Lenny Tristia Tambun, Ronna Nirmala & Arientha Primanita
Holding her little daughter in her left hand and big bags in her right, Yani, a 29-year-old housewife from Bekasi, just outside Jakarta, waited patiently in front of a ticket box at Gambir train station in Central Jakarta on Tuesday.
She would spend the night at the station with hundreds of others before finally getting a train ticket to bring her and her daughter to her hometown in Semarang, Central Java, for the annual end-of-Ramadan homecoming known as mudik .
“I decided to travel earlier to avoid traffic. My husband will come home later on because he still has work to do,” she told the Jakarta Globe.
While Yani had to queue for a night, another passenger, Dian, 35, a resident of Cikini in Central Jakarta, secured tickets for herself and her two sons by purchasing them online.
“I decided that we could first go earlier and my husband will follow on August 17,” the Yogyakarta-bound traveler said.
Both of them said that despite the logistical challenges it presented, the journey to celebrate Idul Fitri was a ritual and a culmination of their year.
For some, it marks the only time each year that all the family’s members will be together under one roof.
“You see, mudik is a must for us, as it’s a once-a-year event where we can gather with other members of family in our hometown,” Yani said.
The young mothers are just two of about 17 million people who will participate in the annual homecoming event across the country. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made the handling of mudik a national agenda priority and ordered his ministers to ensure that the holiday travel period went smoothly.
Fueled by improved economic welfare, officials said the number of people traveling home this year will increase more than 10 percent across the archipelago.
The president said although the exodus toward hometowns was an annual occurrence, it should be prepared for carefully.
“We should not approach it as something that’s routine or dismiss it out of hand,” he said. “We used to do that, and quite frequently, too, and that’s where problems can start when we take things too easy.”
He urged his cabinet to do its best to ensure a safe mudik this year.
The president charged National Police chief Gen. Timur Pradopo with traffic management, Public Works Minister Djoko Kirmanto with road maintenance and Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan with ensuring stable prices and supplies of basic goods.
He said one of the concerns that had grown in magnitude during the years was the increasing number of people going on mudik by motorcycle, and the corresponding increase in road deaths.
“We have a noble duty of helping our people by ensuring that they can travel safely for the [Idul Fitri] holiday,” the president said.
According to the Transportation Ministry, this year’s mudik from Jakarta to various areas on Java and Sumatra alone will see an increase of people using motorcycles of 6.6 percent, from 1.3 million last year.
Meanwhile, the number of people traveling by car will increase by 5.4 percent, which is up from about 4 million last year.
“We predict that the peak of mudik through land and air [travel] will be on Thursday and Friday,” said Suroyo Alimoeso, director general for land transportation at the Transportation Ministry.
Kereta Api Indonesia said it would add more trains to anticipate the increase of passengers ahead of Idul Fitri, which will fall on Aug. 19 this year. Overall, the state-run train company has added 3,284 seats a week before the holiday.
“We have prepared to add more if we see a sudden increase in the outflow of passengers,” said Sugeng Priyono, spokesman for KAI.
From Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Cengkareng, airport officials said they expected one day before Idul Fitri would be the peak of the homecoming.
This year, air passengers at all of the country’s airports are expected to jump by 16 percent, from 3.2 million last year.
“There will be more than 3.8 million people who will travel by air,” said I Ketut Fery Utameyasa, state airport operator Angkasa Pura’s spokesman.
Meanwhile, mudik will see most development projects in Jakarta temporarily halted. The Jakarta Public Works Agency said that all projects in the capital would stop for 10 days.
“We stop the projects because all workers are going back to their hometowns to celebrate Idul Fitri,” said Ery Basworo, the head of the agency.
Additional reporting by Nandra Galang Anissa & Fidelis E. Satriastanti