of hints for dealing with the traffic, including equipping your car with extra cushions. "Consider the time that you spend in a traffic jam as an opportunity to relax, meditate, plan your day, or even to take a nap."

The monorail's woes also do not seem to augur well for attracting foreign cash for other infrastructure plans in the vast nation of 220 million people and more than 17,000 islands. The government has said it wants to attract $145 billion in foreign money for infrastructure from roads to ports over its five-year term to 2009, but progress has been slow. A twice-delayed state-sponsored infrastructure conference is due to be held in November in a bid to drum up more private investment, with a string of projects up for grabs.

Syukur concedes that getting public support and private financing to work together on the monorail is proving a headache. The project, which has seen several technology switches, is now led by local firms after Malaysian and Singapore groups left.

Rickshaws and canals?

Catur Laswanto, a spokesman for Jakarta's government, said with 239 cars added every day in the city and a fixed number of roads there could be total gridlock by 2014 without action. He said the city aimed to integrate the monorail with other networks such as buses, waterways and ultimately subway. "Public transport must be revolutionised to provide cheap, comfy, secure and fast transport".

Jakarta has successfully launched new bus-only corridors criss-crossing the city with special boarding points. There are also plans for a series of elevated toll roads in the city spanning 85 km (53 miles). Walter Hook, executive director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, favours the rapid bus service with modifications and is no fan of the monorail.

"The service being planned is very badly linked to the mass transit system used by the majority of the population, namely the bus passengers," Hook said by email. His consultancy was involved in planning the bus service and evaluating the monorail project. He also argues that passenger targets are far too optimistic as monorail fares would be well above the 3,500 rupiah (39 U.S. cents) for bus rides, meaning the monorail may need public cash.

His consultancy backs congestion charges for motorists, while he personally dreams of restoring the cities' rubbish-strewn canals for transport and leisure. Hook also suggests reintroducing a lighter-weight version of the cycle rickshaw, known as becak in Indonesia, banned in the city for being slow and outmoded despite environmental pluses. But the awful traffic is not bad news for everyone in a country suffering chronic unemployment and under-unemployment.

On the approaches to rush-hour lanes reserved for cars with at least three people so-called "car jockeys" queue to be picked up for about $1, so that solo drivers can skirt the rule. An array of guitar-playing buskers and street vendors gather at traffic black spots, with boxes hanging from their necks offering weary motorists everything from water to breath mints, or even the controversial Indonesian version of Playboy Magazine.

Related blog entries (category 'General') Related blog entries (category 'General'):
23 August 2006 · City told to focus on monorail, not turnpike
31 March 2006 · Monorail developer vows success
28 November 2005 · Jakarta readies funds for MRT project
14 June 2004 · Megawati kicks off Jakarta monorail construction project
01 November 2003 · Construction of monorail system to start in January

Posted in General @ 20 September 2006 14:55 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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