The Evolution of Mass Transportation in Jakarta


Mass transportation in Jakarta has evolved significantly over the past century, transforming from horse-drawn trams to modern electric buses. This journey reflects the city’s adaptation to its growing population and the changing needs of its residents.

The story of mass transportation in Jakarta began in 1869 with the introduction of horse trams. Inspired by the Netherlands, which had started using trams five years earlier, Batavia (now Jakarta) launched its first tramway. These trams, running on 1,188 mm-wide tracks, were pulled by horses imported from various regions such as Sumba, Sumbawa, Timor, Tapanuli, Priangan, and Makassar. The idea was proposed by J. Babut du Mares, an Indo-European resident, and the government tasked Dumler & Co. with constructing the tramway. On April 20, 1869, the horse tram service officially commenced, covering routes like Amsterdamsche Poort (Pasar Ikan)-Harmoni, Tanah Abang-Harmoni, and Meester Cornelis (Jatinegara)-Harmoni. However, the service was short-lived, ceasing operations after 14 years due to the overwhelming amount of horse dung along the tracks and the high mortality rate of the horses.

Replacing the horse trams, the Nederlandsche Indische Tramweg Maatschappij (NITM) introduced steam trams. These trams, built by the German locomotive company Hohenzollern, were favored by European residents for their class-segregated services: first class for white people, second class for foreign Easterners (Chinese, Arab, and Indian), and third class for natives. Despite their popularity, steam trams faced competition from the newly introduced electric trams by Batavia Elektrische Tram Maatschappij (BETM) on April 10, 1899.

Batavia was ahead of its time, enjoying electric trams before any other city in the Netherlands. These trams initially connected Harmoni, Tanah Abang, and Cikini. By 1913, their routes had expanded to include Jembatan Merah, Tanah Tinggi, Gunung Sahari, and Amsterdamsche Poort (Pasar Ikan). The electric trams’ popularity was immortalized in the song “Trem dan Bus Kota,” part of the 1958 film “Asrama Dara.”

The 1930 merger of NITM and BETM into Bataviasch Verkeers Maatschappij (BVM) marked the beginning of the end of trams. The company attempted to convert steam trams to electric, but the Japanese occupation during World War II disrupted these efforts. After the war, the Indonesian government nationalized BVM, renaming it Maskapai Pengangkutan Djakarta (MPD) and later Pengangkutan Penumpang Djakarta (PPD). Despite the increasing number of city buses, trams continued to operate until the 1960s, when the last route between Kramat and Jatinegara was closed.

In the 1960s, buses like the Robur from East Germany and the Leyland Titan from England began servicing Jakarta. The establishment of PT Metro Mini and Kopaja in 1976 marked a significant shift towards bus transportation. The 1980s and 1990s were the golden years for these buses, known for their affordable fares and widespread availability. However, their poor maintenance and reckless driving tarnished their reputation over time.

In 2004, Jakarta introduced TransJakarta, a bus rapid transit (BRT) system, marking a new era in the city’s transportation. As the first BRT system in Southeast Asia, TransJakarta boasts the longest BRT route in the world at 251.2 km. It operates buses from various brands, all equipped with air conditioning and automatic doors, and features an e-ticketing system. By 2023, TransJakarta would have expanded to 4,348 buses, including 100 electric buses, with plans to increase this number to 300 by 2024.

Jakarta’s transportation system has come a long way from the days of horse-drawn trams. The city’s commitment to improving and modernizing its public transportation continues to shape its growth and development, ensuring that it meets the needs of its ever-growing population.