Bus operators see slump despite rosy prediction

Transport experts predicting a 15 percent increase in commuters during Idul Fitri may have jumped the gun, with ticket sellers overstocked just days from the festivities. "Usually, we start running out of seats a week before Lebaran *or Idul Fitri*," Ani, a 20-year-old ticket seller for the Lorena Karina service at Tanjung Priok, said Monday. "But this year, most people came to ask about ticket prices without purchasing any." As of Monday, she still had more than half her tickets left to sell. For this year's Idul Fitri, the company raised the Jakarta-Madura fare from Rp 170,000 (US$17) to Rp 380,000. Lorena Karina sells tickets for three 30-seat executive buses departing daily from Tanjung Priok for several cities in Madura, but following a slump in demand, the company has slashed services. Minister of Transportation Jusman Syafi'i Djamal earlier estimated that the number of travelers would increase by 15 percent this year, with the government claiming 27.25 million people were likely to head back to their hometowns. The Jakarta Transportation Agency estimated the number of travelers using land transportation in Jakarta alone would increase by 10 percent, up from 2.3 million last year. While bus companies have not been able to explain why bus ticket sales have declined, several firms have organized free transport to home villages and thousands have opted to return home by motorcycle, a far less costly though much more riskier form of transport. Those returning to Sumatra have cited severely damaged roads, discouraging interest in bus trips. Some ticket sellers at Pulo Gadung Bus Terminal in East Jakarta complained about lower sales, suggesting perhaps these predictions were too optimistic. A man said he had not sold a ticket in the last two days. "Lately, I have been fighting with my wife because I cannot give her money to buy new clothes for our children," said the man, who sells bus tickets for the Jakarta-Surabaya and Jakarta-Malang routes. Marpaung, who sells bus tickets for trips to Padang, Medan and Banda Aceh, said many of his regular customers complained the bus fares were too expensive and had decided to stay put this Idul Fitri. "The government predicted more people would use our services again, assuming there would be no political parties providing a bunch of free buses like last year," he said. "But many have chosen not to go home because they want to cut expenses during the economic crisis." Last year, several political parties provided hundreds of free buses to vacationers as a way to sway voters ahead of the legislative elections. Marpaung said he sold more than 500 bus tickets for all trips to Sumatra during the Idul Fitri holiday season last year, but this time round expected to sell no more than 300. Thousands of motorists have already begun flooding the major north-coast (Pantura) highway in West Java. A traffic-monitoring post in Indramayu, West Java, recorded more than 1,000 motorcycles zipping through the Indramayu-Cirebon road every hour Monday, three times the amount of cars passing through.

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