If you have spent time in Jakarta, then you will have seen many a bajaj (pronounced baj-ai). Usually painted in a bright orange, these three wheel vehicles are a common sight on the crowded roads of this bustling city. Bajaj are usually noisy and often (unfortunately) quite smelly; routinely expelling plumes of exhaust. Yet they are still an endearing sight as they compete with the volumes of traffic, buzzing as they go.
The humble bajaj originated in India, developed in conjunction with the Italian motorcycle company, Vespa. Later on, they were imported to Indonesia and eventually the construction of the bajaj transferred to Indonesia. In 2005, an estimated 20,000 bajaj were on the roads of Jakarta; weaving their way through the smaller streets (as they are not permitted on most main roads or toll roads).
However, the presence of the humble bajaj is in decline as their popularity has been negatively impacted by the availability of other modes of transport including taxis, buses and the recently updated *ojek services such as Go – Jek and Grab Bike. Moreover a rapidly increasing ‘middle class’ in Indonesia has resulted in more cars on the road (and therefore more *’macet – macet’ – but that’s another story!)
Based on the number of seats, bajaj are built to accommodate two passengers comfortably – but it is not an unusual sight to witness upwards of 3 passengers crammed in the back (smiling back at you!). Bajaj are limited in the area in which they can operate. On the side of the doors you will find a large circle that specifies the geographical area of operation, including Jakarta Barat, Jakarta Pusat, etc. The bajaj are not permitted to travel beyond their assigned area and due to the vehicles being limited to smaller streets, routes are often indirect.
Unlike riding on a motorbike, a bajaj will afford you some protection from the rain (unless it’s *’hujan besar’ and rain is bouncing off the roads straight into your lap!).
Riding in a bajaj can be pretty hot, as any cooling you experience is the result of AC alam (nature’s air conditioning). In general the ride is likely to be noisy, smelly (due to your close proximity to vehicle fumes), bumpy (due to poor suspension combined with the odd pot-hole), fear-generating (umm.. have you witnessed driving in Jakarta?.. don’t get us wrong, we love it here but eek! the way some people deal with the traffic is a little scary!!!) – but above all, we can guarantee you that your trip in a bajaj will be a smile-inducing experience.
(Note: Although there have been police sweeps since 2012 to remove old, non-licensed bajaj off the road, many poorly maintained bajaj are still evident on the roads of Jakarta).
Some general common sense advice when using a bajaj:
Always keep valuables out of sight (tuck bags into the centre of the bajaj)
Avoid using your phone/ipad etc close to the side door
Keep arms, head (and legs!) inside the bajaj at all times.
In 2006 the Bajaj BBG was released in Jakarta. This more environmentally-friendly bajaj is identified by its blue colour. In general, Bajaj BBG tend to be less noisy, less smoky, and generally more comfortable than the traditional bajaj. In an attempt to reduce polluting emissions, the Bajaj BBG uses natural gas. They are mostly found in Jakarta Pusat (Jakarta’s City Centre) but are also evident in many of Jakarta’s southern suburbs. As a rule there isn’t much difference between the cost of a fare in a traditional bajaj as compared with a Bajaj BBG, but in the end the price you pay is dependent upon your bargaining prowess!
*Kenalkan Zaenal Abidim – Bajaj Driver
Bapak Zaenal Abidim
Where are you from?
Tegal, Central Java
Where do you live now?
I rent a room in Kemang in Jakarta’s south.
What is the busiest time of the day for you?
It is unpredictable – sometimes the mornings when people need to go to work or to school. Sometimes during the day when people need a ride home from the supermarket.
What hours do you work?
I start at 6 o’clock in the morning and most days I finish at 9 o’clock at night.
How long have you been driving a bajaj?
I have been driving a bajaj for the past 20 years.
Do you enjoy your job?
Yes I do. I can be my own boss and work when I want.
Does anyone else in your family drive a bajaj?
Yes, my brother used to drive a bajaj but because there are now more options for public transport, he stopped driving. Many people now like to take taxis or use the new ojek companies such as ‘gojek’ or ‘grab-bike’ and this has taken a lot of business away from us. Also some people find bajaj’s to be too noisy and smelly.
Do your own your bajaj?
No I rent it from the owner for a fee.
Do you have regular customers?
No I don’t.
Who are your customers?
Mostly local people and some expats.
How much for a trip?
This depends on where you want to go and the distance. (it is always advisable to negotiate the cost before accepting the ride. If you are not sure on how much you should pay, it is a good idea to speak to a local person who regularly uses bajaj and ask them how much they would pay for a similar trip).
What is the most interesting trip you have made in your bajaj?
There was once a customer that brought a big trumpet (euphonium?) on his trip. It could not fit into the bajaj so finally we tied it on the roof.
Any negative experieces?
I once gave a ride to a drunk customer who did not pay.
*Ojek: unlicenced motorcycle taxi, which is a very common transport option in Indonesia
*Macet-macet: traffic jams (which are becoming increasingly common with the excessive number of vehicles on the road and the lack of efficient road systems)
*Hujan besar: big rain (ie, torrential rain which generally occurs during ‘Musim Hujan – the Wet Season)
*Kenalkan: let me introduce
Words: Jo Photography: a journey bespoke