I’ve talked of traffic lots. Jakarta traffic jams are the worst in the world, based on the number of times drivers apply the brakes over a given distance.
The whole of traffic allows for a good look at economics. I’m sure there must be some theory that can be applied. But, here’s how I see it.
Jakarta has a burgeoning middle class. It’s growing by leaps and bounds. There are millions of newly moneyed and they all want. Want. Want. Cars are a big status symbol. It’s what they see on tv and in the movies, so they aspire to having a car, or three or four. Cars are also a way to get around in a place with chaotically poor mass transit.
If you can’t have a car, you still need to get around, so many families opt for a motor bike. 2900 new motorbikes hit the roads here each day. The government, in an effort to keep the economy turning makes low interest rate loans available to consumers so they can buy cars and motor bikes. It also subsidizes fuel for all.
In addition to the lack of mass transport, there is an abysmal lack of good roads. There are only a few main thoroughfares and access on or off them is a choke point issue.
So despite subsidizing an auto culture, the government admits there are too many cars on the roads. 10 years or so, it put in place laws to promote carpooling. It required 3 passengers in a car during 7 of the busiest hours of the day. The fines were pretty substantial for the everyday Indonesian, perhaps 50 dollars or so.
It’s left to the police to enforce the laws. Law enforcement though is not a well paying job if you rely on your salary alone. So it seems the police used carpool violations as a means to make money. Pulling over cars and checking for passengers. You can either pay the full fine downtown, or pay the lower “fine” right there on the spot and go about your business. What happens? People pay the lower fine and drive wherever they want.
Enter the 3-in-1 jockeys. These entrepreneurial Indonesians, sensing a money making opportunity stepped in and organically grew a system whereby people rent themselves out as passengers so drivers can skirt the rules and get where they want. Jockeys sometimes earn 15 bucks a day just sitting in other people’s cars for a while. They’ve got regular clientele and everything.
Once every so often the police sense some encroachment on their fines and so move into clear the streets of the jockeys who scatter into the slums. Some who are caught are put in detention for a few days, but they’re back at it soon after promising not to do it again.
The rule is 3 people per car, so if you’re driving alone you have to pick up two strangers. Jakarta mothers found a further advantage. If they rode along with their toddlers, the drivers got 2 people in the car for around the price of one.
So, every morning and afternoon, you see moms with toddlers strapped to their waists hustling for a ride. The kids, though, are always sleeping, slumped over on moms shoulders. All very docile. No one, it seems, wants a noisy kid sitting in traffic, so moms are alleged to drug the kids, so they stay quiet during rush hour.
Now some mothers struggle. It’s hard to run a household while sitting in traffic earning a living. So, they’ve got a drugged kid and a house to keep, why not just rent out the kid and let someone else sit.
This is apparently where the line is drawn. It was found out that this was going on and then confirmed that these kids were being sedated and possibly put in danger. The whole thing racket has fallen apart.
The government, now seeing that it’s future citizens are at risk, decided to do something. Not by removing children from moms who rent them out, not by restricting the sales of narcotics, but by ceasing the carpool laws.
Police are up in arms because they worry the roads can’t handle the traffic. Everyone thinks what they’re really worried about is the loss of their revenue stream. There is worry that they may tie up traffic just to prove a point
The jockeys lament the reduction of income. Many of them have nothing else to do that can earn 15 dollars in a day.
We all lament the potential increase in traffic.
The children, though, should come out ahead. They may wake up and be able to experience the world. Perhaps they’ll learn to read or think or play or scheme up some new ways to make the money.