The Mudik Phenomenon


After 2 years living in Singapore and not being able to come home to Indonesia for Idul Fitri, this time around I finally had the opportunity to taste my mother’s opor ayam and ketupat again. The reason why I didn’t come home back then was because the tickets were expensive and since it wasn’t a long holiday in Singapore, I prefer to wait until the ticket price was cheaper and when I had more time off. Some choose to go back anyway, never mind the cost because they feel the value that you put by being with your family trumps all costs, hence their willingness to pay (for travel costs) are higher.

The term mudik, the annual exodus for Idul Fitri to go home to your kampung, is a uniquely Indonesian phenomenon. No matter how crazy and dangerous traffic gets, some people would still be willing to endure everything just to be with their families.

From the government’s perspective, the annual mudik is a logistical nightmare. If things go bad, of course the government would shoulder the blame, i.e. bad roads, lack of public transport, etc. But I take a different approach whereby this cultural phenomenon is something that you don’t need to do if the risks are high. I mean, why would someone risk their lives (and others) by being on a motorcycle for long distance travel, in addition to luggage (above picture), just to “save costs” by not traveling with public transport? Judging by the numbers alone (below), motorcycles comprises most of the mode of transport, but they’re not designed for long distance travel (especially with small children)! It is no coincidence then if most accidents involve motorcycles.

20120827-224627.jpgThere are improvements in the public transport. This year, the train services enforces the boarding pass system, reducing the number of middlemen who make the ticket price higher. Next year, they will apply this to buses and ships. As for roads, I am still puzzled by the need to fix them from time to time and again. Is it the poor quality of the construction/repair (linked to the procurement system), is it because it’s taking more weight than it normally can take (allegedly corrupt truck weighing stations), or is it the bureaucracy behind the differentiation of national, provincial and local roads with different budget allocations? Most likely all of the above.

Back to motorcycles, I wonder if next year there will be a policy of limiting the number of motorcycles on the road. A colleague of mine mentioned that one of the reason why they bring motorcycles to their kampung is to show off their “success” in the city. But underneath it all, what I truly wonder is if there would be an end to this mudik phenomenon. Perhaps if development (or access to jobs) were to be spread out and not located in Jakarta or Java alone…


8 thoughts on “The Mudik Phenomenon”

  1. For many years to come the yearly migration of the nation will continue I’m afraid. You can’t change deeply rooted cultural phenomena like Mudik over night. Nor will it be easy to get people off their own means of transport to public transport historically just after they acquired that privilege which used to be restricted to nobleman and princes.

    1. Maybe you can’t get rid of the cultural phenomena of Mudik overnight, but I am more hopeful about the improvement of safety in transportation (and still hoping for people to shift to public transport).

  2. Human beings are remarkably sensitive to material inducements and punishments. Imagine the following scenario. All bikes with broken equipment (e.g. mirrors, lights, etc.) or exceeding its use, passanger or weight limitations would be impounded and you’d have to pay a hefty fine for getting it back. You don’t come collect it and pay the fine within two weeks? It goes on the auction block. Do you think people would continue to be so reckless and cavalier about their use of motor vehicles? Does enforcement of existing laws require additional budget? None of this is rocket science or brain surgery, you know. I’d even put the police on commission, to give them a bit of incentive. This issue of no budget is a red-herring.

    1. True, no budget is a red-herring. I’m waiting for the development of electronic law enforcement for traffic violations in Indonesia. In the pipeline to be operationalized soon and if implemented hopefully it will increase compliance.

  3. Speaking of traffic enforcement and vehicle inspections, I think Indonesia is the only country where you can be stopped–and fined–for riding your motorcycle with the lights on during the day, but no punishment is dished out to motorcyclists who ride with their lights off at night! I do not kid you.

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