Published daily by the Lowy Institute

The rise of transport apps in Jakarta

The rise of transport apps in Jakarta
Published 23 Oct 2015 

Many forms of public transport make up the jigsaw of Jakarta's gridlocked streets. There are battered 1970s buses, motorised rickshaws, microlets (minivans), air-conditioned coaches and a huge array of taxi brands to choose from. One change that has occurred in the past year is the growing number of green jackets and helmets spotted among the throng of rush-hour traffic. These are the markers of Go-Jek, a motorcycle taxi app that is disrupting Jakarta's public transport sector.

Like Uber, Go-Jek is a mobile application that links drivers to passengers. But unlike Uber, which the Jakarta government has declared 'illegal' (it has set up a task force to monitor activities), Go-Jek has been welcomed as a solution to Jakarta's traffic problems. The city government has even floated the idea of using Go-Jek as a feeder network for the modern TransJakarta busway system.

Go-Jek is based on a common form of public transport in Indonesia known as 'ojek', a freelance motorcycle taxi service typically advertised by a hand-painted sign on a neighbourhood corner, where drivers wait their turn to take passengers. [fold]

Regular customers can establish reasonable fares, or monthly rates, and friendly relationships with their drivers. But one-off customers looking to get somewhere in a hurry must be prepared to bargain hard, especially at peak hour or when the weather turns bad. On top of that, safe driving is not guaranteed, and the helmets provided tend to be a little the worse for wear.

In contrast, Go-Jek enables users to order a motorcycle taxi directly to their location, assures a flat fee calculated by the distance travelled, and provides sanitised helmets and face masks for a clean commute. The service has proved so popular that the fleet of drivers has grown from about 800 at the start of the year to around 20,000 following a mass recruitment event in August. It has also spawned a host of copycat apps, from the Malaysia-based GrabBike to local variations such as LadyJek, a service provided by female drivers for female passengers; Blu-Jek, with branding clearly inspired by the popular Blue Bird taxis, but claiming to have taken its name from President Jokowi's famous habit of performing blusukan, or impromptu visits; and the upcoming TopJek, promising greater privacy for users' data.

Not everyone is thrilled by the trend. While many traditional 'ojek' drivers have signed up to work for app-based services, others complain the new services have undercut fares and invaded their hard-fought territories. There have been reports of 'ojek' gangs putting up signs to keep app-based drivers out of their areas, or even using violence to intimidate them. There have also been instances of the new drivers behaving badly, reportedly using fake accounts to scam their company, or harassing customers using personal details obtained through the apps. However, unlike under the traditional 'ojek' system, with Go-Jek and its kind, passengers have an avenue for recourse when things go wrong.

This is a major difference between Go-Jek and apps such as Uber, which have disrupted transport systems elsewhere in the world: Go-Jek and its copycats have regulated rather than deregulated an existing system. And as local developers are quickly figuring out, Jakarta is full of unregulated systems ripe for mobile applications. The latest addition to tech-based transport was the launch this month of BajaiApp, enabling 24-hour ordering of motorised rickshaws.

Meanwhile, the implications of privatising previously informal or cooperative-run systems are yet to be seen. As competition increases, the individualistic nature of the work could lead to further rivalries between drivers, and sever the ties formed by daily interactions within neighbourhoods. It could also be that all these new forms of public transport are only adding to the tangled web of poorly connected transit options already choking Jakarta's roads.

Image courtesy of @DriverGojekPro

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