Jakarta’s crippling traffic jams cost the Indonesian capital billions of dollars a year, but there is one group of battling businessmen who thrive in the smog-filled streets: ojek drivers.
The appalling traffic problem is an opportunity for thousands of ojek, or motorcycle taxi, drivers across the teeming city of about 10 million people, so much so that it is attracting the attention of entrepreneurs such as Nadiem Makarim.
Makarim, 27, graduated from Harvard with a masters in business administration and, upon returning to his homeland, decided there was money to be made out of Jakarta’s traffic nightmare.
He founded a company called GO-JEK as the first professionally run ojek service in the city, offering a higher standard — any standard — of service than the rag-tag army of freelance ojek drivers who currently ply the streets.
“The traffic issue isn’t solvable in the next five to 10 years, so Jakartans will need a convenient and affordable mode of quick transport and delivery,” Makarim said. “My business exists because of a lack of infrastructure.”
Indonesia’s decrepit roads, ports, railways and bridges are often cited as a major obstacle to growth and investment, but for Makarim it is an opportunity.
His target market is not only those commuters who normally use ojeks to zip between the lines of barely moving cars and trucks, but people who generally avoid high-risk motorcycle travel.
GO-JEK’s Web site promises improved safety thanks to careful driver recruitment, a call center to help “solve any problems in the field” and a transparent, distance-based fare system for people who are “tired of haggling and getting ripped off on the polluted streets of Jakarta.”
The site offers GO-JEK Tweets and reviews, profiles a “driver of the month” and spells out the company’s social mission to “improve the livelihood of hard-working ojek drivers in Jakarta.”
“As the value of Jakartans’ time increases along with their income, we firmly believe that more and more people will need a mode of transport that can actually get them to meetings on time, or even to get them home to spend time with their children,” Makarim said. “Our role is to make the existing market more efficient and bigger, not to compete with existing ojek drivers on the street.”
Five months after establishing his company, Makarim has about 200 drivers and plans to expand into delivery services through alliances with e-commerce and retail partners.
He also plans to collaborate with local transport officials to “help develop feeder systems to bus ways and rail.”
It is not only GO-JEK that is profiting from Jakarta’s chronic traffic jams. Independent ojek driver Hermanto, 21, said the congestion was his bread and butter.
“I love it when the traffic gets more congested in the city. The worse the traffic, the more we get hired,” he said.
Ojek drivers can earn about 150,000 rupiah (US$17.55) a day, a comfortable living in a country where millions of people survive on less than US$2 a day.
“I worked in a cellphone shop before I did this. I like being an ojek driver more as I receive cash on a daily basis,” driver Panca Herda, 21, said.
The Indonesian capital ranked last of all in a global survey of commuter satisfaction in 23 cities published in June by business research firm Frost & Sullivan.
Their “Journey of Experience” Index poll of almost 15,000 people around the world found travelers in Jakarta were the most miserable of all, gloomier even than those in Rio de Janeiro and Cairo — also notorious for dire gridlock.