Jakarta – Greater Jakarta commuters are at risk of facing worse rush hour struggles when the Commuter Line operator retires 10 trains, about 10 percent of its current fleet, by the end of the year with no replacements yet available.
This is a problem that comes at a time when the government is wooing more people to leave their private cars and hop on public transportation. The commuter trains retirement should have been easily anticipated if all involved stakeholders had pressed their ears hard enough to the railway tracks.
Commuters will be crushed even tighter as PT Kereta Commuter Indonesia (KCI) plans to stop the service of an additional 19 trains in 2025 due to old age. The company has ordered 16 trains from state-owned PT INKA to realize its 2 million passengers per day target, but their delivery will only occur in 2025 at the earliest.
Currently, KCI has 106 trains in operation capable of carrying 1.2 million passengers in Greater Jakarta per day, with each train consisting of eight to 12 cars.
The commuter service operator has said that in order to accommodate the 1,081 journeys per day, the company needs a minimum of 96 trains. A reduced number of trains will lead to a deterioration in the service as even now passengers have to jostle for space during rush hours.
The rail service operator initially planned to buy used Japanese trains to replace the old cars, and had asked the Trade Ministry and the Industry Ministry for an import permit.
But the Industry Ministry has blocked the plan, on the grounds that the imported cars do not meet the 40 percent local content requirement. KCI, however, insists the purchase will comply with the rule as during repair work the company will replace more than 40 percent of the train parts with locally made products, such as air conditioners.
Greater Jakarta is home to more than 30 million people, many of whom commute to and from the capital's satellite cities on a chronically overburdened and aging transportation network.
During the first 10 months of last year, more than 80 percent of monthly train passengers on Java Island were on intercity line trains with the rest traversing within cities and provinces, Statistic Indonesia (BPS) data show.
The data suggest that many people rely on commuter trains to travel around Greater Jakarta, including those hailing from as far away as Bogor and Cikarang in West Java, and Maja and Rangkasbitung in Banten.
Many workers in Jakarta depend on the trains, as most of them reside outside Jakarta because of the unaffordable housing prices in the capital city. Needless to say, the Commuter Line has been a ray of light in Jakarta's public transportation gloom.
We support the plan to revitalize the Commuter Line trains for the safety and comfort of hundreds of thousands of commuters fighting their way in and out of the capital day in and day out. An agglomeration area like Greater Jakarta needs a railway network as the backbone of mass transportation anyway.
But the current conundrum could have been avoided had KCI planned the train procurement far earlier. The train replacement could have been well prepared as the length of service of rolling stock is already designed during the production process.
Punctuality defines the performance of public transportation service providers. Maintenance work, including procurement of new trains, follows a strict schedule in order to reach the goal.
We welcome the support from the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry and Transportation Ministry for KCI's plan to import used trains as a short-term solution. But a longer-term plan should be put in place.
Waiting for trains should not be the game to play for either commuters or the operator.
A song by famous balladeer Iwan Fals, "Kereta tiba pukul berapa?" (What time does the train arrive?), released about 40 years ago reflects the problem so common back in the day. We would like to believe that era had long passed.