ONLY ON the air-conditioned Patas buses do we have the privilege of being able to sit down and feel comfortable. (This, of course, happens only in humane times, not in the mornings and evenings, when all Jakartans crowd the buses like mackerels in a can.) It is this comfort of being able to sit down that makes the air-conditioned Patas buses different from other bus services. This eventually makes for the ‘seating attitude’ of the passengers—which I will explain in this essay—that is peculiar to this bus: the air-conditioned Patas bus crossing the roads of Jakarta.
It is reasonable for us to demand more comfort on an air-conditioned Patas bus. The ticket price of Rp5,000.00 is quite expensive for buses in Jakarta, and always lull us to sleep in the coolness of the air-conditioning system until we reach our destination. This is a charm that even the Transjakarta buses (colloquially known as the busway) still fail to outperform.
A year after Transjakarta corridor I was launched, many buses have been re-routed to avoid their overlapping the Transjakarta routes. So far, however—at least before new Transjakarta corridors are implemented—the air-conditioned Patas buses do not suffer from re-routing as heavily as other bus services do. In terms of ticket prices, the Patas AC buses are still more reasonable compared to the price of Rp3,500.00 that Transjakarta buses offer without fulfilling any of Transjakarta’s promises. The air-conditioning on Transjakarta buses is indeed impressive enough, but the number of the Transjakarta buses, especially on the new corridors, is still terribly lacking. The special bus ways (thus the colloquial name) reserved for Transjakarta buses become almost wasteful; and the necessity for long-distance passengers to change corridors makes for wasted time on the road.
Meanwhile, the long distances covered by the Patas buses have been one of the main reasons why people choose to use the Patas buses. Furthermore, riding on the Patas buses is like buying groceries in a traditional market: you can bargain the price. If you have the heart, you can only pay Rp2,000.00 for short distances, or Rp3,500.00 for a rather longer distance. In addition to this, the design of the Patas buses results in a bigger chance for the passengers to get a seat.
Indeed, expecting to sit down on the bus is sometimes similar to dreaming about no traffic jams in Jakarta. Although every bus designer initially expects every passenger to sit comfortably, the vacant space within invariably lures the driver assistants (and passengers) to fill it up until everyone stands intimately close to each other. Eventually, we can only surrender to the situation, enduring the cramps in our legs, and after a while it fortunately becomes a habit.
Standing on the bus should perhaps not be a problem for Transjakarta passengers. There the space reserved for standing is more generous than in other buses, and with its price we can go around the town accompanied with the sensation of the mountain breeze. Meanwhile, passengers on other bus services such as Kopaja, Metro Mini, or other regular bus services, would not mind to stand as long as they quickly reach their destinations. What can we expect from a means of public transportation that only asks for Rp2,000.00 for a ticket?
On the air-conditioned Patas buses, we do not pay Rp5,000.00 to be resigned. Since I was still a little child, when my mother asks me to go with her, she always uses this bus, reasoning that we will have a bigger chance of getting seats and enjoying the coolness of the air-conditioning system. Its relatively high price gives rise to assumptions that the passengers on these buses are generally the middle-class folks, but this is not always true. There are a lot of other reasons that make people still choose Patas buses—i.e. the many seats they provide, the air-conditioning system, and the long distance routes crossing the main streets so that we do not spend more time and money for having to change buses. We only have to wait patiently enough, hop on the bus, sit down, sleep, and arrive, seemingly immediately.
This is not without its consequences. Only in the more comfortable rooms are we free to continue our long-ingrained habit. Whether we are aware of it or not, we always carry all of our fears of the outside roads when we are entering the Patas buses.
On other buses, we tend to sit where we can sit; on Patas buses, we can even choose with whom we are going to sit. The numerous seats available make for various options, from where we are going to sit, to the kind of person that we choose as our next-seat passenger.
Indeed, the quick access to the exit door is still the main reason for choosing our seats. That is why passengers prefer to sit at the front. The exit door at the back often does not function properly, and the second driver-assistant is not always there to help. Not every body is willing to yell out to the driver far away at the front, asking for the door to be opened.
Another reason why people prefer to sit at the front is security. The interior of the bus is quite dark, as there are dark coverings on the windows, added by short curtains. When we enter the bus, the rear area seems darker. The big seats, like seats on intercity buses, make it difficult for us to see and be seen by other passengers. No wonder there have been several incidents of holdups here.
Meanwhile, some passengers do not like to sit in the middle, because this is where the street musicians like to perform. They might lean on your arm or head. After that, these musicians like to hang around for a while, sitting on the back seats, until they finally leave. This is yet another reason why some people feel awkward to sit at the back. Although in terms of their personality and music quality most of the itinerant musicians performing on Patas buses are the best of their kinds, many people still think of them as a nuisance.
All passengers will naturally choose to sit alone or together with their partners. From the two different kinds of seating arrangements—the two-seaters and the three-seaters—the former is the passengers’ favorite. For those going with a friend, sitting in the two-seaters means they will not be disturbed by the presence of a third person—as there is not any available seat for a third person, indeed. For those going solo, it means that there will only be one other person sitting next to them.
There are, however, some more interesting patterns.
The elder female passengers—mothers or grandmothers—not only like the seats at the front rows for security reasons and the easy access to the exit door, but also choose with whom they like to sit. The first choice would be fellow female passengers; the younger ones are okay, but preferably those in their age group, as they might then engage in a conversation. If no other female passengers are available, only then are they willing to sit next to a male passenger; the older he is, the better. If he is a young man, he should be presentable, not the boorish-looking ones, and the suspicious-looking ones even less. Sometimes there is still another note: these ladies will move to a better seat next to a better-looking passenger, as soon as they have a chance to do so.
I once sat next to an old lady in the three-seaters in the middle of the bus. I was presentable enough to be presumed as going for a job interview, but still the lady moved to sit next to an old man in front of us. First I thought she just wanted to have easier access to the exit door. But when we got to the Blok M Terminal, it was I who went out first. I was a bit annoyed and reflected on how I looked that day, but that incident actually spurred my interest in this matter.
We now get to the young women. Their choice of seating is actually similar to that of the elderly female passengers; i.e. fellow female passengers (with a more flexible attitude in terms of age groups), or the men, but also with the note: they will also move to another seat as soon as they have a chance of finding a better person whom they can sit next to. In some cases—and this is especially true for the beautiful women going solo—being “the chosen” ones is more distressing than being the ones who “choose”.
Sitting alone makes for the beautiful young woman’s standing a chance to be “the chosen one”. Usually she can be found sitting on the favorite seat: the two-seaters next to the window, reasoning that there will only be one passenger sitting next to her, and the window glass can provide a reason and a place on which she can rest her head when she pretends to be asleep in order to avoid a conversation with the man sitting next to her. Sometimes, the mere presence of a man is disturbing enough. A female friend says that she is always troubled whenever she wakes up from her doze and finds a man sitting next to her.
Sitting on the two-seaters is always better than sitting on the three-seaters. On the three-seaters, the young woman can never comfortably doze off. If she sits next to the aisle, she will be awakened if another passenger wishes to sit next to her. She has been “chosen”, and afterwards she still has to “choose”—should she shift, or should she let that person sit next to the window? If the person does not look presentable enough, she will be better off where she is, next to the aisle, rather than being “cornered” next to the window. If the person looks okay, or if she eventually accedes to sitting next to the window, then she would shift. Each would then sit on the edge of the seat, armed with a bag that serves as a border. By sitting next to the window, however, the young woman can no longer “choose”. Every thing would depend on the new passenger sitting next to the aisle. Will that person shift to sit right next to her, or would a still less preferable person come and sit next to her?
Trapped on the side of the window on the tree-seaters is indeed not something comfortable. If the young woman must go out first, she would be forced to go over the other two passengers in much difficulty, leaving her buttocks prone to their fondling. Some women have been victims to such “opportunity in adversity”. Even realizing that their buttocks might become the focus of attention of the men is distressing enough.
What about the seating choice of the men? It is not surprising that the men are practical. They prefer the seats that are easily available and easily left. If they choose with whom they would like to sit, the reason will be very simple: they will choose to sit next to an attractive woman; other than that, they do not care with whom they sit, as long as the person looks safe enough.
Several times I saw a man sitting directly next to an attractive woman. He would sit just like that, seemingly oblivious to the many empty seats he passes, which are actually available to him. To the men with less courage, like me, for example, we will have no other options than to sit on the empty seat. Attractive women are usually watchful. She will be vigilant as soon as she finds out that a man deliberately sits next to her. The courageous men often try to strike a conversation, although in general they will utterly fail. The attractive young woman will give no heed, straightening her skirt, holding her bag, resting her head to the window and pretends to be daydreaming, reading text messages on her mobile phone, sleeping, or getting ready to move to a safer seat, just like the elderly lady had done with me.
From the invariably-luckless daring men, more choose to not do anything. Why, then, do they sit there? Perhaps merely because of the sensations of sitting next to a beautiful woman. But wouldn’t it be better, then, to be timid like I am? By sitting across to the attractive woman, I can still enjoy all her charm. I can glance at what lies under her mini-skirt, say, or what might be seen from between her shirt buttons, or I can simply enjoy the beautiful face. All this is unavailable to those who sit right next to her; what they might get are only the sensations of the incidental touches of the arms, or the waft of the perfume.
I have once asked this to a friend. The conclusion stays the same: it is those sensations that make them do it. Some men might plan, whatever their missions might be, still they never know whether they would eventually dare talking to the lady. As long as they sit there, however, this doubt gives rise to a peculiar new sensation, one that gets their adrenaline pumping. This will repeat until eventually they are courageous enough. No success is guaranteed, but still this is a challenge for them—just like the whole challenge of determining with whom we are going to find some comfort, before returning to the real and riotous roads.
I base all my observations on my experiences of riding on the air-conditioned Patas bus number 08 along the Pulogadung – Blok M route, in the year 2004, complemented by interviews with several loyal passengers of the Patas AC bus in other routes during the same period.
All of what I have described above can indeed take place on another bus service. The distinct interior of the Patas AC buses, however, makes those patterns more obvious. The passengers have been automatically selected—due to the destinations, the travel time, or the ticket price, all possibly pointing to a certain social class—and this complicates the patterns. The decisions taken naturally within seconds might be due to reasons within the subconscious. The patterns that I observed three years ago were still true several weeks ago, when I finally hopped on the bus again. There are similar fear and discomfort that remain unseen.
If you want to experience this yourself, hop on a Patas AC bus between 10 am to 3 pm, when the buses are not full, the period when the drama really takes place. Perhaps you would not find all those patterns, as it took me every day of a year to map and test those patterns. You might even find nothing, as people might enter the bus and sit without worry. This is precisely better than finding a whole new pattern, containing some other illogical reasoning.
How do we read it all? Is the memory of unpleasantness on the road still intact although we are already on a Patas AC bus, which automatically selects the people who have previously been on the road? Or is it because the passengers themselves, who due to this selection eventually have a certain attitude? And when can our public space be able to link strangers, who might not get to talk intimately, but at least do not end up judging others based on appearance, age, or gender? Or perhaps the attitude of some people can still be predicted from their appearance? The master-thieves have realized this since time immemorial. They would be as presentable as the office workers, and any elderly lady might not leave them just like that. Or at least when the old lady leaves, the thief still succeeds in getting her purse. I, on the other hand, succeed only in generating unanswered personal observations, with the hope that what I have written so far will no longer be true—although I doubt it, considering that the Jakartan roads are not getting better. It is, however, better to hope than to expect nothing, although in this city hoping and dreaming increasingly resemble each other.
Jakarta, July 2007
Translated by Rani Elsanti
ARDI YUNANTO born in Jakarta, November 21, 1980. After graduating from the Department of Architecture, National Institute of Technology in Malang, in 2003 he returned to Jakarta, the city where he grew up. In 2004, he joined ruangrupa and since 2007 he has been working as the editor of Karbon Journal. Apart from writing in a highly unproductive manner, he also works as a freelance editor, researcher, graphic designer, exhibition organizer, all the while trying to set aside some time to create some works of fiction.
AC Patas buses in Jakarta, 2007. Photo by Ardi Yunanto.
 ‘Patas’ is the shortened form of ‘Cepat dan Terbatas”—or “Fast and Limited”, which becomes the name of an air-conditioned bus service operating in Jakarta. At the end of the day, the motto of being “fast and limited” becomes irrelevant as Jakarta’s incredible traffic jams make it difficult for all vehicles to move fast, and the number of passengers crowding each bus makes the service no longer limited.
 Since Wednesday, August 24, 2005, there have been four air-conditioned Patas services that are re-routed because parts of their paths overlap the corridor I of Transjakarta buses that goes from Blok M to Kota. These Patas services are: Patas AC 580 (four buses), Patas AC 2 (nine buses), Patas AC 10 (twenty-four buses), and Patas AC 17 (sixteen buses).