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Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Indonesia: Riding Water Taxis to Clean Rivers


August 2007

Jakartas water taxis have multiple purposes: to entertain children, to educate citizens about river degradation, and to lessen traffic congestion. Launched by the city government, the water taxis are fast becoming tourist attractions. But with issues on safety and effectiveness being raised, can the water taxis bring about change in the river landscape and increase environmental awareness among Jakartas citizens? EDUCATIONAL AND ENTERTAINING Groups of children and their parents have begun queuing at South Jakartas Halimun Pier during weekends for a joyride in one of two water taxis recently introduced by the city government. Unlike other public transportation services, however, this one is not profitoriented. A round trip costs only 3,000 rupiahs (US$0.33) per person, and each taxi is capable of carrying only 28 passengers at a time. The government earns only about 84,000 rupiahs (US$9) for every tripabout twice the amount of fuel required. The gains, of course, lie elsewhere. Unknown to many Jakarta residents, the two water taxis are part of an environmental campaign to raise awareness among the public on the need to clean up the citys river system. The purpose of the water taxis is to get Indonesians to stop their habit of throwing garbage into the rivers, said Muhammad Khair, officer on duty at Halimun Pier. It is also intended to raise public awareness on the threats from polluted rivers. Lia, a 34-year-old housewife, said, We learned about the water taxis from the television and they look fascinating. With her two children, a niece, and a nephew, she lined up for more than an hour on a Saturday afternoon to try the water taxis. Riding the water taxi is like having fun in an amusement park, said 26-year-old Krisna, who took his two nieces along to take pictures of city landmarks. Like Lia and Krisna, most of the passengers are low-income parents giving their children a fun 15-minute boat ride. Donny Azdan, director at the Water Resources and Irrigation Directorate of the National Development Planning Agency, said, The operation of the water taxis is an entertaining way of educating the public on the importance of keeping the rivers clean.

TROUBLED WATERS AND POLLUTION COSTS Indonesias rivers are heavily polluted and becoming increasingly shallow as people living along the riverbanks dump their trash in them. Jakarta has 13 rivers flowing through it, including the Ciliwung Rivera main water supply source, yet one of the most polluted. Garbage of all types, including industrial effluents, empty plastic bottles, and cans can be seen floating around on the turbid waters of the Ciliwung. Often, the water taxi drivers have to rely on intuition and experience in navigating through the thick trash. There are also instances when garbage clogs a taxis engine forcing it to stall. Garbage also worsens flooding, which hits the city in January and February every year. We are facing an uphill battle in cleaning our rivers and we need a huge amount of money, Azdan said, adding that people living on the riverbanks refuse to move because the relocation areas offered by the government are far from their workplace. Many, however, see it as a losing battle because of weak law enforcement. So far, no one has been brought to court, imprisoned, or even fined for littering. Even water companies are finding it difficult to provide residents with enough clean water. In Jakarta, about 70 percent of potential raw water from rain flows directly into the ocean, since all the rivers in the city are shallow and have limited capacity to retain rainwater. The city government has allocated 30 billion rupiahs (US$3.2 million) to clean up and dredge Jakartas rivers, some of which will go into the annual maintenance of the two water taxis. DESIGN PROBLEMS AND SAFETY PRECAUTIONS The operation of the water taxis is one of the three waterrelated projects of the Jakarta city government to address the citys poor sanitation, annual flooding, and traffic congestion. The other projects are a 23-kilometer flood mitigation canal and a multi-purpose deep tunnel that will integrate a sanitation facility, urban utility networks, and an underground turnpike.

The water taxis, however, cannot ply in shallow waters less than one meter deep, which makes Ciliwungs receding water level an impediment for the taxis navigation. On the other hand, if the river becomes more than two meters deep, the boats could bump into the underside of bridges. As a safety measure, yellow inflatable life jackets are found under the water taxis seats. Laminated airline-style safety cards that instruct passengers on how to put on the life jackets are also tucked at the back of every seat. The water taxis are not specifically designed for rivers because they are too big, said 35-year-old skipper Andiri. Plans are underway to modify the motorboats. ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORTATION? To improve the water taxi system, the public works ministry, which is currently subsidizing the cost of gasoline for the two motorboats, is looking into the possibility of extending the routes to other rivers. Jakartas Governor Sutiyoso hopes that the water taxis would become part of an integrated mass rapid transport system to solve the citys chronic traffic problems, much like during the Dutch colonial rule when Jakartas rivers played an important role in city transportation. Few citizens, however, take the plan seriously. Efrid, a 20 year old student, said I would rather take a bus than ride a water taxi. If I ride a water taxi, I will smell like the drains.

_______________________________ Based on the article of Richel Langit-Dursin, Asia Water Wire journalist

*This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in August 2007: http://www.adb.org/Water/Actions/ino/riding-water-taxies.asp. The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADBs member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADBs Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.