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Buses from Hell

Buses in Jakarta are not pretty. Indonesians do not beautify their transport like the Filipinos do their Jeepneys or the Pakistani’s their buses. One bus company in Jakarta probably has the ugliest buses and are the most hated sight for most of the city's motorists - the Metro Mini.

Metro Mini’s are a medium sized bus with plastic bucket seats tightly packed together on a dirty metal floor. They are painted bright orange, but are rarely washed, and each bus has its route number stuck on the front window.

Being privately owned, Metro Minis are rented out by the day. They compete against each other plying the same route. The driver and conductor earn what is left from the day's takings, minus diesel and the daily rental fee. They are usually responsible for any damage done to the bus whilst they rent it.

So Metro Minis have broken lights, bits of metal hanging from them and cracked passenger windows - a dirty orange death trap that is cramped, hot, cheap and incredibly fast.

I nicknamed them the “Bullet Bus.” Some enterprising crews name them too, putting crude stickers in the back window. I have seen one Metro Mini with a huge ‘jablay” sticker in the back, Jablay meaning a cheap prostitute in Indonesian.

One trademark of the ‘Bullet Bus’ crew is that they pick passengers up all along their route and drop them off anywhere, usually without stopping. So passengers jump on and off the Metro mini, often in the middle of the road. They also race other Metro Minis that ply the same route for passengers.

Returning from one contract on a Friday evening, I sat in a taxi that was carefully following two racing Metro Minis. They were both racing side by side on the road, their conductors swinging out of the open passenger doors shouting their destination.

Fascinated, I watched them dodge lesser cars as they raced faster, cars behind us slowed down and a bigger gap appeared between us. Then one bus pulled in front of the other seeing a passenger, moments later they had crashed. The taxi I was in slowly passed both of them.

I could see a steady stream of visibly shaken, bleeding passengers jumping out of the first bus. The second Metro Mini just drove off, and I could see the driver had jumped out of the broken front window of the first bus and run away.

The taxi driver just continued on as if nothing had happened, and I could still see the Metro Minis driver running behind us, until he disappeared into a crowd on the sidewalk, leaving behind a badly damaged bus and injured passengers.

Every time I am stuck behind a Metro Mini, I remember that incident, and my fiancée wonders why I refuse to travel by bus?

by Mark W Medley

Copyright © 2008, Mark W Medley, City of Dreams: An extraordinary journey, inside the heart of Indonesia's capital - Jakartabooks about indonesia