There are tons of ways to get around Jakarta, and they are each unique and challenging in their own ways. We thought we’d share. Here’s a description, ranging from large to small.
A word about Jakarta. The best way to describe the city layout is like a cross between Las Vegas and a rock concert. The big buildings are really big, and they don’t look very far away, but it’s a good ten-minute walk to get from one building to another. The heat also is similar, but it’s not that convenient dry heat that Vegas has. The rock concert part refers to the fact that there are people everywhere, pushing into you, like a zoo, if you try to walk any distance.
Trans-Jakarta Busway. This brand-new service runs a nice air-conditioned bus along one major thoroughfare (Jalan Jenderal Sudirman) in its own special lane. It is just the type of service that Jakarta needs. However, it does not drop you off anywhere close to 99.9% of the places that you want to go, unless you go to malls and international-class hotels exclusively. We have yet to use it–it doesn’t go anywhere we need to go, or stop anywhere where we usually are.
Bus Patas AC. This kind of bus runs all over the city, and is very convenient. As the name implies, it features air conditioning. These normally ply the biggest routes between the most well-travelled areas of town. I (TP) used one once–the cost is 3000 Rp (about 30 cents) no matter where you go.
Kopaja. This is an acronym for Koperasi Angkutan Jakarta, or Jakarta Bus Cooperative. This kind of bus does not feature air conditioning, but they have "stops" all over town. We say "stops" because unless you’re stuck in traffic and not moving, you’ll have to jump on or off while it moves. They do slow down sort of, so it’s not that bad. Another hallmark of them is that they belch tremendous amounts of black smoke whenever the driver hits the gas. We have yet to use them.
Mikrolet. This is a step down further from Kopaja. These are like big minivans, and they ply a regular route. However, unlike regular buses, mikrolet drivers wait until the vehicle is full before leaving. I (TP) used one once in Bogor, for Rp 3000.
Taxi. This is our bread-and-butter method of transportation. There are dozens of taxi "groups," each of which unites several taxi companies under one name. The indisputed peak of taxi quality in Jakarta is Silver Bird Group, but these are more expensive than the others. Of the rest, the one that everyone likes to take is Blue Bird. We have friends who have never taken anything else; we can’t tell why, as there are other groups with new vehicles and safe drivers. We are normally more flexible, and have taken all sorts of taxis from the very nice Jakarta City Group to the disastrous Royal City Group. On yesterday’s trip from immigration, our Royal City cabbie leaned on the horn the entire trip, stalled about 10 times, and sang to himself. Every time we told him where to turn, he got more excited and yelled "Yes! Yes!" Usually drivers are a very stoical bunch. The fixed fare for a cab is Rp 3000 for the first mile, and Rp 130 every eighth mile thereafter.
Ojek. This is the most common form of transportation for regular Indonesians. They are actually motorcycles (at home you’d call them dirtbikes) that zoom all over town. For a small fee, you can sit on the back and hold on for dear life (if you like). There is nothing like seeing a distinguished old Muslim woman with a helmet over her jilbab sitting side-saddle on a dirtbike zooming through traffic. We don’t try these out.
Bajaj. The name for this contraption comes from the Indian company that made them. The rumor is that some Indian city made them illegal a decade or two ago, so Jakarta bought them. They can’t go on the big streets, with good reason: they are basically three-wheeled golf carts running two-stroke engines that can reach a top speed of maybe 15 mph. They feature "natural air conditioning," meaning "no doors." These contraptions pollute like nobody’s business, and they are extremely noisy. Since they aren’t allowed on big streets, we can never take them anywhere. Bajaj are normally an orange/red color with a black roof, but individual drivers seem to like to decorate them with all sorts of intricate paintings. Since they are so small and colorful, they remind us of hermit crabs in this respect.
Becak. This is the Indonesian version of a rickshaw–it’s a three-wheeled bicycle with a basket in the front that can hold one-and-a-half people comfortably. These aren’t allowed in Jakarta because they don’t move very fast. You normally tell the driver where you want to go and negotiate a fee based on that, making necessary allowances for your weight and whether or not you have to go uphill.
Walking. Not a viable option for most people. Indonesians would much rather catch a bajaj or an ojek than walk. In fact, one of the jokes about Westerners is that these are the people trying to walk everywhere. This leads to a conundrum for us. There’s a movie theater about 20 minutes away from our house by foot. We wouldn’t walk there at night, just to be safe. It’s too close for a taxi to take you. Bajaj aren’t allowed. We’re afraid of ojek. So we can’t get there to watch movies.
(Final transportation note: the government of Indonesia has decided to take measures to make it illegal to ride on top of passenger trains.)