Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway: Wide Acceptance, Possibly Low Ridership

Graphic Design: Krizia Angelina

Being in limbo for decades, the commencement of MRT operation in Jakarta has brought a new hope and vision for many Indonesians. People are introduced to a new ‘civilization,’ from the habit of long-distance walking, adaptation to modern devices, and to the exposure to escalator etiquette. From what are seen in the social media, the MRT received positive feedback from most of the citizens; roads along the route are not as clogged as before and greater productivity is expected from the cut in travel time.

Again, in the next two years, Indonesians will experience another new mode of transportation. If everything goes according to plan, in 2021, the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway (JBHSR) will run through the four stations of Jakarta’s Halim, Karawang, Bandung Barat’s Walini, and Bandung’s Tegalluar. The JBHSR, which was initiated during former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY)’s presidency and is hopefully finished under Joko Widodo (Jokowi)’s administration, is set to cut down travel time from three to five hours to only 40 minutes, and to bring benefits such as local social-economic development, traffic congestion alleviation, and pollution reduction. It also, however, comes with not just a few hurdles, as scores of issues have been plaguing the planning and to the current phase of construction; from regulation issues and to destabilizing environmental as well as social-economic impacts to its immediate vicinities.

In the zeitgeist of this public transportation advancement, from 6th-10th April 2019, the Indonesian Institute of Advanced International Studies (INADIS) sent an online questionnaire to 235 random respondents living in the Greater Jakarta and Greater Bandung areas to get to know their opinions on the JBHSR (margin of error of 6% and a 95% confidence level). Although randomly chosen, the respondents are roughly equal by their sex (male, female) and occupation (students, workers). A majority of them are in their 20s (80.4%) and with monthly expenses ranging between below IDR 2,500,000/USD 185.2 (66.8%) to IDR 2,500,000-IDR 5,000,000/USD 185.2-USD 370.4 (30.2%).

Contrary to our initial hypothesis, in which we believed that the project would be met with a hail of criticism, a staggering number of them actually responded positively (86.6%), while the rest were either neutral (9.3%) or negative (4.1%). The JBHSR’s adverse impacts on local environment and social economy seem not to have much effect on the public opinion, despite 86% of them knowing about the construction. A possible explanation is the project’s lack of exposure—particularly that discusses the pros and cons—on public domain, especially on social media where the young and young adult respondents usually spend their time in. As an example, in 2016, the ‘Kereta Terlalu Cepat (A Railway Too Fast)’ campaign to revoke the permit for the JBHSR only gained less than 150 followers on Instagram, 22 followers on Twitter, and just 88 people signed on their public petition. The movement lasted for a year and stopped updating since 2017. Another explanation is on the fact that the survey was conducted just on the heels of the MRT launching. The MRT, which for the most part panned out well, has brought some sort of optimism among the public.

Notwithstanding the positive sentiment, only about 55% of them are actually willing to use the JBHSR—respondents were aware of the route and were given the choice to choose at the maximum two modes of transportation—which is currently priced at IDR 200,000 or USD 14.8. These 55% people still considered the fare costly and a great proportion preferred it to range between IDR 100,000-IDR 150,000/USD 7.4–USD 11.1 (53.9%) and below IDR 100,000/below USD 7.4 (20.9%). If the price is set to IDR 200,000, nearly one quarter said would still ‘probably’ buy it (71.3%), followed by ‘not possible’ (17%), ‘very possible’ (10.1%), and ‘definitely not’ (1.5%).

Additionally, the 55% potential passengers are largely not the frequent type of users; more than half said they would only use the JBHSR for less than once a month (62%), once a month (21.7%), 2-3 times a month (12.4%), once a week (2.3%), and 2-3 times a week (1.5%). The rare frequency could be drawn from their reasons of traveling, which in a great number would travel for vacation (73.6%), occasional activities (16.3%), school/college (12.4%), and business (12.4%).

We did a simple calculation to find out the percentage of JBHSR daily passengers from the total respondents. In the survey, nearly 55% of the respondents said they would use the JBHSR. However, if the data is to be sifted with variables of frequency of travel and the ticket priced at IDR 200,000, the number could be significantly reduced.

First, to get the number of daily passengers, we multiplied the ‘frequency of travel’ options each with a factor derived from the frequency of travel’s relative number to one—for those who chose ‘less than once a month,’ we considered them travel once a year. Next, we further reduced the results by taking only 50% of those who said ‘probably,’ 90% of those who said ‘very possible,’ and 5% of those who said ‘not possible’ (considering of changing preference) if the ticket costs IDR 200,000. Lastly, we multiplied the number by two, considering the travels to be round trips. All counted, we got the number of 1.1% of JBHSR daily passengers from the total respondents in both areas. The number could be slightly smaller due to a possible diversion to other modes of transportation, and greatly higher factoring in the incorporation of segments of respondents with higher income, wider age range, and domiciles outside the two cities; and, in the future, the surge in population (the JBHSR will operate in 2021); development around the four stations (e.g., more business trips as industrial and commercial areas grow, and connecting transportation system is developed); change of lifestyle (e.g., a shift from private to public transportation and from a less efficient to a more efficient public transportation); and JBHSR’s possible consumer programs (e.g., tiered pricing, discount packages). With that in mind, this calculation should be taken as a rather pessimistic version of the demand forecast, by also noting that a survey method generally works only for short-term forecasting.

As a comparison, in 2015, Darmaningtyas, researcher at Institut Studi Transportasi (Transportation Study Institute/Instran), said that 145,518 people travel between Jakarta and Bandung in each day—similarly, the JBHSR company (Indonesia-China High-Speed Railway/Kereta Cepat Indonesia Cina/KCIC) wrote in their November 2018 presentation that there are 140,000 people/day who travel between Jakarta and Bandung. Among those people, 127,133 went by private cars, 2,000-2,500 by trains, 13,000-14,000 by minibuses, and less than 1,000 by big buses. Referring to that, only less than 20,000 people actually used public transportation to travel between the cities—Darmaningtyas also argued that the JBHSR might only be able to attract 25% of the total public transportation users. Meanwhile, Japan once predicted there will be 45,325 passengers/day, China 28,872 passengers/day, and the JBHSR company targeted 28,000 daily passengers on the first year of its operation—the JBHSR’s load capacity is 109,000 passengers/day.

All in all, regardless of the positive sentiment, the JBHSR wouldn’t likely be able to reach its optimum number of passengers. This is quite ironic to say the least. Although loaded with some impressive projections, the gains from the HSR are sometimes scaled back by the countervailing disruptions, which in local context include barrier effects, land use transformation, disturbances in water and electricity supply, traffic congestion and damages to existing infrastructures (during construction), loss of livelihood and homes, and loss of culture. The HSR gains are usually gauged on local social-economic development as well as traffic congestion alleviation and contribution to pollution reduction. The latter two gains—and the former, to some extent—in this case are unlikely to be fulfilled unless the JBHSR manages to attract a significant deviation of passengers from air and road modes and to have relatively high load factors.