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Indonesia's Train Surfers Highlight Traffic Woes

Indonesian men struggle to board a packed commuter train at a station in Jakarta, May 11, 2010.
Indonesian men struggle to board a packed commuter train at a station in Jakarta, May 11, 2010.

The latest efforts by Indonesian authorities to stop people from riding on top of trains reinforces the perception that the government is too dysfunctional to make the needed investments to address its perpetual gridlock problem.

During the morning and afternoon rush hours many young men can be seen on riding on top of Jakarta's commuter trains. Some do it to avoid the overcrowded conditions and stifling heat inside. Others do it to avoid paying the fare of about 25 cents.

Areas Chandra, 23, says it is actually safer on the top of the train than hanging out of the open doorways. He says it is more convenient riding on the roof than next to a door where they might fall. Chandra adds that a lot of people inside the trains do fall but if they are on the roof, they can take precautions.

To stop what are called "train surfers", authorities have installed barbed wire barriers and sprayed offenders with paint. Now, they are suspending concrete balls above the tracks outside some train stations to deter the practice.

Commuter Chairul Badri says the efforts have been ineffective because an increasing number of passengers has overwhelmed the transit system's capacity.

“Until now, our government has tried to do the best thing," notes Badri, "but because [it] is more crowded and every day more and more, that it is difficult for the government to handle them.”

More than 27 million people live in Jakarta and its sprawling suburban communities. The city's roadway system is also overwhelmed and the gridlock is getting worse. Last year, Indonesia's thriving economy led to a record number of new car and motorbike sales, although new road construction has been lagging.

Suryono Herlambang, an Urban planner at Tarumanagara University says while the government talks about building new multi-billion-dollar transit systems, it lacks the political will to take the relatively easy step of increasing train service between Jakarta and the suburbs.

Herlambang says they all know that Jakarta already has the train network between Jakarta, Bekasi, Bogor, and Tangerang but improving it is not a priority for the government.

He says the long-term solution lies in increasing and improving train service in the region. But the train surfers say as long as the trains are overcrowded, they will find a way to ride on top.