The capital's free tourist buses began service on Feb. 24. (AFP Photo)
Jakarta. "Hopefully everything will work out as planned," was how the head of the Jakarta Tourism Agency introduced five new yellow-and-purple tour buses that began ferrying tourists around the capital on Monday.
"As promised, we are operating the double-decker buses on Feb. 24," Jakarta Tourism and Culture Agency chief Arie Budhiman said on Monday. "From our week-long evaluation, bus drivers and crew members have done a pretty good job."
The buses are scheduled to operate — free of charge — from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week, with a later service beginning at midday on Sunday. The bus will not use the city's busway lane.
The first five buses will ply a trial route through the very center of the city, starting from the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle before heading past the National Monument to the Istiqlal mosque, and continuing on to the State Palace and City Hall before returning back to Hotel Indonesia.
Andriyanto, a resident of Central Jakarta, claimed on Monday that he had waited for more than one hour for a bus to arrive.
"My wife and I, along with our child, wanted to try the tourism bus today. We found out that the buses would start operating today from TV," he said at the Hotel Indonesia bus stop on Monday.
In the end, Andriyanto hailed a cab.
The government plans to roll out another 15 buses onto an expanded tour of the capital, for tourists to absorb the Dutch colonial surroundings of Kota Tua in the city's north as well as the sights and sounds of Blok M in South Jakarta.
Arie said the first five buses were slated to accommodate up to 3,000 passengers per day. Each bus would make around 10 round trips daily, with a capacity of around 60 passengers, he said.
The city has sought to emphasize that it will focus on passenger safety and will not allow overcrowding. It remains to be seen whether the city will be able to ward off opportunistic commuters seeking a free ride home through the new service.
The city government has partnered with the Indonesian tourist board and the Historia Community to provide a historical precis of the sites along the bus routes.
"Our buses are equipped with GPS and the audio systems can also be computerized," Arie said. "Later on, we will use an automatic audio system [that will provide information] based on the [buses'] positions."
The Jakarta Tourism Agency officially counted 2.29 million tourist visits last year, an eight percent increase on the 2012 figure of 2.1 million.
The Jakarta administration spent Rp 17 billion ($1.4 million) to purchase the fleet of buses from China. It plans to expand the program to include as many as 20 buses in the near future.
The city administration so far this year received a total of 656 buses from China, mostly for an expansion of the Integrated City Busway (BKTB) program. However, less than a month into their use, 10 BKTB buses and five TransJakarta buses were found to be unfit for use, prompting an investigation into alleged corruption in the city's procurement process.