Business, Finance & Economics

Poor Indonesians Make Money in Jakarta's Traffic as Jockeys

With 20 million vehicles on the streets each day, and with far less pavement than in big cities like New York, Singapore and Tokyo, traffic in Jakarta is terrible. Deden Rukmana, who teaches urban planning at Savannah State University, says the population of the world's sixth largest metropolis has been growing so fast that the city can't keep up.

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"In 2000, they had 20 million and in 2010 up to 28 million. There is a study showing that Jakarta will have total traffic gridlock by 2014," he said.

To reduce the number of cars on the road, lawmakers have designated several main arteries as what they call "Three in One zones." During the morning and afternoon rush, you can't drive there unless you have at least three people on board. That's why, near the entrances to the zones, men, women and children line up — raising their index finger — offering to rent themselves to commuters in a hurry.

20-year-old Litjak climbs into a black sedan, cradling her 2-month-old daughter Nabilah. Together, they'll help a college student get to class on time. The baby gives Litjak a competitive advantage, providing two passengers for the price of one.

Litjak says she can make at least two trips in a morning, collecting two or three dollars to help pay for household expenses. She never worries about her safety, and she likes the work. People who can afford to pay have nice cars, so she sits in air conditioned comfort, listening to the radio.

She and others in this line of work are called traffic jockeys. They dress neatly each day and may have regular customers. For some, it's their only income. Others, like 21-year-old Adik, see this as an easy way to make extra cash when he's not on the job parking cars.

"Oh yeah. Sometimes it's a good deal. Sometimes, when I hit it lucky, when it's a good day I can make a lot," Adik says. "There are no guarantees when you do this kind of thing. But sometimes I get 20,000 rupiahs."

That's about $2.35 in a city where the poor live on less than a dollar a day. Jockeys are well worth the price for 50-year-old Fannie, who doesn't want to give her last name. A busy executive with a pharmaceutical firm, she recalls rainy days when it took two hours to get to work and three hours to get home.

"So in order to avoid that, we usually pick up a young boy," she says. "Actually, our office is over there. So, actually for him to go back to where we picked him up is not so far. He just can go across the bridge. He can walk back? Yeah."

It is not legal to work as a jockey. Some have been arrested and drivers can be fined. But Fannie and her passenger say they've never been caught. 14-year-old Allah sits in the front seat by Fannie's driver. He'll head for school in afternoon, but in the morning he is excited to be seeing the city, learning his way around and earning money for books and other family expenses. It is money that Fannie is happy to provide.

"We help somebody to make a living. That's what I think," she says.

But the jockeys of Jakarta may be endangered by their own success. Government officials say the money spent on these professional hitchhikers could instead help pay for mass transit, and they're considering creating toll roads to replace Three in One Zones. Indonesia has also secured a $1.3 billion loan from Japan to build a rapid transit system. But that project, like the traffic, is moving slowly, with completion.

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    Credit: Manya Gupta

    A car jockey in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo: Al Jazeera English)

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    20-year-old Litjak gets ready to climb into a black sedan, cradling her two-month-old daughter. (Photo: Sandy Hausman)

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    Part-time traffic jockey Adik. (Photo: Sandy Hausman)

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