No Car Day in Jakarta Means Lots of Cars
|Sep 24, 2007|
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
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.