It has been nearly two decades since Jakarta first explored the possibility of building a mass rapid transit system. During that time, a number of other regional cities have built their own MRT systems.
But in Jakarta, they’re still talking about it.
Newly elected governor Joko Widodo has expressed skepticism about the cost of the project and is now rethinking whether the city should go ahead with it. This is despite millions already spent on feasibility studies, and financing being offered by the Japan International Corporation Agency and the central government.
The governor’s main concern is the price tag for the project, which is expected to cost Rp 110 trillion, or Rp 1 trillion per kilometer.
“This is borrowed money and there is a time frame for returning the money. What happens if we don’t borrow it on time is that we have to pay hefty fines. That is what’s got us worried,” Joko has said.
Transportation experts say that the MRT could carry 412,000 passengers a day. If each passenger pays Rp 10,000 per trip it would take the city 37 years to repay the investment alone, excluding the Rp 200 billion per year in operational expenses.
And with the city already struggling to foot the Rp 253 billion in annual losses of its TransJakarta busway system, the concerns carry some merit.
The governor needs to view the project from a different perspective. While costs should be effectively managed and the project carried out in accordance with the best practices, not doing it would hurt Jakarta’s long-term growth.
Without an MRT, the social and economic costs of traffic congestion would be crippling. The city’s economic growth would be hampered and the residents would see a declining standard of living.
The importance of an MRT in Jakarta goes beyond dollars and cents. The city’s future depends on having it built sooner rather than later.