Meet what might be Jakarta’s new agent of behavioral change: the busway. Since the introduction of the TransJakarta rapid bus in 2004, the capital has had no need for street signs calling for more urban discipline. People are now supposedly learning from experience.
Wait, first let’s highlight the word supposedly. Today—a little over two years after the busway’s launch—good behavior is still far from the norm.
Supposedly, people are required to learn several social manners when taking what is meant to be Jakarta’s fastest means of transport.
You queue to buy the tickets. You queue in the shelters, letting others exit before you enter the bus. You don’t bring food into the cabin and you give your seat away to elders, pregnant women and children.
Yes, those are all new manners for us Jakartans.
The guards in black and orange uniform are ready to make sure that you do just what you’re supposed to.
But, on more than a handful of occasions, we still see people who suddenly appear to be deaf, who look at you with a poker face when you scold them for cutting into the long ticket queues.
“What?!” a woman said as she stared at us after pushing her way with her handbag into the small space between the ticket booth and my friend.
These occurrences, rare enough as they are, are what happens when times are good on the Busway.
But in the busway’s newer corridors, peak hours tend to fill up the entirety of the buses’ 15-hour daily operation, making everyone on board too cranky to show any manners at all.
Prior to taking a TransJakarta bus from Pulogadung to Harmoni Central Station, a dozen passengers waited for more than half an hour to get a tiny standing space inside the cabin.
After that irritating half hour spent watching packed buses pass by, it would be too much to expect passengers to let others exit before entering the bus.
Or would it?
Isn’t it logical that we’d have more space to enter if we just waited a minute to let the others exit?
“But if you step back instead of pushing forward, you’ll lose your space to the people next to you,” a fellow passenger said.
“And if you enter a full bus, don’t shift too far inside even if there’s an empty space there. You’ll have trouble getting off,” was another trick they shared.
Once you’re inside a packed bus, you feel no different from being inside a Metro Mini or a Kopaja, which is definitely why people still use the “survival of the fittest” tricks they learnt in the regular buses.
The guards no longer serve as etiquette police, but as kenek (driver’s assistants) busy making sure that everyone can exit at their destination point.
“Pasar Baru! Pasar Baru!,” shouted one guard as he tapped his wristwatch to the aluminum handle to grab more attention, a gesture similar to a kenek tapping on a Metro Mini window.
Those alerted that they were approaching their stop quickly shouted back at him “yes! Pasar Baru, wait, wait!”
Some had to really struggle their way out through tiny gaps in the crowd.
After some exited, they left free space deep at the back of the bus. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one wanted to fill it, worried they would have to go through the same energy-consuming effort to reach the door.
Honestly, sometimes I find it hard to resist acting the same.
And there’s practically no social pressure to behave better, as everyone would do much the same when the situation gets bad enough.
So do Jakartans really have a chance of having more discipline?
Looking into the technical details of why the discipline course being taught aboard the TransJakarta buses has failed can give us a more optimistic view.
No corridors have been yet been served with enough buses to adequately accommodate the number of passengers who use the busway.
There are only 96 out of 125 buses serving the Blok M-Kota route, 94 out of 126 for the Harmoni-Pulogadung and Harmoni-Kalideres routes and a mere 32 out of 112 for the other four corridors.
The TransJakarta operators complain the rest of the buses are still stuck at the customs office.
Just like those buses, passengers can also say that their social manners are still stuck—perhaps somewhere inside the packed buses or back at the shelter they were waiting at for an excruciating half an hour.
But suppose there were enough buses available, could Jakartans can pass the Busway social manners test?
Well, could we?
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