Date Range
Sort by Relevant
A man stands with a rack of bicycles in front of a building outdoors
Jakarta, Indonesia

Dreams of a Breathable City: Curbing Air Pollution in Jakarta

It is very early in the morning. Cepi, a 50-year-old resident of Kampung Muka, Ancol, Pademangan, in North Jakarta, Indonesia takes out the two bicycles that he will rent out to the main square in Kota Tua, the Old Jakarta area in Tamansari, West Jakarta. 

His eyes wander and he stares at people passing by. His eyes also follow the smoke he puffs up while sitting under a tree in front of the Fatahillah Museum. 

Cepi is one of many bike rentals in the area. Soon after, the people walking around the area are replaced by cars cruising the roads around the square. The smoke coming from vehicles passing in front of him distracts him.

“They say this area is a Low Emission Zone (LEZ), but I do not see any change. Cars still roam around,” said Cepi, who also heads the vintage bicycle owners’ association in Kota Tua told Republika a while ago.

Born and raised on the border between northern and western Jakarta, Cepi said that conditions in Kota Tua and its surrounding areas have mostly stayed the same.

The LEZ regulation has not restricted vehicular traffic or pollution. 

“LEZ and the revitalization of Kota Tua are indeed commendable. But when it comes to pollution, there doesn’t seem to be any change at all,” he said.

Susi, 39, has a different opinion. This resident of West Tebet next to the Tebet Eco Park complains about traffic jams and pollution.

Even though there is the Tebet LEZ, she says, it is not wide enough and is only carried out a few days a week.

“So yes, the green area is not evenly distributed compared to the number of passing vehicles, except for weekends. But the rest is the same,” said Susi. 

Two police transit officers next to two signs
Transportation agency officers stand guard during the implementation of a low emission zone in the Tebet area, Jakarta on Sunday, September 11, 2022 / Credit: Putra M. Akbar for Republika.

Jakarta administration established two LEZ areas to reduce pollution in Kota Tua and Tebet. In the Kota Tua area, which is mostly a pedestrian area, the LEZ covers the streets of Pintu Besar Utara, Kali Besar Timur, Kunir and Kemukus, and Lada. TransJakarta buses and electric vehicles are exempted from the ban. Motorized vehicles such as motorbikes and cars are prohibited in that area.

Meanwhile, the Tebet Eco Park LEZ is only in effect on weekends and covers two streets, Tebet Timur Raya and Tebet Barat Raya.

With millions of vehicles crowding the streets in Jakarta’s 661.5 square kilometers, the Indonesian capital still has a long way to go green. Cepi and Susi are just a few residents of the Greater Jakarta area who complain about the lack of change and worsening air quality. They hope for gradual and tangible improvements in air quality through better enforcement.

The Jakarta Transportation Office, which oversees LEZ and transportation in Jakarta, faces difficulties curbing pollution. Its head, Syafrin Liputo, admitted that LEZ implementation requires a more orchestrated approach.

“To evaluate air quality more comprehensively, it is suggested that the relevant offices conduct regular air quality measurements,” Liputo said.

However, he is proud to share that PM 2.5 (dust) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) levels have decreased in the Kota Tua area. Liputo explains that the SO2 content dropped to 49 on the last day of the trial in mid-February 2021. PM 2.5 dropped to 18 at the end of the trial.

The Air Pollution Standard Index (ISPU) in Kota Tua dropped from 53-58 before February 8 that year to 49 by the end of the month.

“This good news can be the basis for expanding the LEZ to other areas of the city,” he continued. 

However, no similar air quality measurement was conducted at the Tebet Eco Park. This is despite his office’s coordination of the use of a low-cost sensor to measure the area last November.

“Regarding traffic management in the Tebet Eco Park area, the evaluation focused on the number of visitors,” he explained. 

Liputo claims that air quality has improved in both Kota Tua and Tebet Eco Park. However, independent monitoring by Republika between December 11 and 17 of 2022, using the Breezo Air Quality Meter, showed a drastic decline in air quality.

On Sunday December 11, the ISPU in Kota Tua around Jalan Kunir Post Office No 2, stood at around 57 (moderate). It dropped to 51 from Monday until Thursday. But on Friday December 16 the figure jumped to 62 and to 66 on Saturday.

Jakarta’s administration admits that efforts to reduce pollution need to be improved. Moreover, Jakarta’s vehicle count has increased steadily in line with economic growth and development. 

The Jakarta Health Office head, Widyastuti, says high pollution levels affect breathing. However, she emphasizes that the number of sufferers of acute respiratory infection (ISPA) and other respiratory diseases in Jakarta remains normal. 

“So far, the numbers are under control, and that has become our benchmark, especially for children,” said Widyastuti. However, she did not give any detail about the regional data and the number of respiratory patients in Jakarta outside of Covid-19 sufferers, saying that it would need further study.

Widyastuti says monitoring is still based on visits to existing hospitals and health centers. 

“Regarding the patients, we look at them according to their geographical group. So far, the distribution of respiratory sufferers in each Jakarta area is relatively the same,” she explained.

Research by the European Society for Medical Oncology in Paris found that pollution causes cancer and respiratory infections. A study by WHO South-East Asia Journal of Public Health pointed out that air pollution and its effects are underreported. 

But the real impact is felt by the millions of people in Jakarta who breathe air containing pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

A 2020 study by the environment ministry titled "Analysis of cost benefits for fuel quality for economic initiatives in Indonesia 2010," showed that most PM2.5-related deaths were found in Jakarta, in particular, since 2010.

The number of fatalities averaged 36 per 100,000 people and continued to grow. The same research, in 2010, reported that direct medical expenses due to pollution would reach 60.8 trillion rupiah in 2020.

Data from the Jakarta Smart City—a regional public service agency under the Jakarta communication and information agency tasked with implementing the Smart City concept in the capital—found that acute and upper respiratory infections dominated in dozens of Jakarta sub-districts with an average case rate of 1,000 in each sub-district in 2017.

This condition was exacerbated by the rapid growth of motorized vehicles. 

Data from the Jakarta Central Statistics Agency (BPS), showed that from 17.6 million motorized vehicles in Jakarta in 2017, the number had grown to 20.2 million by 2020, or an annual addition of one million vehicles.

Of the total number of vehicles in 2021, around 75.92% were motorcycles, 18.89% were cars, 3.61% were trucks, and 1.57% were buses and other types of vehicles.

The agency said Jakarta’s private cars have remained at 2.7 million since 2018. 

However, until December 16, 2022, only around 768,881 cars and 67,322 motorcycles had undergone emissions tests. It remains unclear how many passed or failed the tests. 

 Woman taking pictures
Visitors take pictures with art installations at the #IniJakarta 2022 Festival in the Kota Tua area on Saturday, September 17, 2022 / Credit: Putra M. Akbar for Republika.

Head of DKI Jakarta Environment Office (DLH), Asep Kuswanto said his office had completed the Air Pollution Control Strategy (SPPU) which included controlling air pollution from upstream to downstream. 

“(The SPPU) includes developing and revising policies, monitoring, and law enforcement,” said Kuswanto.

Kuswanto said the Jakarta government needs assistance to implement the strategy and has sought cooperation agreements with the surrounding areas.

“So currently, the Jakarta administration is drafting a cooperation agreement with the City of South Tangerang (Tangsel) and the City of Bekasi,” he said.

He said he would ensure other regions would participate. Kuswanto also said that Jakarta is seeking to hold joint emission testing and formulation of sustainable policies with these regions.

Head of South Tangerang City Environmental Office Wahyunoto says he welcomes and fully supports air quality improvement in the broader Jakarta area. He adds that South Tangerang has the lowest pollution level but suffers severe pollution impacts.

“We regularly support emission tests for motorized vehicles,” said Wahyunoto, adding that he hopes such collaborations will continue in the future.

Deputy Mayor of Bogor, Dedie Rachim, acknowledges that many residents across the greater Jakarta area use private vehicles which contribute to pollution.

The Bogor City administration is pushing for the use of KRL (electric commuter trains—red), which can be integrated as one of the transportation options between Bogor and Jakarta.

He urges the central government to integrate rail-based local transportation in each region into a single network.

“We want to practice it right away. The goal is to reduce dependence on private vehicles in the community,” he explained. 

Yayat Supriatna, an urban planning observer from Trisakti University, believes that as long as various activities are still concentrated in Jakarta, it will be difficult to curb or eliminate pollution.

“Just enforce the rules. So if motorized vehicles are not allowed somewhere, don’t let them enter. Restrictions are critical to ensure rules are followed,” said Supriatna.

He welcomed Jakarta’s collaboration with regional administrations around the capital as a positive plan. However, he added that provisions must be mutually binding and better mass public transportation facilities are needed. 

Certainly, a scenario must be more assertive, and cannot be done half-heartedly, and the form and indicators of achievement must also be measurable. 

Transportation observer from the University of Indonesia Ellen SW said it is necessary to evaluate air quality measurements when implementing LEZ policies in an area. 

She criticizes the Jakarta administration for not doing this essential thing.

“That’s the first. Second, there must be clear prohibitions and sanctions against passing vehicles. It needs supervision and clear signs,” said Ellen.

She also urged that pollution reduction efforts evaluation results must be published, adding that disclosure is critical. “So it’s not just being punished. The government must have milestones,” she said.

This story was produced with support from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network. It was first published in Bahasa Indonesia by Republika on December 30, 2022, and republished by Ekuatorial in March 4, 2023. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: Cepi (51), a resident of Kampung Muka, Ancol, Pademangan, in North Jakarta who rents out bicycles in the main square in Kota Tua, Old Jakarta area in Indonesia / Credit: Zainur Mahsir Ramadhan for Republika.