Usually, it’s the drivers who help out hitchhikers by offering them a ride, but in Indonesia’s capital city, it’s the other way around. Professional hitchhikers get paid to ride in complete strangers’ cars and help them reach their destination faster.
The world’s sixth largest metropolis, Jakarta has a population of over 30 million and around 20 million registered cars. Unfortunately, its infrastructure is far less advanced than that of other large cities like New York, Tokyo or Singapore, which means traffic is terrible. In order to ease jams, authorities have created “Three in One” zones which can only be accessed by vehicles carrying at least three passengers. The measure was successful to some extent, only it also spawned a whole new industry – professional hitchhiking. Every morning, poor Indonesians from the outskirts of Jakarta can be seen lining the sidewalks near entry points to Three in One zones, offering themselves to commuters in a hurry. They are known as jockeys, and unlike regular hitchhikers, they don’t raise their thumbs up to drivers, but their index finger to signal a jockey working solo, and the extra middle finger to signal a couple, usually a mother and a baby.
In a country where most people live on less than a dollar a day, these professional hitchhikers can earn up to $7.50 for a few hours of pretending to be someone’s employee, son or friend. Picking up hitchhikers to access forbidden areas of Jakarta is illegal, so the jockeys have to help the drivers stopped by policemen convince them they actually know each other. Cars picking up jockeys risk fines of up to 1 million rupiah ($106), but corruption in Indonesia’s capital is rife, and offenders often get off the hook with a 200,000 rupiah bribe. Mothers with babies as young as two months have an advantage over the competition because they count as two people and take up less space, but clean clothes and an overall tidy appearance also give jockeys an edge, as no one wants to sit next to someone who smells bad.
Photo: Skyscraper City
Professional hitchhiking may seem like a great way to make a living for poor Indonesians, but the truth is they expose themselves to risks every time they set foot in a stranger’s car. Women are often sexually harassed, and if caught red handed by police, they risk up to 12 months in jail. Also, it’s not the most certain job in the world. Jockeys sometimes travel from villagers around the city and wait for hours without making any money. Still, for many of them, it’s the only way get by. Drivers on the other hand are happy to pay a small price for shortening their daily commute. On rainy days, it can take over three hours to reach their destination without picking up jockeys, so it’s safe to say they are a blessing to those who can afford them.
The professional hitchhiking industry is booming, but its days may be numbered as authorities plan to discourage the practice by replacing Three in One zones with toll roads. Also, in 2012 the country has secured a $1.3 billion loan from Japan to build a rapid transit system, but things are moving very slowly.