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Lessons from the Back of a (Jakarta) Taxi

I’m typing this on my phone from the back of a taxi as it weaves through Jakarta’s notorious traffic jams, with unlimited data roaming at S$15 a day.

It’s always refreshing to leave Singapore and travel beyond its tiny shores. Don’t get me wrong – I love my birth/home city/country, but it’s gotten too predictable for me. I need inspiration to feel alive.

It was raining hard when I stepped out of the airport in Jakarta. The cab lines were all packed with only a trickle of cabs. The Singaporean in me compelled me to join the queue. The risk taker in me compelled me to take up the offer of a hustler. I could sense the enterprising gleam in his eyes. His strong command of English and demeanor hinted at his intelligence. I took a leap of faith.

I boarded a private car at the Departure floor with my new hustler friend. My taxi driver was in the back seat. We exited the airport to a nearby gas station where I was kept dry with an umbrella as I transferred to a metered taxi. There was no haggling, no extra or hidden fees. I paid for the ride by the meter, and did not get ripped off. The lady driver was especially polite. I got out of the airport way quicker than I could have if I stayed put.


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I later learnt that an airport sticker was needed for taxis to legitimately enter the airport to pick up passengers. There’s apparently been a lockdown on new stickers, so the local folks got creative and formed collectives to get more business. Supply meets demand.

In Singapore, cab drivers would just line up in a row, queue and wait for their turn to pick up a passenger that would pay them S$15 − 30 for a 15 − 30 min ride. I just paid IDR 90,000 (S$11.44) to a member of a hardworking cab collective for a longer and further ride in Jakarta. Awesome!

Rush hour in Jalan M.H. Thamrin, Central Jakarta CBD.

Rush hour in Jalan M.H. Thamrin, Central Jakarta CBD – courtesy of Charles Wiriawan

It’s not just a larger and more homogenous market that makes Jakarta and Indonesia compelling. It’s the inherent chaos that leaves plenty of breathing room for entrepreneurs and investors to be inspired and take action. I look forward to 3 days of inspiration, learning and sharing.

James ChanLessons from the Back of a (Jakarta) Taxi

Comments 3

  1. Joe Rouse

    Drink deeply of that well. Spontaneity and the Butterfly Effect are in full force!

  2. Pingback: More Lessons from the Back of a (Jakarta) Taxi | motochan

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