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Air pollution crisis escalates in Jakarta: Urgent calls for sustainable solutions

As traffic congestion in Jakarta reaches 53%, air pollution worsens. Economic losses predicted to rise by Rp 30 trillion (US$1.96 billion) this year, prompt calls for comprehensive solutions, including mass transit and stricter vehicle restrictions.



INDONESIA: Jakarta’s air quality crisis has reached alarming proportions, with the city’s air quality now considered the worst globally.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry (Kementerian Lingkungan Hidup dan Kehutanan or KLHK) attributes the deteriorating air quality in Jakarta to various factors.

Chief among these is the density of vehicles, which contributes a staggering 44 per cent to air pollution. Other contributing factors include industries and residential activities.

In 2022, Jakarta was home to a staggering 24.5 million registered motor vehicles, with a striking 78 per cent of them being motorcycles.

Statistics Indonesia (BPS) recorded that the traffic congestion in Jakarta and the surrounding cities reached 53 per cent, which is no longer ideal.

“Check during the Covid-19 pandemic, it was 35 per cent. The hope is no more than 50 percent,” said Jakarta Traffic Police Director, Sr. Comsr. Latif Usma, in a statement last Saturday.

The growth rate of vehicles, particularly motorcycles, has been approximately 5.7 per cent annually from 2018 to 2022, according to the Director-General of Pollution Control and Environmental Damage at KLHK, Sigit Reliantoro, quoted from KLHK’s official YouTube channel, on Tuesday (15 Aug).

Notably, vehicles running on fossil fuels are significant contributors to Jakarta’s air pollution, alongside industrial activities.

Approximately 98 per cent of pollutants emitted by fuel-powered vehicles originate from privately operated vehicles in the city, as highlighted by Agus Pambagio, a public policy observer and member of KLHK’s Dewan Proper.

Addressing the air pollution crisis, Agus Pambagio dispelled notions that power generation is a primary cause. He emphasized that “the problem is transportation.”

To combat the pollution, he suggests the government invest heavily in sustainable transportation infrastructure, including electric vehicles (EVs), biodiesel, and biofuel-powered trains, buses, and other public transportation.

With vehicle density exacerbating the congestion crisis, efforts to regulate traffic have been proposed. Jakarta Metro Police’s Director of Traffic, Commissioner Latif Usman, indicated a proposal for a two-shift work schedule to alleviate congestion, yet it has yet to be executed by the Jakarta Provincial Government.

The worsening congestion not only disrupts daily life but also impacts the economy. In 2019, traffic congestion led to economic losses of Rp 71 trillion (US$4.6 billion). It is predicted that losses could surge by nearly Rp 30 trillion this year.

President Joko Widodo previously estimated annual losses of Rp 100 trillion due to traffic congestion in Jabodetabek (Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang, Bekasi) and Bandung, underscoring the urgency for change.

Various measures have been proposed to address the traffic congestion problem in Jakarta. However, Nirwono Yoga, an Urban Planning Observer, emphasizes that several underlying factors have made finding a solution complex.

One crucial factor is the need for consistent policy implementation. “Consistency in policy is vital. Policies must be enforced with full consequences. Favouritism and similar practices should be avoided,” Nirwono Yoga explained.

Nirwono suggests that the focus should be on developing comprehensive mass transportation systems. Integrating various modes of public transportation, including Commuter Line Trains, Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), Light Rail Transit (LRT), and Trans Jakarta buses, is a long-term goal that could alleviate the congestion.

The low adoption rate of public transportation remains a challenge, especially after the pandemic when only around 10% of residents use it.

With around 21 million motorcycles and 4 million cars in use, Nirwono highlights the pressing need for a shift towards public transport to mitigate congestion.

While comprehensive, integrated transportation solutions will take time to yield results, Nirwono also advocates for temporary measures such as vehicle restrictions.

He proposes that these restrictions should extend beyond Jakarta to its surrounding cities, such as Bogor, Depok, Tangerang, and Bekasi.

The “odd-even” policy (ganjil genap) could be a part of the solution. This policy restricts the movement of motor vehicles based on their license plate numbers.

This policy is implemented on certain road segments in Jakarta to reduce congestion and air pollution. It corresponds to the date of the day.

For instance, if today is an odd-numbered date, vehicles with odd-numbered last digits in their license plates are allowed to operate, and vice versa.

There are exemptions for specific vehicles, such as public transportation, official vehicles, electric vehicles, and emergency vehicles.

While currently only applied to four-wheeled vehicles, Nirwono insists that it should encompass both fossil fuel and electric vehicles, without exceptions.

As Jakarta grapples with an air pollution crisis that threatens public health and economic stability, urgent action is needed.

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