The Transport Imperative
November Issue 10/10/2010
Recently the newspapers have been full of articles about the state of roads and the network. A collapse on Jl Martadinata in Jakarta from wash out caused a few heated comments. To avoid congestion points in the Cinere area of South Jakarta, I occasionally use the back ways, which I did the other day – like many of us frustrated by the many traffic jams that have become a daily occurrence. The condition of the tertiary roads I was using had deteriorated badly over a two months period, a combination of increased diverted traffic doing the same as I was, barely adequate construction, lack of maintenance, and exceptional rain finding out all the weak points in the pavement as well as poor drainage.
A good way to get the attention of a lecture class dealing with highway construction is to ask ‘what are the three factors to be considered when designing a road?’ The answers are first Water, secondly Water and thirdly WATER! While this is an oversimplification, there is some truth in this, recognising the huge impact that excess water has on road performance! And we have been having a lot of rain, which has been finding out all the weak areas in our under-maintained network.
There is growing realisation that upgrading the country’s port infrastructure must be put at the top of the infrastructure investment agenda. As an archipelago of 6,000 inhabited islands, sea transport is vital to the country’s pulse. The sums of money required are in the many billions, with the current plans for the expansion of Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok urgent if it is to cope with forecast rapid growth in container trade to match land based industrial expansion and continuing consumer demand that is based in Jakarta and western Java.
However, a port only functions as the strength of its weakest link. Port operations are recognised as containing a good number of functions being carried out in parallel, and improvements are still required within the wider implementation of the 2008 Shipping Law, designed to bring operations up to world norms. However, a vital factor that needs to be addressed at the same time concerns the land-based access. Right now, for Tanjung Priok and many other main ports in the country, access is entirely unsatisfactory, not only causing congestion and delays but relatable unnecessary costs to the whole cycle of transport of goods. The cost of land transport of goods in Indonesia is significantly the highest in Asia, and that must be changed.
A target for this government was to really tackle completion of the Trans Java connections. The target included the completion of 887 km of new toll road, mostly associated with the Trans Java route, which includes 13 major links. All are mired in problems of concessionaires not being able to put together an adequate financing package or of land acquisition or a combination of both. A year has passed and there is little to report, except to downgrade any expectation of reaching the target. Lack of progress will impact negatively on trade.
The total road network for Indonesia amounts to about 440,000 km of road, less than half of what the country really needs to open up properly its regions to contribute to economic growth. A few provinces have been adding further network, but the progress is well behind that required and which could be achieved bearing in mind the budget that has now been made available and has not been spent. One must ask if the systems are in place to handle disbursements properly and to carry out the work?
There is much to do under rail development, never mind the stalled monorail and MRT projects, both of which we are told are to proceed; one might ask what is the latest reason for delay?
There is some publicity over new commodity rail lines, especially for coal, for example in Central Kalimantan, under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) concept, and a long overdue upgrade of the link to Lampung from Bukit Asam, to be supported by China. Application of the PPP approach will require considerable commitment from local government in order for the private sector to see a sufficiently satisfactory return on investment to attract debt funding.
For Java, only about 10% of rail transport serves commodities, which from world norms is not an unrealistic figure for a densely populated area with relatively short travel distances. The pressure is on to upgrade the island’s passenger network, much of which is not up to standard. This includes both track and stations, which require to be upgraded to what commuters should expect in the 21st century. Attention to the commuter network in Greater Jakarta is overdue and, if improved, could take some pressure off the overstretched, under-capacity road system. Several projects are in the pipeline.
But overall, it is the road network which is fundamental to supporting the bulk of movements of passenger and goods, and the connections to the ports. Time is marching on and there is little to show in terms of new developments in the past year, never mind preceding months.
The police report that Jakarta will be gridlocked in the next 4 years, but this is not stopping the continuing rise of new multi-storey blocks. Traffic jams are costing billions of dollars per year and declining urban health standards; the ‘do nothing’ condition is unacceptable! The chronic lack of land space means that new links will either have to be elevated or go underground; so let’s get on with it! The city deserves better.