Taxi Adventures

Originally uploaded by runasnaps

In most of the world’s big cities, it can be difficult to find a cab when you need one. Not in Jakarta. Step out onto the street at any time and you’re almost certain to see half a dozen.
There are exceptions, of course. Friday lunchtime is not good because most of the drivers will be at the mosque, or taking people there. Afternoon rush hours (but strangely not the morning rush) are bad for obvious reasons. But on the whole, finding a cab is not a problem. Fares are cheap too.
As with many other things in Indonesia, the problem is not quantity but quality. Even then, if you’re travelling a short distance and you know where you’re going then the quality won’t matter so much. You might also not be so choosy at those odd times when there are few cabs available.
But unless you want to take the scenic route to your destination, have a taste for loud Islamic music or have a fetish for unusual odours you will want to do some filtering before you step into that taxi. Luckily there is a well established pecking order in the quality of Jakarta cabs which follows in rough order of preference:

Silver Bird
These old Nissan Cedric limos are slightly more expensive than any other taxi, but they don’t stretch the Western wallet, even over long distances. Perhaps it’s just to confuse you, but these cabs are painted black. The silver is only in the lettering.
The Blue Bird Group also offers Golden Bird limos, which are a step up in quality from the Silver Bird, but Golden Birds have to be booked and are unmetered, so I don’t consider them to be a true taxi.
Silver Birds can be hailed on the street, but they generally roost at the ranks at the better quality hotels.

Blue Bird
The flagship of the Blue Bird Group. These are the ones to flag down. Blue Bird drivers are generally polite, knowledgeable and well presented. The company sets a high standard and will actually follow up a complaint (if you noted the driver’s number).
The Blue Bird is in such demand by passengers that many other taxi companies disguise themselves in the pale blue livery, hoping to lure myopic passengers.
Most international hotels have a Blue Bird rank and they also have ranks at some of the bigger office and shopping buildings.

I’ve found these to be just as good as the average Blue Bird, but they’re far less common. There is a rank at Blok M Plaza.

When they first came out, all green and shiny, I thought they would be serious competition for Bluebird. Things soon went downhill from there. This is one taxi firm I would actively avoid. Maybe things have improved lately, they would need to.

Kosti Jaya
Actually, I’ve usually enjoyed my rides in a Kosti cab. It’s been a long time since I have, though. I don’t know why, I have them impression they’re a bit old-fashioned. I almost expect to see lace curtains when get into one of these cabs.

BlueBird Wannabes
I always feel guilty when I’m trying to hail a decent cab on the streets of Jakarta and have to wave off numerous cabs from inferior companies. The worst time is when I think I’ve spotted a nice Bluebird because of the colour of the cab only to realise my mistake when it draws close. Don’t be fooled by the ‘Bluebird Group’ sign you often see in the window of some non-Bluebird taxis. They may belong to the same group of companies, but they are managed separately.

How can you not want to ride in a pink cab with a girl’s name? Well, after a few experiences, I don’t.
When these cabs first hit the streets, I’m told, there would be a book of photos on the back seat for you to choose the girl you want to be taken to. I don’t know if ALL the business was transacted there. Judging by the condition of the cabs, maybe it was. In any case, that service was soon discontinued. Now it’s just a very poor quality cab service. There is a Tiffany rank outside Mangga Dua Mal. Make alternative transport arrangements.

Most of the stories you will hear concerning Jakarta cabs will involve Prestasi cabs. Some of them are actually quite clean and with well mannered drivers, but don’t expect it. With their powder blue colouring, they fall under the bluebird wannabe category, but most of them are so beaten up you’re unlikely to mistake them for a real Bluebird.

Tarip Lama
This translates as ‘old rate’. It means the cabbie hasn’t taken his car in to the government taxi centre to get the meter updated to the new fare rates. It’s not out of generosity, it can be expensive to do this whenever the rates change. Firstly, there is the official fee, then the bribes to the officials to get them to do the job, then consider all that time waiting when he could be sitting at a rank!
Indonesians make a virtue of necessity, and so the fact the meter is unchanged is advertised by the sign ‘tarip lama’ in the window. Cabs which would have been waved past are now a prized catch. For the Western traveller, the price difference is insignificant.

Cab ranks
In my experience, cabbies who sit around all day in a rank are useless creatures with little initiative. The rank attracts fools who’re too lazy to seek out their own fares and inexperience drivers who don’t know the streets well enough. I much prefer to hail a cab off the street unless I’m leaving a nice hotel.

If nobody is picking you up from the airport, you have some choices, depending on the time you arrive. As you leave the enclosed area of the terminal, you will see a long line of cabs from different companies. If you arrived at a busy time and the cabs of the standard you want aren’t available, you can go back into the arrivals hall and book a limo from one of the booths you passed before at a set price. Don’t let them force you to take an expensive one. The prices are more than a normal cab, but still quite affordable.
If you’re still not satisfied, you can go downstairs (upstairs?) to where people are being dropped off and just jump into a cab that’s just set someone down. If you choose this option, you need to be quick and decisive as the officials don’t like you doing this.
If you think it’s a bit expensive to be taking taxis tens of kilometres to the city, there is always the bus. It’s not as bad as it sounds, but it will drop you off at Gambir train station. Finding a decent taxi from Stasion Gambir can be an adventure all to itself.

Having read all of this, can you the reader tell me if the taxi in the photo is a bluebird?


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4 Responses to “Taxi Adventures”

  1. Glen Kohatsu Says:

    Hello, I am currently doing some research for a post that I’m typing for my own website. I have found this article extremely useful and I would like to enquire if I can link to your article as it will be of great interest to my viewers? Kind regards.

    • aboutindo Says:

      Hi Glen,
      Welcome to WordPress (says me who’s only been on 2 weeks). I have no problem with you linking to my site and if I need to do anything from this end, please let me know.
      I’m looking forward to reading some of your stories. Best wishes.

  2. Garry Class Says:

    Cool blog post, was wondering if you would allow me to link to it in a post i am currently creating for my own website? Thanks

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