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Taking a taxi can often be a viable alternative to using a personal car. The advantages include: never having to worry about finding a parking space, never having to worry about if the driver shows up, and never paying for insurance, gas or repairs.
Many taxi firms are licensed by the Indonesian government, so taxis are readily available. On major roads in Jakarta you will probably be able to flag down a taxi. The few exceptions are during periods of heavy rain or rush hour when the demand is exceptionally high.
Where to Find Taxis
Taxis can be found in pangkalan (taxi queues) at malls and hotels, or flagged down off the street with a wave of your hand. It is also customary to send your household staff or Satpam to a nearby main road and they'll bring a taxi back to the house for you. Alternatively, you can phone the taxi company and they'll send a taxi to your home. There is often a minimum charge for taxis ordered by phone.
Depending on where you live and the time of day, ordering by phone may not be as quick as flagging one down off the street. But if you are willing to wait, you can be assured of getting a taxi from a reputable company. If you can determine which taxi company has its “pool” closest to your point of departure. You'll probably get a taxi much quicker from them.
At the wave of your hand the taxi driver may flash his lights, slam on the brakes or stop dead in the middle of the road to pick you up. Others give you calm, curb-side service. Many times, preferential treatment is actually given to expats who have a reputation for tipping well; if there are several Indonesians nearby trying to flag down a taxi, the driver often chooses to pick up the expatriate instead. Not fair, but nice when you're rushing home to your family after a hard day's work or trying to get out of the rain/heat!
You can save the numbers for your favorite taxi companies in your hand phone and order the taxi by SMS or download the taxi reservation app to your smart phone to place your taxi reservation request.
What are the Good Taxi Companies?
There are several reputable taxi companies, ones you can be sure offer good service and safer drivers. These include Silver Bird, Blue Bird, Eksekutif, Transtaxi, Express, Taxiku,Steady Safe, Kosti Jaya and others. The Silver Bird is the Queen of Jakarta's taxi companies; the original big black cars were imported for use by the heads of state during the Non-Aligned Movement Conference in Jakarta in the mid-90s, but have now been mostly replaced with Mercedez E and C class cars. Alphard vans have also been added to the fleet which are great if you are traveling with a group of people or a larger family. The public can take advantage of all that space and luxury, at a higher rate than other taxis, of course. Silver Bird taxis are most easily located at five-star hotels or you can call for home pick up as well. They're especially nice for a trip to the airport as they have huge trunks to hold big suitcases. Silver Bird can also be rented for out-of-town trips to Anyer, Carita, Pelabuhan Ratu, Bandung, and beyond.
Taxis are recognizable by their colors - black for Silver Bird, white for Express and White Horse, green for Gamya and blue for Blue Bird, Steady Safe and Kosti Jaya. The 'least loved' taxis for years were the President taxis which were yellow and red. They have had a reputation for illegally speeding up their meters, reckless driving and dilapidated taxis. Since late 1998, the President taxis have attempted to camouflage/upgrade their identity through the repainting of their taxis blue and using the new company name 'Prestasi'. There are, however, also a few nice President taxis, driven by very friendly, polite, safe drivers. Batavia, Centris, Sri Medali, Royal City and Dian are other taxi companies that operate in Jakarta. Although they lack the good reputation that some of the other companies have, if you are standing at the side of the road in the rain, you may have to take one of these. So there is no hard and fast rule.
What Problems Could You Anticipate?
The foremost fear of newcomers is not being able to explain in Bahasa Indonesia where they want to go to the driver. Solutions are: use the Silver Bird taxis whose drivers speak some English, write down the address on a piece of paper and have your household staff be sure the driver knows your destination before you leave the house or use the taxi's radio operator to translate to your driver as the radio operators usually speak fair English. Obviously the long term solution to this problem is to learn Bahasa Indonesia!
Some taxi drivers do not like to go into congested areas or streets notorious for traffic jams, so be sure the driver knows your destination before you get into the taxi and make sure that he agrees to take you there.
One uncomfortable situation is when you sit down to find that the seat is soaking wet. This happens when the taxis leak during heavy rains or drive through flooded areas or have undiapered babies as previous passengers. Send those taxis off and find another one or be prepared to get out with a big wet patch on your bottom!
While in the past you probably wouldn't have been too worried about being robbed in a taxi, unfortunately it's becoming a more common occurrence. However, even more common is the taxi drivers that get robbed by passengers! It used to be common in the 70s for petty thieves to snatch jewelry or purses out of open car windows, but the prevalence of air conditioning (and thus closed windows) nowadays has pretty much prevented those crimes.
Before entering a tax, check the floor near the front seat to see that there is no one hiding there. Upon entering, lock all the doors; this is a very obvious sign to the driver that you are concerned about your safety. DON'T allow the taxi driver to stop and pick up other passengers or even talk to his 'friends' along the side of the street. In some taxi robberies the driver stopped the car to talk to friends that he “just happens to see on the side of the street”, and then the friends jump in the taxi and rob the passengers, together with the driver.
Accidents are certainly possible, though I have ridden in a taxi everyday for the last 13 years and only been involved in one fender bender. Despite the crazy way people drive, there are relatively few accidents in Jakarta. Streets in the countryside, or major toll roads between cities see lots of accidents, often caused by bus or truck drivers.
If you notice that your driver's argo (meter) has gone WILD, just get out and get another taxi. This will be hard to recognize, if you're going to a destination you've never been to before. But if you're familiar with the costs, don't be afraid to challenge the driver about the inflated reading.
Occasionally taxi drivers ask you to pay a set amount for the trip, borongan, instead of using the meter. You don't have to do this. If they insist, just get out and find another taxi. By doing this, the driver is able to cheat his employer out of a share of his day's income, because it doesn't show up on the meter reading.
A true danger is a driver who has no sense of safety on the street and sets your heart to racing with his speed, sharp turns, tailgating and reckless passing of other cars. Don't hesitate to tell the driver that you want him to slow down “Pelan-pelan saja Pak”, or to be more careful “Hati-hati Pak.” Another hazard with drivers is the driver who tends to push himself to drive for a straight 12 hours or even in some cases 24 hours. You inevitably see the driver's heavy eyelids droop, or feel the car slow down and speedup. Best to make some noise or, better yet, start conversing with the driver to help keep him awake.
As an extra safety precaution, when you are in the taxi call your husband or a friend on your hand phone and tell him/her in a loud enough voice for the driver to hear that you are on the way and give the taxi number. If the number is busy and no one answers, just talk anyway!
Paying for Taxis
At 'flag fall' the meter begins at Rp 7,000 and climbs Rp 3,600 each 1/10 of a kilometer; the 'waiting' rate is Rp 42,000/hour (July 2014)*. It increases at a slower rate for passing time, especially noticeable when you're stuck in a traffic jam. Most taxi drivers struggle to meet their daily setoran (rent). Especially with all the taxi companies putting new cars on the street, this is an ever more difficult task for the drivers.
*Tariffs for the Silver Bird "Executive Taxi" are higher than the Bluebird, and other taxies. At 'flag fall' the meter begins at Rp 15,000 and climbs Rp 6,800 each 1/10 of a kilometer. For Alphards the 'flag fall' is Rp 15,000 and climbs Rp 7,500 for each 1/10 of a kilometer.
Don't expect taxi drivers to be able to give change for large bills; carry enough small denomination rupiah notes (Rp 5,000, 10,000) to pay the fare. While tipping is not mandatory it’s a good idea to round the fare up to the nearest Rp 5,000 or Rp 10,000, which often solves the change problem as well.
Some taxis are equipped with electronic payment systems and can accept credit/debit cards. Silver Bird and Bluebird taxis accept vouchers, which can be subscribed to on the Bluebird Group website.
Valuable Cultural Experiences
Taking a taxi in Jakarta is a true cultural experience. The drivers have their hands on the pulse of Jakarta and can be the source of lots of helpful information. Ask your driver how he feels about events in the news, and you'll get some very interesting responses. These conversations offer the expatriate unique insight into how the Indonesian masses feel about social issues of the day.
Being caught in a traffic jam is a great time to try out your fledgling Bahasa Indonesia on your driver. You've got a captive audience!
Taxi drivers also know the greatest short cuts. Give your driver free reign occasionally and you'll learn invaluable new routes past traffic-prone areas. If you find a great taxi driver, you can often make an arrangement for him to pick you up on a regular basis, langganan, or ask for him by name when you call in for a taxi.
Better yet, if you have a car, hire that driver away from the taxi company -- and put him to work for your family :)
Being Taken for a Ride
Occasionally cabbies will try to talk to you and test you to see how much bahasa Indonesia you know. You'll hear them say something like ... “Sudah bisa bahasa Indonesia, Mister? Mister sudah lama di Indonesia, yoch?” He's actually testing you to see how long you've been here, and if you haven't been here very long, he could drive you around in circles before getting to your destination. Remember - the further the ride - the higher the meter goes! It seems like he's being friendly and making conversation, but watch out. Make sure you know the most direct way to your destination and then you tell the driver which way to go. Be aware however that there may be a longer faster way, or a “short cut” so if you are suspious in the driver's route choice, ask him where and why he is going that way.
Solutions: get to know Jakarta quickly and try to anticipate your routes before you leave home/the office so you can see if the driver is turning off it consistently (drivers, as a rule, can't read maps). Try to familiarize yourself as quickly as possible with Jakarta’s main streets and major landmarks, so that you will have an idea of whether or not the driver is taking a circuitous route. Consider downloading a GPS or map app to your smart phone so you can monitor where you are going.
At the very least learn to say your address in Bahasa Indonesia - including any major thoroughfares and local landmarks near your home to help give the driver a good idea of the location if it's a bit out of the way - and then just sit - you'll be amazed at the difference it makes.
Mini Glossary of Taxi-related Terms in Indonesian
Learn the basics for giving directions in Bahasa Indonesia in AWA's Words and Phrases.
Photo Credits: Bluebird Group. Photos may not be used without permission.
Last updated July 8, 2014
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