Wednesday, May 2, 2012


One of the great luxuries that I often take for granted in this city is the abundance and relative inexpensiveness of taxis.  On most busy city streets, one seldom has to wait for more than 5 minutes to hail a taxi.  There is a plethora of choices and quality when it comes to taxis but that is a topic for another day.  The hands down winner in the category of reliability and trustworthiness is the Blue Bird Taxi Group.  Their telephone ordering service goes a long way towards them retaining the crown as they are the only taxi company that will actually show up at your house within a reasonable time.

In the past, I have attempted in vein to telephone order a taxi from other companies including Express (my personal fave as they are cheaper than Blue Bird and pretty trustworthy), Putra, and TansCab.  These  competitors either inform me that a taxi is unavailable or end up taking 2 hours to arrive at my home, by which time I have long since walked to the road and found my own taxi.

Over the years, Blue Bird has consistently improved their telephone ordering system and continues to attempt to do so.  Their latest venture is ordering via Blue Bird application on smart phones, which I have not yet been able to successfully do on my Blackberry.  The great thing about Blue Bird is that, when they are busy, they will even call you back to inform you that a taxi has not yet been ordered for you.  They seem to have it together for the most part, a rare treat for any service in Jakarta.

The process is pretty simple, you register your phone number and address with them, call up, ask for a taxi and give them your phone number.  Usually, a taxi arrives at your front door within 10-20 minutes.  The drivers are also pretty gracious when it comes to waiting when I am not yet ready to leave.  As with anything in Jakarta, this process in not always perfect.

If it is a busy time of day or there is heavy rain, they will inform you that there is up to a 2 hour wait for a taxi.  When I do order in these instances, they sometimes show up in 10 minutes and sometimes don't show up at all.  There is also the rare occasion where the taxi takes an hour to get to my house, and of course this always happens when I am in a hurry.  There are other times when the taxi cannot find my house.  Only a couple of days ago, this happened.  The driver called me to inform me that he could not find my address.  I went outside and saw him 50 meters down the road.  I advised him to go forward and look for the street number on the front of my house.  Yes, I am aware of how condescending and ridiculous that sounds.

I have to admit that, the majority of the time, they have no problem finding my house and arrive promptly.  There is a Blue Bird depot just down the road from where I live, which I think must help.  Now here is the thing that I can't get over lately.....

When I call them up, they seem to find my house with relative ease within a reasonable time.  However, when I hail a taxi on the street or get one from a mall, they often have no idea how to get to my desired destination.  I cannot get over this no matter how hard I try.  From my experience, people in Southeast Asia generally don't know how to use maps or even have them in their vehicles.  GPS in vehicles has not yet penetrated this part of the world.  How is it possible that a random taxi driver who is in the car alone can manage to navigate the labyrinth of Jakarta to my front door but can't find a mall or landmark?

I often have to tell them each and every turn to my house.  Luckily, I know my way around town.  What is worse is when I am going to an area that I don't know very well.  In these instances, I rely on the map application on my phone.  I use this to tell the taxi driver where to turn.  I have lived here long enough to tell when a taxi driver is trying to earn a few extra Rupiahs and when he is truly lost.  Most of the time, they are truly lost, which makes me wonder how in the world they consistently manage to find my house, a place that is admittedly not that easy to find.

In these situations, I often daydream as to what their job interview was like.....

"So, are you from Jakarta?"

"No, I am from Bandung."

"So, how long have you lived in Jakarta?"

"Ummmmm, around 2 months now"

"And do you know your way around Jakarta very well?"

"Well, no not really, I know the area around where I live?"

"How are you with reading maps? Do you have any experience with that?"

"No, not really, I've never used a map before."

"Great, you are hired, by the way do you have a driver's license?"

Years ago, I felt rage when a taxi driver didn't know where he was going and I had no input.  These times would result in hour(s) long taxi rides.  Inaccurate directions from locals on the side of the road would propel my rage to even further heights.  Eventually, I learned my way around town (self proclaimed map nerd) and my Bahasa Indonesia improved.  Nowadays, I feel the utmost empathy for a taxi driver who is genuinely lost and has no idea how to remedy the situation.  You would think that they would be able to call some dispatch and ask for directions but that is simply not the case.  They are thrown into the middle of the urban sprawl with no map or lifeline.  Talk about a stressful line of work.  The only time I get annoyed any more is when a friend is attempting to find my house and, out of desperation, puts the taxi driver on the phone with me.  I will ask them where they are and they will say they don't know.  When I attempt to explain how to get to my house, they tend to babble on about nothing instead of actually trying to listen to what I am saying.

I have come to the conclusion that trying to find out how a taxi can find my house without any assistance is one of those questions that will never be answered, like the chicken or the egg.

Now here comes the warm fuzzy ending.  This is the reason why most people swear by Blue Bird.  I had some friends visiting.  One of them managed to leave their iPhone in a Blue Bird taxi.  The taxi had been ordered to another friend's house.  That friend called Blue Bird and asked if they had by any chance found an iPhone in the taxi that picked up X person at X address at X time.  Thirty minutes, they called back and stated that they did indeed have the iPhone.  They were very apologetic when they explained that they wouldn't be able to drop it off at my friend's house until the following day.  She told them that they were forgiven and the phone was returned the next day.  Luckily, they knew how to find her house.

Here are some websites and videos for your viewing pleasure.....

P.S.  I just realized that it is necessary to explain something.  The idea of giving somebody an address only to find any structure that is not a skyscraper in Jakarta is beyond ridiculous.  If I asked somebody how to get to their house and they gave me an address only, I would laugh at them.  Most directions go something like this.

From Plaza Senayan, go straight until you see a gas station, past the gas station, do a u-turn and then take your first left.  After you see a giant mosque go left and then left again and then right.  Go down the road until you come to a 3 way intersection.  Go right and my house will be the 3rd one on the left side address:  Jl. Impossibletofind #36.