Taxis offer an affordable and convenient way to navigate the mayhem that often characterizes the streets of many Indonesian cities, particularly Jakarta. Affordable? Yes, you don't need to worry about your cab fare to the airport costing the same as your plane ticket. Taxis are commonplace as well. You will not have to wait long to flag one down on any main road, and they are always to be found queuing for passengers at major hotels and shopping malls. The only time when it may be difficult to find a taxi is during heavy rainfall.
Taxis can be ordered by phone, though you might end up waiting a while for some of the smaller companies. Using a taxi in Indonesia does present its own special problems, however.
First of all, you are likely to find yourself stuck in the ubiquitous ‘macet' or traffic jam, a feature of most large Indonesian cities. Exact distances from A to B count for little when you are crawling along at 10 kmh, so allow plenty of time to get to that appointment. Also, due to fuel price rises here (and more seem likely), a somewhat confounding variation in taxi-fare systems came into existence. Things do seem, however, to have worked themselves out for the moment but expect more confusion in the future. In Jakarta, where taxis are far more numerous than other cities, flag-fall (starting) rates for taxis marked with 'Tarif Bawah' (Low fare) or 'Tarif Lama' (old fares) are Rp 6,000 (US$0.50) rising Rp 3,000/km.
Blue Bird Group
The most reputable company is the Blue Bird Group of taxis (Blue Bird is not only the well-known and familiar light-blue taxi with the flying bird logo, inside a shield. There are several subsidiaries in the group, all with similar light blue colors: Morante, Cendrawasih and the Pusaka Group taxi have metallic blue cars with a logo of a blue flying egg inside the shield. Pusaka Lintas and Pusaka Satria have the same logo as Pusaka Nuri - also the flying egg. Pusaka Sentra, Pusaka Biru, Pusaka Banten and Pusaka Prima are the latest members of the Pusaka Group of taxis) and are in Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, Bali, Lombok and Cilegon. They have the largest fleet, are prompt when ordered by phone and employ drivers who are usually professional and often competent in basic English. They have an upmarket taxi too, the Silverbird (they're actually black, and most of them are Mercedes C Class vehicles), which is about 20 percent more expensive and can travel out of the city limits (something prohibited for other taxis).
The Express Group operates 10,000 taxis and is Blue Bird Group’s main competitor. While Blue Bird taxis have the higher ‘tarif baru’ fares, Express offers lower ‘tarif lama’ fares. Express cabs are white with a yellow roof light, emblazoned with a blue E. Beware of imitations – there are many white taxis done up to look like Express cabs but lacking the proper meters. Some Jakarta residents prefer Express over Blue Bird because of the lower meter rate and because they feel Express drivers are equally competent or even superior to Blue Bird drivers.
In September 2013, Blue Bird increased its flag fall in Jakarta to Rp 7,000 (US$0.58) rising Rp 3,600/km. Interestingly, some cities outside of Jakarta have slightly higher fares. Still, compared to Thailand, say, where the flag fall is about US$0.85, you're getting a good deal anyway. A taxi from the airport to the city center, for example, will cost you between Rp 100,000 to 180,000 (US$8-15), which ranks among the cheapest of any capital city in the world. Indonesian taxi drivers are, for the most part, decent enough drivers, honest and helpful but there are also many unscrupulous ones - particularly from fly-by-night taxi companies with older cars. Communication may be a problem, especially with the smaller companies, so it's a good idea to learn a few standard taxi phrases. ‘Pelan-pelan' (slowly slowly), and your left and right ('kiri' and 'kanan') could help for a start.
Check your 'argo'
Make sure your meter, often referred to as ‘argo' from argometer, is on and working properly. By law, drivers must use their meters in Jakarta but like many things in Indonesia, this is sometimes circumvented and a driver and passenger can come to an agreement on a price ('borongan'). This is more common in cities other than Jakarta and is generally better avoided. Now and again, unwary passengers will find upon arrival that the meter has not been turned on and then are asked to pay an exorbitant amount, or that the meter, while on, has been furiously galloping away running up a huge fare. Another trick is to be taken for a ride, quite literally, when a driver eschews the most direct route and takes a leisurely roundabout cruise instead. Try to have at least some idea about your destination. Incidents like this are not so common (it largely depends on you to be aware of your route, so if you don't know, ask a resident which ‘lewat' to take before getting in. If the driver thinks you don't know where you are going, it's a good chance you'll be taken for a ride). However, when these "rides" do occur it is often by taxi drivers who prey on hapless, sometimes inebriated, passengers who have just emerged from nightspots and entertainment venues. In this case, it's better to walk a 100 meters, find a main road and hail a cab driver that didn't see you come out of the pub.
Remain calm and vigilant
More worrying are the occasional reports of serious crimes like robbery and abduction. Again, these are largely isolated incidents, liable to happen in many of the world's large cities, and are best avoided by using a reputable company and remaining vigilant. Using taxis in Indonesia is generally safe, comfortable and inexpensive.
For Blue Bird Taxi, call (021) 7917-1234 or 794-1234 or 798-1001 for 24-hour reservations.
For Express Group taxis, call 500122 (for the Jabodetabek area) or +62 21 500122 (from a mobile phone).
Contributor: Nick Aarons