WE CERTAINLY know for whom and what the streets in Jakarta were built. To welcome the guests to the Asian Games IV 1962, the streets of Thamrin-Sudirman were created on a vehicular scale. Meanwhile, it is already clear what the width of Gatot Subroto is for, coupled as it is with toll roads. The same is true for the more than 80% of street space, which has been used merely for personal vehicles. We eventually end up with no traditions of walking, of wandering around, as Jakarta as a whole has been built for vehicles.
Not everybody, however, is lucky enough to have a personal vehicle. Not everyone with a vehicle can move as freely as an ambulance with a siren, or an official’s car with a convoy. While ambulance has a dying person in it, officials have a convoy of policemen on motorbikes, opening up the roads just as Moses opened up the sea. No wonder a lot of people want to consider public transportation as their personal vehicle. Drivers and passengers alike have been working harmoniously to ensure that buses can stop whenever and wherever they want. When the whole street can function as a bus stop, the existence of the real bus stop is almost futile.
Bus stop could actually serve as a space in the city where we stop only for a while. Certainly, however, this is impossible in Jakarta. Since our buses operate under a tremendously pliant rubber time and traffic jams are as certain as the sun’s setting in the west, probably it is not yet the time for us to care about the bus stops—especially because there are no standards as to what a good bus stop should be like. The shape of the bus stop depends very much on the specific local needs, and people are free to interpret—or ignore—the design aspect of a bus stop.
Jakarta had, and still has, bus stops with the old model: an old, gigantic box with strong roofs and spacious seats. At a glance they might all seem futile—especially because a lot of bus stops do not function well because probably the government had previously thought that the number of passengers would be the same everywhere. In several old bus stops where people like to flock, however, the crowd is actually interesting to watch.
The basic need for people waiting at the bus stop in Jakarta is sitting. We are lucky because the old bus stops are equipped with spacious sitting places—made of bathroom tiles or sturdy iron pipes—and they are just suitable for people to sit down and wait for buses which often think of themselves as intercity buses. Besides, the old bus stop has its own community. There are many street vendors with the simplest vending equipments, up to the ones with the most serious equipments in the form of permanent stalls. There are also newspaper sellers, buskers, ojek or motorbike drivers, and there is also an interesting profession: a timer, i.e. someone who calculates the time span between buses. Apparently, traffic jams do not only give headaches to the passengers, but also to the bus drivers who need to know where their competitors are—if they are too close or too far from the competitors, their earning will be accordingly affected. Therefore, the presence of the timer, who charges the bus drivers for his or her information, becomes very meaningful. These timers are similar to the electronic board that gives information about when a certain bus is going to come (such boards are to be found in several bus stops in Berlin), and at the same time they are also trusted sources of information for people who are oblivious about bus routes.
Some might think of the bus stop community as annoying; some might believe that bus stops should only be for bus passengers. This is Jakarta, however—nothing is impossible for the people here to regain their right to live in this city. The fences that Governor Sutiyoso has installed could not stop the city parks to become the home for the homeless; similarly, if we want to free the bus stops from such communities, we need to improve the quality of life of these people, and that is the responsibility of the government, not of the temperamental members of the ‘Security-and-Order forces’, or the Tramtib, a quasimilitary group of civilians hired to help enforce order in the city.
The bus stop community actually brings life to the place. They provide food, drinks, cigarettes, reading materials from the established Kompas to the Lampu Merah daily, which the members of the Security-and-Order forces also buy when they are not on duty. The presence of such community could actually serve as a measurement of how comfortable and secure the bus stop is. No matter how long a passenger waits at the bus stop, people who virtually reside there—such as the owner of the permanent cigarette stall—will stay there even longer. Both did not actually wish to stay long at the bus stop. Passengers could feel safer with the presence of such community, as of course we will choose a lively bus stop over an empty one.
One day, somehow—probably out of boredom or perhaps because bus stops serve as one of the profitable projects in Jakarta—the old bus stops were refurbished, changed into bus stops with ethnic Jakartan style of roofs. These new bus stops are smaller and the seats are simply an “excess” from the foot of the cylindrical poles, which make people sit not facing the street. The efficiency of such bus stop is then developed further in the new bus stops along the Thamrin – Sudirman boulevard.
The new bus stops along Thamrin – Sudirman are designed in a sophisticated contemporary style—the philosophy-infected architects of the ‘90s might call them postmodern—and they are also minimalist in its truest sense. The bus stops are made of light aluminum, cheap but elegant, with a curving roof that ignores the fact that rain does not always fall perpendicularly to the earth, and equipped with a piece of tiny seating place. The seating place is very unique, as it can only sit four people who are familiar with each other (or who are so tired that they no longer care about whomever sits next to them), or two strangers who might each sit on its edge. We cannot sit comfortably, either, as the curving at the edge of the seating place is very slippery and has the potentials to make us slip like in a scene in a slapstick comedy. Those who manage to sit there are the lucky people, like the VIPs in a show, while the rest can only stand like in the Festival section—but this latter group of people will be more ready to welcome the bus parade for which they are waiting.
As refurbishing the bus stops becomes a part of the effort to make the city more beautiful, the human beings who deserve better services have been forgotten. If the buses are still not capable of being on time, it is not yet the time to reduce the seating at the bus stop, as not everybody can stand upright like soldiers do. If you want to make the buses more orderly and prevent them from making the stops wherever they want, there should be a better way than spreading fear. It is no wonder then, if the most orderly bus stop in Jakarta might be the one in front of the office of the Regional Police Command on Gatot Subroto—which is complete with the commanding voice of a female police officer who regulates how long a bus is allowed to stop.
I have seen at the new bus stop a woman who was forced to rent an umbrella when the rain came, although she was actually standing at the bus stop. The roof of the bus stop is of no use, except for displaying the huge ad over it, which was equipped with a set of poles that have been constructed separately. The ad enjoys a more prominent position compared to the designation and the information board of the bus stop. The shape of the bus stop that is “efficient without content” makes it difficult for us to see the bus stop when no one is there, and a street vendor with even the most basic equipments will be directly visible and therefore become an easy target for the Security-and-Order thugs.
If there are not many bus stop users who question such problems, I am sure it is not because they do not care; rather, it might be because they have learnt to understand. Since the boundary between being acquiescent and being forced to resign has become very narrow here in Jakarta, people have not only become independent, strong, and hard—if not violent—but also pliant in facing the myriad possibilities there are. In several cases, people do not depend fully on the government. Some might think that the bus stop community has come to be merely because of the needs to survive; and naturally it will be easy for us to reach a conclusion for any analysis if we only consider the economic pressures. The existence of transactions at the bus stop indeed starts from a certain need, whether it is the need to survive or simply because there is a craving to munch. Such need, however, is not as superfluous as refurbishing and re-installing the bus stops. At the time when the problem of the quality of life has not been solved, the needs within such spaces can actually be discussed among architects, without marginalizing the existence of the organic community within, in the name of city beautification in the most puritanical of architectural understandings. They who wait and stay at the bus stop make the bus stop exist, not the other way round. If only the bus stops can become more comfortable, perhaps the next journey home or away, which often takes as long as a trip to Bandung, might seem shorter.
Jakarta, April 2007
Translated by Rani Elsanti
ARDI YUNANTO was born in Jakarta, November 21, 1980. After graduating from the Department of Architecture at the National Institute of Technology in Malang, in 2003 he returned to Jakarta, the city where he grew up. In 2004, he joined ruangrupa and has been working as the editor in chief for www.karbonjournal.org since 2007. Besides writing tremendously unproductively about the city and art, he also works as a book editor, researcher for several cultural projects, and a graphic designer, while still trying hard to write fictions.
Old style bus stop, Jakarta 2007. Photo by Ardi Yunanto.
The ethnic Jakartan style of rooftop, Jakarta 2007. Photo by Ardi Yunanto
The new style bus stop, Jakarta 2007. Photo by Ardi Yunanto
 One afternoon in Jakarta at the end of 2006, I had a chat with a taxi driver. According to him, it is those convoys that make officials unaware of how it feels to be trapped in a traffic jam.
 I read the term ‘bus stop community’ for the first time in the article “Bus Stop Community” by Prabham Wulung, although the writer there has a very different take about the term. The article was published on the Kompas daily on February 28, 2001.
 A piece of my introductory notes for a work by Anton Adinugroho, VIP – FESTIVAL, in the presentation of the work and the catalogue for the workshop “Playing at the Public Waiting Room”, a part of the exhibition of the visual works by students at the Jakarta 32ºc 2006, held by Komplotan Jakarta 32ºc and ruangrupa in Jakarta. You can read further about the workshop in Annisa S. Febrina’s article, “‘Dysfunctional’ Shelters Become Artists’ Playground” at The Jakarta Post on August 12, 2006.