Jakarta’s MRT: bringing relief to the world’s most congested city

Jakarta's traffic congestion is notorious for being the worst in the world, costing billions every year. Now a new Mass Rapid Transit project aims to ease the choked traffic and improve logistics costs in Indonesia’s capital city. Ahead of completion of its first phase in 2018, what have been some of the challenges in delivering Jakarta’s project and how will it transform the city’s ailing transport network?


Traffic congestion in Jakarta has reached critical levels over the past few years, and in July, the Indonesian capital was named the city with the worst traffic jams in the world in a study by motor-oil company Castrol. 

Using GPS data to calculate the frequency of stop-start driving among motorists, drivers in Jakarta were found to make 33,240 stop-starts annually. By comparison, Rotterdam drivers made only 6,360 stop-starts each year.

This congestion is causing a huge financial loss to the city, attributed to wasted fuel, lost productivity, traffic-related health issues and costs to public transportation operators. In 2015, the Jakarta Transportation Agency found that traffic bottlenecks burned a hole in the city’s budget worth Rp46tn ($5.2bn). As local newspaper The Jakarta Post put it, the city had become a parking lot.

A solution to the city’s woes has been more than 20 years in the making. The concept of a public Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) rail-based system serving the capital’s commuters was first raised 40 years ago, followed by a number of feasibility studies undertaken throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Japan extended the offer to fund the project 15 years ago. However, due to financial and legal difficulties over land acquisition, the project has been mostly stalled until now.

With real progress made over the past two years, the first phase of the project is over 50% complete and the promise now stands that Jakarta’s traffic will start to see much needed relief from 2018 onwards.

A new public transport system, one step at a time

Jakarta’s MRT is envisaged to serve Jabodetabek, the urban area spanning the city’s boroughs, outskirts and surroundings, which houses between 20 to 30 million commuters.

The infrastructure project, estimated to cost $1.7bn, measures over 110km in total and is divided between two corridors.

The North-South Corridor, between Lebak Bulus and Kampung Bandan, is almost 24km-long and as of September, over 55% of its construction had been finalised.

The first phase of this corridor involves a 15.7km-long rail-based train connecting South and Central Jakarta, and will be the first section to open in 2018. Approximately 413,000 passengers are expected to travel via this route every day, stopping at 13 stations along the way, seven of which are elevated and six underground.

"Drivers in Jakarta were found to make 33,240 stop-starts annually."

A ground-breaking ceremony for the corridor was officiated by the then-Governor Joko Widodo in October 2013 and it marked an important moment in the project’s history, as the first sign that the MRT would become a reality after a long period of inactivity.

The second phase of the North-South Corridor is due to follow shortly after and once it becomes operational around 20202, it is expected to increase the number of daily travellers to 630,000.

This section will run for 8km between Bunderan HI in Central Jakarta to Kampung Bandan, stopping at seven underground stations and one at ground level.

Additionally, an 87km-long East-West Corridor is currently being analysed by the local authorities, and if approved for development, it should become operational sometime between 2024 and 2027.

The MRT project is being financed by the central Government of Indonesia and the local Jakarta administration, as well as a $1.18bn soft loan from the Japanese Government, through the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Obstacles along the way

Until recently, the project has been attracting both local and international media attention primarily for the repeated obstacles and delays it has encountered, more than once raising the question of whether or not it would ever go ahead at all.

As economic analyst Indonesia Investments points out in its overview, a notorious obstacle to infrastructure projects in Indonesia is land acquisition.

Firstly, as the city has progressively grown and developed, the supply of land has rapidly shrunk and most areas are now occupied by residential and low-rise buildings, making any kind of urban infrastructure development a huge logistical challenge.

What’s more, although most of the land needed for the MRT’s development had been secured, the developers encountered further acquisition issues particularly in the southern part of the project, where most of the construction would take place overground.

One of the delaying factors had been opposition from land owners who refused to sell their property for $1,976 per square meter, a price set by the project’s appraisal system. Instead, some were asking for prices between $3,786 and $11,358 per square meter for key swathes of land, The Jakarta Post reported in July.

Project developers were thus forced to settle this conflict of interest in court, relying on a consignment system in which any land payment would be handled and carried out by the courts. The conflict, as well as the ensuing legal proceedings, unavoidably slowed down the progress.

Jakarta is also routinely hit by disabling floods which every year claim many lives, displace thousands of citizens and completely cut-off access to roads and entire neighbourhoods.

"Jakarta is routinely hit by disabling floods which every year claim many lives and displace thousands of citizens ."

Recovering from these recurring tragedies, as well as developing a sound prevention strategy against future floods, has been one of the primary challenges for the Indonesian Government over the past few years and has attracted large amounts of both money and effort.  

However, with the MRT’s construction now finally on-track, high hopes are surrounding the mega project, which has been called “revolutionary” by both government and local transport officials.

According to its website, “the main goal of the construction of the MRT system is to provide [the] opportunity for citizens to improve the quality and quantity of travel to become more reliable, trustworthy, safe, convenient, affordable and economical.”

In a country where owning and driving a private vehicle is perceived as a symbol of social status, the transformational power of a project such as the MRT could take a while to materialise.

Nevertheless, as the largest city in South East Asia and one of the fastest growing economic centres in the world, delivering a reliable and modern rail network to elevate Jakarta’s public transportation cannot come soon enough.