Sports journalist Wieta Rachmatia has been using Transjakarta, the capital city’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, since 2010. Most of the time, she takes the Corridor 9, a route that links Pinang Ranti in East Jakarta to Pluit in North Jakarta. As a woman, she had felt that the bus system was fine – that is until she became heavily pregnant.
“Pregnant women can’t get into the bus through separate door, especially at Pinang Ranti bus station, because the Transjakarta officers almost never open that door,” says Rachmatia, who gave birth last month.
“I had to jostle with other passengers to enter the bus,” she says. The officers who are supposed to open the separate access door for pregnant women never really paid attention to the passengers, whether there was a pregnant woman or not, so the door remained shut, she adds.
First coming into operation 13 years ago, the Transjakarta Busway system was one of Jakarta administration’s initiative to solve the problem of low quality public transport. The BRT system was built with the purpose that people can use public transportation comfortably and safely. But a closer look at the system and interviews with passengers and transport and urban experts show that in many aspects the system still caters mainly to the needs and experiences of working men.
There is a misperception that transport infrastructure and services are “gender neutral” and automatically benefit men and women in equal measures. However, studies show that women and men have different transportation needs. In addition, women often face barriers when using public transport.
Pregnant women are not the only ones feeling the inconvenience of Transjakarta’s crowded but.
Elisa Sutanudjaja, an urbanist who works at Ruang Jakarta Center For Urban Studies (RUJAK), relates her own experience: "I got on the Semanggi bus stop. It was very crowded at time. Although the bus arrived every two to three minutes during rush hour, it was always packed with people.”
“Transjakarta operator established the tap-in and tap-out card system to find out which are the most crowded bus routes. But why hasn’t this led to the provision of more buses and the expansion of bus stations?” she asks.
Another important facility not provided by the Transjakarta system is restroom. There are no toilets at all the bus stops along Corridor 9. In fact, there is no mandatory requirement for transportation authority to provide toilets.
Toilet is an undeniably essential component to create a comfortable city for all. As people spend more time in public places, they will need private space to address the basic needs of the human body. For women, the demands of their physiological conditions are even more urgent. Pregnant women urinate more frequently. While on period, women use toilet more often to check on or change their menstrual pads.
Udayalaksmanakartiyasa Halim, an urban transport planner who works at the Institute For Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), tells me that although providing public toilets on Transjakarta bus stations is a good idea, it may not be translated well into reality.
“It is fair to build public toilets, but it should come with an extraordinary effort from the company,” he says.
“We know how poor the condition of public toilets in Jakarta is – or anywhere in Indonesia. If they are not committed to keeping well-maintained toilets, then it is probably best not to have them in the first place,” he says.
In addition, he adds, toilets need water supply and it can be difficult to install the pipes to the bus stations, which are located on streets’ medians.
In March 2016, Thomson Reuters Foundation Institute and YouGov survey agency, released a list of cities with the most dangerous transport system for women. According to these survey, Jakarta ranks fifth as the city with the most dangerous transport system for women in the world.
One of the efforts that has been done to make Transjakarta bus ride safer for women is by creating women-only space in the bus. Anna Gultom, an employee at a Jakarta-based TV station has been using Transjakarta for three years. She says that she feels that Transjakarta has accommodated women’s need.
“In each bus now there’s a designated area for women. Also, there are special buses for female passengers,” she says.
University student Agatha Danastri says she feels safer after Transjakarta operator provides women-only area.
“The Transjakarta officers firmly prevents men from occupying designated area for women. I find that Transjakarta is more women friendly compared to the commuter line,” she says, referring to the train system connecting Jakarta to its many suburbs.
However, based on my personal observation, such policy is not strictly applied to the rest of the bus. For example, women who travel with their husband and children prefer to occupy the “mixed area” (in the back of the bus). Transjakarta officers do not usually prevent women from occupying this area. Though the women-only part is designated for women only, there is no sign for what is by default, the men's section.
In a sense, the problem of sexual harassment is reduced to being a problem that can be prevented by separating women from men. This, of course, is a wrong assumption.
Elisa says that despite the separation, sexual harassment continues to occur in the bus. It all goes back to the fact that there are not enough busses to accommodate the massive volume of passengers.
“Sexual harassment occurs when a bus is very packed with passengers, right? There aren’t many buses so that people don’t have other choice, but riding a very crowded bus. In a packed bus, there would be greater risks of sexual abuse. If the bus is not too crowded, people can keep an eye on each other."
Lighting is also an important issue, particularly in Transjakarta bus stops. Improving lighting in public places could serve many purposes, one of them is prevention of crime. Security affects both men and women but women have a higher risk of being crime victims. Based on my personal observation, the majority of elevated bridges, which also functioned as pedestrian bridges, are not well illuminated. Also, only small number of them are equipped with CCTV.
Why are some elevated bridges equipped with CCTV, while others aren’t? And why are some Transjakarta bus stops well lighted while others aren't?
Halim says that before January 2014, Transjakarta institutional status was city government agency under Jakarta Transportation Agency. Starting January 2014, however, its status changed to city-owned enterprise. With the change of this institutional status, Jakarta Transportation Agency must hand over all assets to PT Transjakarta 13, including the pedestrian crossing bridges. However, the asset-transferring process needs time. Consequently, PT Transjakarta cannot do anything about elevated bridges that are not equipped with CCTV, because it is not their responsibility.
All of these are evidence that Transjakarta facilities have not fully accommodating to women’s need. Elisa also points out that to many women riding Transjakarta bus: there is not enough space to put things.
“Women often carry things. For those who work, they carry shoes and lunch box. On some particular routes that pass shopping centers, many women carry shopping bag. I have suggested that Transjakarta operator creates upper deck compartment”, she says.
Asked what other things should be provided by Transjakarta operator, she suggests an elevator at certain bus stops to accommodate pregnant women, the elderly and differently-abled people. In addition, she believes that big stations should provide toilets and small clinics
“I have seen a passenger who fainted because of excessively long waiting time at bus stops,” she says.
Making Transjakarta bus rides safer and more convenient for women can be the first step towards making Jakarta a more humane city for all its citizens.
Read Wulan’s story on the plight of the persecuted Shia community in Indonesia.