Batam Utilities & Services
By Indonesian standards, the utilities and services infrastructure in Batam (water, electricity, communications, health, education, transport services, etc.) generally is well developed and efficient.
As noted in other Batam articles (see above article on Batam Lifestyle), it was not so long ago that electricity blackouts and water outages were frequent occurrences.
The completion of an undersea natural gas pipeline from Jambi in Sumatra to provide cheap energy for electricity generation and the recent commissioning of a new gas-fired power station seem to have all but eliminated the power cuts, at least for the moment. Hopefully, this will continue as work is advanced (as of October 2008) on a second gas-fired generating plant.
New pumping and water treatment stations and a progressive upgrading of aging and inadequate main pipes are bringing greater reliability to water supplies. The water quality is good and the supply authorities claim it exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) standards. However, prudent householders still install storage tanks as an insurance against supply failures.
International telephone connections are available in established areas but continuing and rapid population growth means there are waiting lists for new installations in many districts and in some newly developed outer suburbs, no landlines are currently available.
Several telephone providers have introduced CDMA wireless phone systems, which interface with the landline backbone (at landline prices) in an effort to overcome the landline infrastructure strains. These systems also link with the more widely established GSM networks and provide for SMS and data-transmission services.
There is wide and generally efficient mobile phone coverage, but call charges are relatively expensive, particularly for long distance or international calls. (the authorities have taken some Indonesian mobile phone providers to court accusing them of price gouging.)
Recently (2007 and 2008) in Batam, crowded networks and insufficient channels have disrupted the mobile phone service offered by some of the major providers. It can be difficult to make or receive calls at busy times of the day.
Internet services have improved greatly with higher speed ADSL and wireless connections progressively taking over from basic dial-up systems. The ADSL services also suffer from congestion due to the heavy volume of users and are dependent on having a landline telephone connection. The services are generally adequate but fall well short of the high-speed broadband access available in nearby Singapore or in any Western nation.
Providers are recognizing the market opportunities and wireless Internet access at higher speeds is gradually becoming available.
Satellite television services provide access to English-language international channels and are relatively inexpensive. Most parts of the island also have good signals from around 15 free-to-air channels originating from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia with several transmitting English-language programs.
No English-language newspaper is published in Batam, but ‘The Jakarta Post' is available in Batam daily.
Getting around on Batam can be challenging, interesting, frustrating, educational, frightening and a lot of FUN - often all at the same time. It is very inexpensive compared with transportation costs in developed countries, but more expensive than some other Indonesian cities, including Jakarta.
There is no fully developed public transport system. The main modes of travel are taxis (official and unofficial), ‘ojek' (motorcycle taxis that you can hire to take you to your destination as a pillion passenger), privately operated minibuses and a few government operated buses. There are no ‘becak' or ‘bemo,' as are common in some Indonesian towns.
If you are patient and adventurous, there's also driving yourself, but this is not recommended for visitors or newcomers who have not had time to see how the chaotic and confusing traffic works or learn the decidedly unusual road systems. If you do decide to drive, then you need an International driver's license or a local license (known locally by its acronym, ‘SIM' [not to be confused with mobile phone SIM Card]), which is obtainable, like many other things, for a small fee.
It's no accident that there are really no facilities for rentals of cars or motorcycles, as a lot of local people earn their livelihood transporting visitors around the island.
Many foreign residents employ a full-time driver (often with his own car) and inexpensive full-day or half-day hire rates are available.
Most Indonesian drivers and motorcycle riders are patient and fairly courteous. The exceptions are a few crazies, usually young males on motorcycles or minibus privateers competing for fares.
Traffic moves quite slowly in the towns and this reduces the potential for serious accidents, but there are regular deaths and injuries, mainly involving motorcyclists.
A few taxi and minibus drivers and ojek operators speak reasonable English and others have very basic English-language skills - most speak very little or none.
You will never have trouble finding a taxi in Nagoya - they are everywhere!
Step out of your hotel, exit any shop or walk down any street and you will be offered taxis, taxis and more taxis.
Wait on any curb to cross the street and you will have a car glide up, perhaps beeping the horn and flashing its lights with the driver asking where you would like to go.
As you alight from a taxi at your destination and begin to walk inside there is every chance you will be offered yet another taxi! While it can become irksome, this intense competition means that prices remain competitive. Fares are by negotiation - there are no meters. There usually is a difference between the price offered to Indonesian locals and the visiting foreigners, particularly if you are ‘bule' (Westerner).
Sadly, there is nothing in Batam like the excellent metered taxi services in Jakarta and some other cities. Many of the cars offering taxi services are unlicensed opportunist privateers looking to pick up some money for gasoline.
Stand by any major street or road and within a couple of minutes a private minibus will roll up beeping the horn or flashing its lights. Give a hand signal or nod and they will pick you up.
The local authorities have undertaken a program of building bus stops and shelters over recent years, but there are still few designated stops and the minibuses will pick up people anywhere they stand.
You need to determine whether the bus is going where you want to go (sometimes not easy if you don't speak any Indonesian) and settle on the fare beforehand. Many minibuses have no indication on the outside of the vehicle as to their destination.
The minibuses are probably the main mode of transport for the local people because they are so exceedingly cheap, very convenient and very plentiful. Additionally, they are quite likely to be somewhat dilapidated, crowded and possibly hot and uncomfortable.
Drivers and their "crew" are generally courteous and helpful (though they may drive like lunatics) and very few speak much English. Fares are likely to be in the range of 3,000 to 5,000 rupiah.
This is probably not a recommended transport option for the short-term visitor, but quite an experience and a great way to meet the locals if you want to try something different. The people will perhaps be shy but quite welcoming, especially if you try to speak a little Indonesian.
A variation on the minibuses used extensively by the locals is multiple hiring or sharing of taxis. Usually this is offered by some of the privateers in older cars, but often a taxi returning from a destination to an outer area will offer the service to obtain fares on the way back.
You simply tell the driver you want to travel ‘tidak langsung' (which means "not direct" and implies that he is welcome to pick up other passengers). The driver will divert to nearby shopping centers and pick up and drop off passengers along the way until you reach your destination. The fare will be about the same as for a minibus and sometimes you might become part of a sizeable crowd!