The Good: At no point did I doubt that these guys were going to be able to get me where I was going. It takes the stress off.
The Bad: The short saddle on the Honda Supra Fit and the driver’s spastic brake hand forced me to hang on tight to the bike (or else hug the dude). I would have rather been blogging.
The Ugly: I was disappointed to discover that the driver didn’t seem to share my sense of optimism regarding the enormous importance and future of the ojek profession in Jakarta. Just another ojek dude, really.
Field Report: So the Go-Jek website is impressive enough and, on that basis, I called them up one morning last week.
“Hey, I need to go to [my destination]. Can you pick me up?” I asked in Indonesian.
Exactly 18 minutes they called me back with the quote, which was about the amount I would have given any of the ojek guys on the corner.
“Yep. Agreed.” I said. “Please pick me up.”
Exactly 33 minutes after I first called Go Jek the dude showed. Technically he’s not a dude — he’s a “tukang ojek” and professes a critically important, if much maligned profession, here in Jakarta. But let’s just call him “the dude.”
Frankly, I was expecting something special — maybe a cross between Fed-Ex and Air Asia. Saddlebags with a neon reflector strip, a uniform, matching helmets for me and the dude — something. What I got was a guy driving a tiny Supra Fit motorcycle whose helmet — sure enough — bore a small Go Jek sticker.
My Indonesian wife, on the other hand said she was not dissapointed, as she watched me snuggle up to the expressionless dude as he negotiated a careful U-turn in front of the Sharehouse while carefully ashing his cigarette.
“What did you expect.You ordered an ojek, didn’t you?” she later asked.
Of course I won’t give up on corporate ojek action so easily. I’ll call them again on a different day or from a different location. This Jakarta Post article says they have 70 different hubs located across town.
Just think — what if the professional ojek (pro-jek?) thing really worked? In that case, it would be like having the smallest, fastest car on the road driven by a true professional, with the balls of bike messenger and the service ethic of a senior Silver Bird driver.
What’s more this “pro jek” driver would speak English, Indonesian and the Bahasa Jakarta. He’d be on top of all the highways, byways, alleyways and busways — probably some of the sidewalks, too. He’d know the location of all the major apartments, hotels and office buildings and how to finesse the security and parking there so as to drop you off and pick you up right in the very front without paying for parking. He’d deliver you to your destination as fast as possible without messing up the E-mail written in route. But in any event, at least 30% faster than the fastest taxi, if departing at the same time, from the same location and traveling the same route.
Anyway, the Go Jek dude knew where he was going and was fast enough arriving. So maybe that’s all you can ask. (Go-Jek management, according to the Jakarta Post article, asks — in addition — that the driver wear deodorant. They reportedly provide the stuff free as a perk.) I do realize, however, that for many customers, not having to haggle over ojek prices would be a big selling point. Further, Go Jek seems to be a good way to bypass unfair competition practices (if any) of the ojek guys on the corner near your house or office. Plus, Go Jek sends you a digital receipt via SMS which you can forward to accounting for reimbursement.
But in addition to the long wait (picking up an ojek on the corner would have saved me 30 minutes), it wasn’t a nice ride and the dude didn’t have correct change (he was prepared to change a 50, but I had a 100). The way he handled the brakes, worked the horn and swung his head in disapproval at the traffic reminded me of the hapless road warriors that large companies employ by the dozens, paying them just enough so they have to work two jobs and never sleep, except behind the wheel of a Kijang or in a sweltering parking garage.
However, the Post article suggests that Go Jek may be incorporated as a cooperative and the drivers are “partners.” So maybe the reason the service was poorer than what I expected is because the driver assumes there are no tips and no repeat customers.
I did miss the smooth moves of some of my local biker guys (OK, not the deaf one) on the corner. They let me set the pace and don’t care if I stop, backtrack or bail altogether. It’s not really that difficult to estimate price and they trust me not to rip them off. To my mind, they’re true freelancers. They own the means of production and happily endure the nuclear heat out there, knowing they’ll almost certainly be able to afford more bootleg liquor at the end of the day than they can possibly drink. Maybe the corporate thing just isn’t for everyone.