JAKARTA: The two-month remote working for Jakarta public employees that ended recently was largely ineffective in reducing severe traffic congestion and air pollution in the capital, analysts have said.
The policy instructed civil servants employed by the Jakarta administration to work from home (WFH) from Aug. 21 to Oct. 21, with exceptions for those working in essential sectors such as education and health, in a bid to curb the severe air pollution that has been choking the city in recent months.
Acting Jakarta governor Heru Budi Hartono has now ordered his subordinates to return to their offices.
The WFH policy was put in place following acute pollution levels that engulfed the city, which topped Swiss company IQAir’s ranking of pollution for almost a week in August, and to mitigate the congestion that might have hindered the 43rd ASEAN Summit in early September.
According to Jakarta Transportation Agency head Syafrin Liputo, the average daily traffic volume declined by around 40,000 vehicles from some 6.84 million vehicles to 6.8 million vehicles, or about 0.63 percent, during the implementation of the policy.
Morning and evening rush hour traffic on weekdays also decreased by 1.48 percent and 0.46 percent, respectively.
This results would be a source of evaluation for the Jakarta administration to address air pollution, said Heru in a statement last week.
Jakarta, home to over 10 million residents, has been grappling with deteriorating air quality, which is mainly caused by the transportation sector followed by industrial activities, according to official data.
Among the efforts made by the Jakarta administration, and the central government, to reduce the pollution levels, the WFH policy was considered “reactive” and not backed by a strong academic review, said Indonesia Transport Society’s (MTI) Jakarta branch head Yusa Permana.
Jakarta’s air quality has hardly improved. The city scored 177 in late August, or “unhealthy”, for the air quality index (AQI) based on measurements from IQAir.
IQAir recorded an air quality index of 161 in Jakarta in mid-September, placing it also in the unhealthy category.
The AQI improved to 133 on Oct. 15, although still “unhealthy for sensitive groups such as children, the elderly and pregnant women,” according to IQAir.
The index bounced back to the unhealthy category at above 150 for several consecutive days before the remote working policy ended on Oct. 21, or about the same level as on Aug. 14, when President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo held a limited cabinet meeting on tackling Jakarta pollution.
“Although [the pollution level] had declined temporarily, we do not know whether it was caused by the WFH scheme, the administration’s instruction for people to reduce mobility during the summit, or any other policy,” Yusa told The Jakarta Post.
While waiting for more complete data, Yusa suspected that the two-month WFH policy did not significantly reduce the pollution, since the number of public employees was not comparable with workers from the Greater Jakarta area who kept commuting into the city.
Jakarta Environment Agency head Asep Kuswanto said that the Jakarta administration employees were outnumbered by civil servants working in central government ministries and private employees who were not subject to the policy, making it ineffective, as quoted by Kompas.com.
Public policy expert Agus Pambagio said the government should have listed which workers were subject to remote working.
“The policy would have been more effective in reducing pollution and traffic density if it was imposed on city employees regularly using private vehicles instead of public transportation,” he told the Post.
Besides implementing remote working, the authorities had also enforced stricter regulations on private vehicles, which they recognized as a major transportation problem in the city, by imposing fines for motorcycles and cars that could not pass emissions tests started in early September.
This program, however, was terminated after only 11 days of being put in place.
Yusa said that the city could not depend on one solution alone to tackle air pollution, stressing the urgency for “a comprehensive policy around cutting down the number of private vehicles and improving public transportation.”