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Improving life quality by increasing mobility

Interview - June 11, 2014
Engineering and construction company PT MRT Jakarta has been tasked with eliminating Jakarta’s massive traffic congestion problems, by constructing roads and railway lines. Mr. Dono Boestami, president Director of the company, speaks about this massive challenges involved and how they are being overcome.
What is your vision for PT MRT Jakarta?

Our main objective is to complete the South-North corridor by 2020. Our next priorities are the East-West line and the elevated commuter lines. In 2017 the Airport monorail line will begin development. By the first semester of 2018 we would like to have testing completed on our major railways and enter into commercial operation. These projects are all the first of their kind and are relatively large. The projects will cost a total of at least $3 billion.

We imagine all our significant projects will be completed by 2030. By then, we should see a marked improvement in traffic conditions within Jakarta, which is our area of responsibility. However, if other cities like Bandung or Surabaya would like our help we would be willing to provide some assistance and experience to projects in other areas.

A study underway since 2004 has clearly indicated that Jakarta will not currently be able to contain a massive growth in road traffic volume. Indonesia has seen so many feasibility studies on traffic and railway systems that some were completed almost 15 years ago. We’ve seen clear improvements to congestion in places like Singapore and Bangkok since they’ve implemented rail systems. Kuala Lumpur and Manila are constructing lines at the moment. Indonesia is only now getting things underway.

We are setting a benchmark for infrastructure with the MRT project. We are setting the benchmark for large-scale infrastructure projects in this country. We are spurring the development of new law and government regulations that support the project and expect MRT Jakarta project to be a case study in Indonesian infrastructure project management.

What kind of public response to the project have you encountered in Jakarta?

When we began operations in March 2013 we were met with a lot of resistance on social and online media. We believe this was because we failed to clearly communicate the long-term benefits of MRT Jakarta to the public. It’s a long-term project that causes a lot of short-term disruptions. Initially, we did not clearly explain the structures of MRT. The removal of bus stops, walkways and road lanes was disruptive to many people in Jakarta. To address this, in the first few weeks we evaluated our communication with stakeholders, including the public. We started to better explain the benefits of the MRT project, such as less congestion and higher air quality. Since we changed our communication strategy we have not encountered much protest or public anger directed at our work. We plan to open a media center in south Jakarta. The center will have a mock-up of the project and staff to explain the impacts of the construction and the benefits of MRT Jakarta’s completion.

What are some of the challenges faced in completion of phase one of the project?

Phase one is largely under control but the biggest overall challenge right now is land acquisition. Land acquisition is the responsibility of the city, unlike in most infrastructure projects where it is the responsibility of the company. Land acquisition causes significant delays because it is outside of our immediate control. The city officials in Jakarta have finally recognised the urgency of this project and we now have weekly meetings with officials and monthly meetings with the Governor. The Governor is paying special attention to the project and he understands that MRT Jakarta is a project that will benefit the entire country in many respects. The Vice-President is also closely watching our progress, which has helped speed up land-acquisitions but they remain a challenge.

One technical challenge is that some of our loans are tied to lenders in Japan, so we are required to use predominantly Japanese technology. This isn’t particularly limiting though; the Japanese have extensive experience in developing rail systems and their technology is some of the best in the world. We have the best Indonesian engineers working alongside those from Japan. Japanese standards and construction scales are different but we are learning from one another. Our experts regularly go on exchange to Japan and the experience they bring back helps us in many ways.

How does the MRT project account for the risks posed by natural disasters?

Our Jakarta station is 22 meters below street level and the street-level floods in Jakarta can be deadly. To deal with this our stations include airtight designs and a number of water pumps to alleviate the risks posed by floods. The designers and engineers we have contracted have spent a long time making sure that our infrastructure can handle natural disasters. Simple design elements such as elevating street level entrances help to protect our stations.

What are some of the logistical hurdles MRT has to overcome?

Our construction causes delays on public roadways and major thoroughfares. To overcome this we schedule most of our work for nights and off-peak times. We calculated that construction of the South-North corridor requires the excavation of 1 million cubic meters of dirt. To avoid using too many trucks we compact and stock all our dirt on construction sites and remove it at night. We make sure all our machines are on site before daybreak and that is so a day’s work can be completed within the boundaries construction sites. Our working spaces are tight and providing utilities underground can be challenging. Finding telecommunication cables is one thing, working out what they connect to is another. For example, during construction last month we found an inactive gas pipe that the national gasworks had no record of. We eventually tracked its origins to a Dutch company from the sixties and were able to get permission to remove it. For the next phase of the project we will make sure to identify all underground utilities that we might encounter.

Regardless, we will still have to make lane closures on arterial roads and we need to communicate to the public that delays are a necessary, but short term, cost to the project. Phase two of the project will run close to, and under, some heritage buildings so we will have to be extra careful with our excavation work there.

Do you have a final message for our domestic and international audience?

For the international audience, the PT MRT Jakarta project is proof that Indonesia can manage a large-scale infrastructure project prudently. Our management of MRT should give investors confidence in the future of infrastructure projects in Indonesia.

For the domestic audience, our message is to be patient. No one in Indonesia can claim that they have completed a project of a similar nature. We don’t claim to be supreme experts and welcome criticism and advice. We need to work together so that we don’t fall behind our neighbours.

The MRT project is necessary. We cannot increase the size of the city and we cannot widen the roads. Even huge inter-city toll roads will not be enough to accommodate the growing number of cars and motorbikes in Jakarta. MRT will not solve all Jakarta’s traffic problems but it is the first step in the creation of an efficient commuter network.