Indonesia‘s first subway has opened in the country’s capital, Jakarta. The development is seen as crucial to tackling some of the world’s worst congestion.
Minutes after inaugurating the 16km transit line running south from Jakarta’s downtown on Sunday, President Joko Widodo presided over a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the beginning of the second phase: an eight-kilometre northward line planned for completion by 2024.
The two projects are under way at a cost of $2.6bn.
“Today we will begin a new civilisation by operating the first phase of mass rapid transit in Jakarta,” Widodo told several thousand guests and residents at the inauguration.
The line that opened on Sunday includes seven elevated and six underground stations built by two consortia of local and Japanese companies.
Passengers can ride for free until the end of the month, after which operator PT MRT Jakarta has said tickets will cost the equivalent of between $0.70 and $1.
Widodo, who is campaigning for re-election, told the crowd that he has instructed Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan to begin the next phase of construction of an east-west line covering a distance of 87km this year.
Jakarta is officially home to about 10 million people, but the population of the greater metropolitan area swells to 30 million.
The project, funded through a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, has been planned since the 1980s, but its construction was hampered by political crises, red tape and funding disagreements.
Widodo was the Jakarta governor when construction finally kicked off in October 2013.
JICA has predicted that without a major investment in transportation, Jakarta would be overwhelmed by traffic jams by 2020.
Annual losses from congestion are forecast to reach $6.5bn by next year.
Congestion has relentlessly worsened in the past decade as car ownership rose, squeezing more and more vehicles onto Jakarta’s unchanging road network.
The average peak hour speed has “significantly decreased” to 10km an hour, according to the transport ministry.
It often can take two or more hours to move 5km in some pockets of the city.