For a syndicate of rogue but innovative tire repairmen in Jakarta, the key to improving business is simple: Bring potential clients to a piercing halt.
Each day before dawn the repairmen sabotage streets by dumping hundreds of nails and other sharp objects before setting up roadside workshops. They then wait for their victims to totter in on punctured tires.
“I am so fed-up. I can’t keep spending my earnings on new tires. If I ever get my hands on one of the culprits I will strip him and drive nails through every pore of his body,” fumed 30-year-old Talib, a motorcyle taxi driver who suffered a flat tire the week before and had returned to the scene looking for culprits.
“Make them swallow the nails. Let them taste our pain and learn some manners,” offered his friend, parking attendant Sulaiman Daud, 50.
Typically, the culprits fill matchboxes and plastic bags with nails and metal scraps and deliberately drop them on busy streets -during the early hours, Jakarta police spokesman Rikwanto said.
It has been going on for years, he added.
“When unfortunate victims go to the repairmen they are often told they need new tires, and are then charged double the normal price,” Rikwanto added.
For the tire repairmen who work in pairs — one dumping the nails and the other repairing — earnings of about 200,000 rupiah to 400,000 rupiah (US$22.40 to US$44.80) a day are normal. It is good business in a country where nearly half the 240 million population lives on less than US$2 a day.
Darmito, 57, started operating a roadside repair shop two months ago to meet increased demand for repairs, but he said he knew nothing of the syndicate.
“I’m doing an honest business. I don’t know who dumped the nails along this road,” he said.
Last month police arrested eight suspects, who could face five years in jail on charges of damaging property, Rikwanto said.
“We are hunting down more. We have received so many -complaints from motorists, but they are hard to catch. Once they sense we are getting tough they will vanish for a while and then re-appear,” he added.
However, alongside police, in a country known for crooked law enforcers and widespread corruption, is a team of dedicated volunteers determined to deflate the repairmen’s profits.
Over the past two years the volunteers from Komunitas Sapu Bersih Ranjau Paku (Nails Wipeout Community), have been tirelessly plucking nails and sharp objects off the jam-packed streets, expecting nothing in return.
Every day they stride into Jakarta’s fierce traffic, armed with razor-sharp eyes and powerful magnets.
“A lot of nails here. Be careful not to run your tires over them,” one of the volunteers shouted to motorists in the bustling Cideng neighborhood in West Jakarta, while he passed a magnet-and-string contraption over the asphalt.
Since the campaign began they have collected about 450kg of nails and each day they see their efforts paying off, with daily collections falling from 5kg a day to 2kg.
“We are doing this not for money or publicity. We only want motorists to have a smooth, problem-free ride,” said 38-year-old granite wholesaler Siswanto, who founded the group.
“We do not want people to be late for work because of a punctured tire. We want children to be in school on time. We don’t want poor people to waste their hard-earned money on new tires,” he added.