No Car Day in Jakarta Means Lots of Cars

Photo by Jonathan McIntosh


They’re celebrating International ‘No Car Day’ in Jakarta and you are

Sutiyoso, outgoing governor of the mega-city you’ve dubbed Hijau Jakarta — Green Jakarta —

more in hope than in achievement given the reality of this grey-hued,

perma-smogged sprawl of 25-odd million.

Pleasingly, your municipal minions have even scrawled the legend along the

road that fronts the fetid lake separating leafy Menteng from corporate

Kuningan, the watercourse that so offends the noses of the well-heeled working

out at the Ritz Carlton spa, where they pay up to US$400 for a haircut from

someone flown in from Singapore,

saving you the airfare. That’s about what the average Indonesian earns in a


Everyone know you’re green because you say you are, and you are an

ex-general, a tough guy famous for kicking butt , so you are used to being

listened to. You lead by example, so how do you mark No Car Day?

Of course, you arrive at the launch chauffeured in your official car.

No matter, you feel good anyway, you’ve shown leadership in one of the

world’s most polluted cities. You give a speech decrying the fact that the “increasing

use of private cars worsens air quality in the city.”

“I appreciate those who have left their cars at home and used public transport

during this No Car Day,” you add.

Those except Governor Sutiyoso, of course.

In your speech, you note the two nice gongs you’ve got, one anointing you an

‘Asian Air Quality Champion’ and the other from the ‘Indonesian Records Museum’

counting the number of cars being tested for emissions – a not-so-staggering

354, which was 600 under the conservative target set. Jakarta has close to a million cars on the roads

on any given day. Still, you are a results kind of guy and you are sure the

crowd welcomed that between 2001 and 2005, clean air days averaged 11 a year,

but this year, with 10 months gone, there have been 54, nine more than all of

last year.

That’s all very well, but Saturday wasn’t one of them. Jakarta’s No Car Day was an utter disaster, a

‘No Clue Day’ as the Jakarta Post correctly called it. Perhaps something was

lost in translation, but Jakarta’s

city fathers seem to interpret No Car Day as No Road Day. Anticipating that

they wouldn’t be used, therefore wouldn’t be needed, they shut down the city’s

two major thoroughfares, Jalan Jenderal Sudirman, the broad avenue that feeds

to and from middle-class South Jakarta, and Jalan Mr Thamrin, Sudirman’s

extension north beyond the Hotel Indonesia roundabout, city central (to where

Sutiyoso was chauffered for the proverbial ribbon cutting).

With this stellar leadership example set, this correspondent – like

thousands of other road users, ignored his malleable edict and set out to

bolster the Indonesian economy in a sustained bout of retail therapy. It

normally takes 20-30 minutes, even in tough traffic, to get from Blok M and

beyond from Kemang to our humble abode off Gatot Subroto. Yesterday it took 90

minutes, and that was after wending our way well into North

Jakarta to come two-thirds of the way back. With Jakarta’s main artery shut, the rest of the

city’s roads went into gridlock overload. Jakarta’s

official right hand didn’t talk to its official left hand so in the ensuing

chaos traffic cops looked even dopier than they normally do.

The good news for greenies is that it is now law in each of Greater

Jakarta’s five sub-districts to hold a No Car Day once a month. The bad news

for greenies is that it’s now law in each of Greater Jakarta’s five sub-districts

to hold a No Car Day once a month from now on.

Still, all is not lost. Sutiyoso is soon to step down, replaced by his

deputy, Fauzi Bowo, a Golkar Party property tycoon who also showed up at

yesterday’s gig in his official car. And now that he’s a super-green pol, he’s

pledged to bicycle out of City Hall when he vacates his office on October 7.

That we’d like to see.