By: Dewi Kurniawati

Indriaty Octarina was enraged when she found out that her favorite mode of transport, the popular Uber-style motorcycle taxi service Go-Jek, was temporarily declared illegal by Indonesian transport minister Ignasius Jonan last week until President Joko Widodo was forced to step in and countermand the order.

As a worker who must go through the traffic hell from her home to office located in the Jakarta Stock Exchange building in South Jakarta every day, the news struck her like a thunderbolt, she said.

“I use Go-Jek every day because it is faster and cheaper to go anywhere with it. Taxi fare is just too expensive, and public transportation is just not safe or comfortable. What should we do now?” she asked Asia Sentinel.

Shock for Commuters

The news that Jonan had announced a ban on app-based transportation in any form – including Go-Jek, Grabbike and Uber – shocked not only Indriaty but most of the Indonesian public.  Although the minister indicated that the ban had legal standing, nobody could understand why a ban was suddenly put in place on ojeks, or private motorcycles being used as public transportation, after millions of people, especially those in big cities, have used them for years.

But the new app-based transport, especially Go-Jek, with its vetted and uniformed operators, who are trained to be polite, is cutting dramatically into traditional taxi and motorcycle services – and even hitting major transportation firms including those whose transport segments run from taxis to containers to buses to heavy equipment in big cities across the country. It is these groups that are suspected of being behind the ban. And it illustrates the trouble that Jokowi has in keeping the traditional power structure exemplified by many of his ministers in line. 

“Calling on the National Police and regional governments to enforce the law on public transportation, under which the massively popular vehicle-hailing services like Uber and Go-Jek strictly speaking are illegal,” Jonan’s directive to the police said in announcing the ban.

Quick reversal

In this case, the popularity of the app-based services won out in dramatic fashion.  Users and supporters vented their anger through social media and within hours the uproar had become so loud that Jokowi had to intervene. Five hours after Jonan announced the ban, the president reversed it.

“I called Jonang and told him, ‘This is going to start a revolution. Do you want hundreds of thousands of ojek drivers at your office?'” said a prominent Indonesian businessman. “This was just so stupid. Thank goodness the president sorted it out.”

“Don’t let the people be burdened because of regulations,” Joko said on his official Twitter account, adding that regulations “need to be managed” and that he would “immediately” summon Jonan for talks.