An Adventure on Jakarta’s Commuter Line

Confession: as someone who has spent her entire life in Jakarta, I have never been on Jakarta’s commuter line. Even though it has been around since 2008, reports of overcrowding to the point that illegal passengers sit on rooftops along with every normal parents’ protective reaction about those reports have kept me off the train.

But a couple of weeks ago, when I was required to travel from Tangerang to South Jakarta for a charity event’s on-site survey at a low cost, there was no other choice of transportation modes apart from the commuter line. And that’s how I – along with my crew of five women and one man – ended up on the train.

Our adventure started at 1 PM from Tangerang Station. After looking up information on commuter line maps, trying to figure out where we should get off or switch trains, we figured that we had to get on the Tangerang-Duri line, make the switch to the Duri-Manggarai line, then make another switch to the Manggarai-Depok line, getting off at Tanjung Barat station as instructed by the guys at the charity event’s site. We relied on Google to teach us how the whole commuter line system works so when we arrived at the station, we had no idea where to even buy the tickets.

Commuter line map

After asking a security guard and being completely guided by her to get the single-ride pass for IDR14.000 from a ticket vending machine, we tapped them on a scanner, went through the gates and got on the platform. I was a bit surprised to find the station and its platforms clean without any street vendors milling about – a complete opposite of the image of Indonesian train stations etched into my brain since childhood.

My team and I couldn’t find any seats in the train, so we stood in the fairly empty unisex car of the train. At this point, we were still excited about the trip, joking around at the station’s names and the way the announcers said them. The train car itself was cooled with AC. There were maps printed well on its ceiling linings, advertisement boards and TV. There were also handrails for standing passengers. No eating and drinking was tolerated inside the train to keep it clean.

My expectations of a dirty, congested, sweltering train car was pleasantly different from the reality.

Inside the commuter line (image not mine)

After 1.5 hours, we got to Duri Station and once the train came to a complete halt, a mob of ladies pushed the passengers trying to get off for them to get in. Once we finally got past those women, we speed-walked to Platform 2 where our next train was supposed to be departing from. When we got to the train car, this conversation happened before we got on.

“Is this the train leaving for Manggarai?” I asked the man with a thick moustache and a white train official’s uniform.

“Yes,” he said in reply.

And just then, the train’s doors shut and it started going.

We were completely stunned, thinking “did that just happened? But the train is going to open its doors again now right? It’s not really leaving now?” It was only when the train actually started speeding out of the stations that we realized that yes, that had just happened and the train was leaving without us.

We stared in silence at the train for a moment before frantically stopping security guards at the station and asking them when the next train to Manggarai was going to arrive. To our excitement, one of them said “10 minutes.” We stood at the platform with high hopes, waiting for the next train.

10 minutes later, a train stopped at the platform. The announcer’s voice rang out through the speaker. “The train for Jatinegara has just arrived at Platform 2. Please proceed to Platform 2 if you’re going to Jatinegara.”

There goes our hopes to make up some lost time. I wanted to be mad at the security guards telling us that we only needed to wait for 10 minutes, but the security guard had changed shifts by then. We asked another security guard who told us that it was actually 30 minutes from that exact moment we asked him that another train to Manggarai would arrive.

I was stressed out. I told the guys at the charity event site that we would arrive no later than 4 PM. It was 3 PM and we were still at Duri Station.

We spent what felt like the longest 30 minutes eating the lunch we had packed for the trip, talking to security guards and some other people on the platform, eyeing the women inside the same train car we had just got off from angrily because if they hadn’t pushed us around we would have caught the first train.

When we finally got on the train to Manggarai 30 minutes later, we were tired and tense. This train was a lot more crowded than the previous one and we stopped for a while at Tanah Abang Station. I thought I’d finally get a chance to sit at this train when I managed to speed to an empty seat just as someone got off at the station when this mob of older ladies in their 40s got on. They were eyeing me warily as if wanting me to get up for them to sit, but I thought “no way was that going to happen. They can stand. They’re capable of it.” But then a mother carrying her child got on and my conscience wouldn’t let me sit while she stood. As I got up with several others of my seated friends, the older ladies also took the seat and they said to me, “why didn’t you give up the seat for me earlier? I’m older.”

The Lord was testing my patience that day. There was no other explanation for how I didn’t yell at her or slap her for that.

I stood the rest of the train ride, my legs tired from more than 2 hours of standing. The train also got more congested to the point that there was literally no personal space between people. When we got to Manggarai Station, we got off because the train we were on was going to take us to Bogor.

As we ran to the security guards to find out on which platform the train to Depok was to leave from, they pointed at the train we just got off from and said “that’s your train.”

We were stunned. Not again.

“The train to Depok is the same one as the train to Bogor.”

At this point, we were tired and somewhat desperate. “When’s the next train?” I asked. “30 minutes from now.” Our shoulders slumped. We decided to try and get a cab from an app.

Two minutes after that, another train stopped and the security guards exclaimed to us, “Hey you, going to Depok! That’s your train right there! You’re lucky!”

We were indeed. We ran off to the train, thanking them and stood for a couple more minutes until we arrived at Tanjung Barat Station. The station was a small one and it turned out, smaller stations meant less time for the train to stop. Thankfully, this one huge muscular guy helped clear the way for us to the train doors so we had enough time for everyone to get off. We thanked him for that because even with his help, one of my team members was nearly left behind. We tapped our cards and got to the refund counter to get our IDR10.000’s worth of travel insurance refunded.

We spent about two hours at the site talking to the guys there and with cab rides and all, got back at Tanjung Barat Station at 7 PM to get back home. We were too tired to remember just how small the time window to get on the train was and I was nearly squished by the train doors trying to get on. My legs were tired from all the standing on the train ride but there were still no seats available.

Fortunately, we remembered to make the switch at Duri Station, but getting to our Duri-Tangerang train meant we had to cross the railroad tracks. The 8 PM train was also the last one so we were a bit scared to be left behind (again). One of my friends nearly got hit by a train because she didn’t look to the right while crossing the railway while I saw the headlights from the side of the tracks and screamed at her to stop.

That woke us up and gave us an adrenaline rush.

I was incredibly relieved when I discovered the train was largely empty and most of the seats were empty. I sat, leaned back, and watched other tired-looking women on the train. There were security guards on the train pacing back and forth which was good since a lot of people were too tired from their day and dozed off on their seats.

At 9 PM, we finally arrived at Tangerang Station with the cool announcer’s voice wishing us a good night and a good sleep, tapped the rail pass and refunded the insurance money. I was incredibly exhausted by the time and desperate for a cab ride to my place, a meal, and some sleep.

All in all, I was pleased to have my expectations of a congested, dirty, unsafe train shattered by that train ride. Yes, it was congested during rush hour but there were no illegal passengers riding on rooftops, no vendors inside the train, and it wasn’t that bad as crowded as it was. For IDR8.000 for a round-trip, I got my money’s worth. I also discovered that there were still some nice people in Jakarta even though there were really annoying ones as well. And yes, older women on trains turned out to be the most horrible people in Jakarta.

If you’re looking to ride the commuter line anytime soon, here are my tips:

  • Watch your belongings! Even though there are security guards on the train, they can’t move around too much when it’s congested so pickpockets can easily target you. Keep your bags and valuables in front of you at all times.
  • Learn your maps and routes – this will pay off really well. Google information, look up ticket prices, study the maps. Know your commuter line.
  • For crying out loud, don’t push anyone getting off the train when you’re trying to get on. This is really annoying and can make people miss trains.
  • Be courteous, use your manners. Give up your seat for mothers with children, pregnant women, and elderly citizens. And if you can still stand, don’t make anyone give up a seat for you. (Yes, I’m talking to you, fellow women. Don’t excuse yourself as a “weak woman” to make people give up their seats for you)



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