Evening Out the Odd and Even Numbers

After ‘Brexit’ in the UK and another closer to home during the Eid holiday, it seems like the world hasn’t quite had enough. There was another ISIS attack on French National Day, with a third of victims found to be Muslims; Turkey military attempted a coup on authoritarian yet democratically-elected President Erdogan; Donald Trump was officially crowned as Republican Party’s presidential nominee a day after his wife’s speech was proven to have partially plagiarized from Michelle Obama in 2008.

Don’t you wish now that you’d hitched a ride to Jupiter with NASA Juno as they started the journey five years ago? Yeah.

Anyway, we can wallow in mutual misery, or try to catch something new in the horizon, something that may just bring better things into our daily lives. I’ve done my fair share on the first one, so I’m doing the latter this week. Ready to be positive?

The administration of province-city Jakarta is again throwing another experiment to curtail the city’s notorious traffic jams. As one can easily surmise, the root of the problem is horrible mass public transportation system that pushes commuters to owning private vehicles. The sidewalks are so patchy many prefer 3-minute vehicle ride than 15-minute brisk walk. The ones who can afford cars strive to own at least one. The ones with barely above minimum wage sometimes forego meals to afford 36-month installments on a motorbike, a vehicle that can’t even shield one from weather yet is still more practical than maneuvering the public transportation routes.

MRT is coming, but the initial lines to operate within 1-2 years will be simple, so something needs to be done in the meantime. Hence the plan to regulate entrance into Jakarta’s main downtown thoroughfares during rush hours on workdays, to substitute the years-long, ineffective, 3-passengers-in-a-car rule. The cars with license plate ending with an odd number can only enter on odd dates, while the ones ending with an even number are allotted even dates. The argument is commuters will be induced to ride on mass transportation or carpool.

Will they?

I’m a firm believer that a real change in habit requires incentives. What are the incentives for private car riders on this scheme now? Without drastic changes in availability, service and convenience by the time this policy is rolled over, the only incentive is the feel-good sentiment knowing that you’ve somewhat contributed to reducing traffic problems. Noble, yes. Sustainable? After experiencing daily frustration in hailing taxis every morning or during rain, or how carpooling doesn’t work out as nice when you have gym or grocery shopping after work, or once you start factoring fragile kids and aging parents on daily morning timetable —I doubt it is.

So people will start cheating the system. How? Not that difficult, really. People who own only one car can rent for rush hours, lease or buy a second car with opposite type of license plate number, or sell their car altogether to buy two cheaper cars. Will it be a burden to their budget? Yes. Is it impossible to achieve, especially with easy car loan schemes around? No.

People who own more than one car with same type of license plate numbers can swap or sell one car. People who own more than one car with both types of license plate numbers won’t even need to alter their mobility arrangements.

Heck, Uber may even consider altering their app to match license plates to assigned dates.

And those were just the legal way-outs; who’s willing to bet that fake license plates business won’t enjoy a little boon now?

I ran a semi-scientific poll among my networks. After weeding out 2 respondents who don’t commute to Jakarta’s main thoroughfares on weekdays, I got a few dozen valid responses. Two-thirds of respondents own one car, in which 60% (means 40% of total respondents) claim they’ll ride public or carpool on days not allotted to their car. Of the respondents owning more than one car, a whopping 80% (= 26.7% of total) happen to own cars with both types of license plates. If I were to use my small survey as a relaxed projection, the new scheme may alter riding habit of at least 40% but not more than 73.3% of the private car riders.

Not a shabby projection. Provided that respondents will continuously behave in the long run as they answer in a quick poll, that the income level of respondents owning one car doesn’t rise before public transport modes are much improved, that private car riders don’t start counting the sums of odd and even dates in a year, and a myriad of other ifs.

A market researcher pal wryly commented that my poll results were too optimistic. I replied that I was looking for a reason to be optimistic on the get go, hence a bit of bias. And I bet that’s also what’s on the mind of Jakarta administration in launching this initiative. It doesn’t make them more optimistic than previous administrations when launching earlier initiatives. It doesn’t make them more prone to success either.

Yet in the meantime, we’re allowed to feel a tad bit more positive looking into the horizon. For a girl who lives downtown, works mostly from home yet owns a car, I’ve certainly got a lot of positive business propositions now. La, la, la.

As published: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/07/23/urban-chat-evening-out-odd-and-even-numbers.html

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