Traffic in Southeast Asia; notoriously bad in places

Traffic in Southeast Asia; notoriously bad in places

A recent report puts Jakarta’s notoriously dreadful traffic in first place on a list of bad traffic cities throughout the world. I have to say I am not in the least bit surprised. It is easily the worst I have witnessed, anywhere. This seemed like a good time to look at traffic in the region and compare the major cities traffic in Southeast Asia. I have been very lucky, I’ve travelled around the world fair bit, and I thought I had seen bad traffic, but nothing compares to bad Asian traffic. It can on occasion be intolerable. It did not surprise me that no less than THREE of our cities feature in a list of the worst traffic in Southeast Asia, with Indonesia, providing TWO of them!

The horrendous traffic in Jakarta

This report, by Castrol, is based on scientific data garnered from Tom Tom use across the globe. The data measured the number of stop-starts drivers encounter in all the world’s major cities and the data may surprise a few, who would claim other cities to be worse. Personal experience is by know means accurate, one would think that this data is a far more accurate measure of a world problem that is getting worse.

How did the Castrol Magnatec Stop-Start index make its calculations? Well in their own words: “Drivers in many metropolitan areas around the globe have contributed trillions of anonymous GPS based measurements on an opt-in basis. With millions of TomTom GPS navigation devices already in use, and growing every day, the historical traffic information collected in this way gives valuable insight into the traffic situation on the road network throughout the day. Using a specially devised algorithm, we are able to calculate the number of stops and starts encountered during a trip. By applying this calculation to thousands of users and journeys, we can accurately measure the stop-start average per kilometre within defined city limits.” They then multiplied this number by the average distance driven per year.

Placing Jakarta in an unenviable first place as having the worst traffic in Southeast Asia and indeed the world, the Index is merely telling many of us what we already knew. Jakarta had an incredible number of 33,240 Stop-Starts. Compare this to the figure of 9,360 for another notoriously bad city, Los Angeles, and you get an idea of the scale of the problem. Los Angeles has immensely more cars than Jakarta, but it undoubtedly moves better. When I have been in Jakarta I have found it almost unbearable. No matter where we went and no matter what time of day, it seemed that we were in for a 90 minute journey. Trips that would take 15 minutes on my motorbike in Saigon, were an hour and a half.

Fourth on the list is Surabaya also in Indonesia with a number of 29,880. This is a real problem in this part of the world and one which will seemingly get a lot worse before it gets better. Indonesia’s second city has a population estimated at 3.1 million, on a bad day it seems like they are all on the roads at once. This is one of the busiest ports in the region and acts as a major transport hub between the capital Jakarta and Bali.

I don’t think many people will be surprised that the region’s third representative on this ‘World’s Most Unwanted’ is Bangkok. Anyone who has every tried to get across town anywhere near to the rush hours knows how bad it can be. This is, after all, the biggest tourist city in the world, so you would expect it to be bad. I once drove in from the airport on a Friday night and it took 5 hours, for a fit person it would have been faster to walk. Silom to Sukhumvit is nothing of a distance but when it starts to lock up, and it does frequently, it is two hours of anyones time. At least the Sky Train, MRT and Airport Link have helped, and with more routes planned, it should continue so to do.

Bangkok traffic is chaotic and dangerous

Considering the size of and driving standards in Saigon, the traffic moves pretty well. I don’t know quite how they have achieved this, except that that the unbelievable number of motorbikes in the city, has helped enormously. I would not consider owning a car here, it must be twice as fast by bike for the most part. The proposed building of 8 new RLT lines (two already started) and a monorail by the year 2020, should improve things significantly, or at lest stop them deteriorating, which is good town planning in my book. In the short term the pedestrianisation of Nguyen Hué in the city centre is causing issues, especially in the rush hours.

Saigon, outside the rush hours, is not too bad

I have found Kuala Lumpur traffic to be ok, when I have been there. Though a friend who lives there now is not impressed with the local transport systems, I found them admirable. Maybe I have just been lucky but getting round either by train or on the ‘funkiest’ monorail in the world came very easy to me. Last time I was here I stayed for 4 nights and I think I used two taxis.

Cambodia really doesn’t have enough traffic of any description to even feature remotely in this list. Phnom Penh can get a bit busy for an hour in the evenings but for the most part it is not a problem. The other main city Siem Reap is virtually congestion free all the time.

Singapore has used financial measures to limit their traffic, and this has had a marked effect on the movement and number of cars in the city/state. There is only one car for every 8 people, which is not surprising when a certificate of entitlement (which is needed to buy a new car) costs more than a Ferrari Boxster in the USA and expires after 10 years. In addition electronic road pricing is used to control the flow of traffic on busy roads.

Singapore, a whole different scenario

The full list of the ten worst cities in the World and there Index score is as follows:

Number City Index score
1 Jakarta, Indonesia  33,240
2 Istanbul, Turkey 32,520
3 Mexico City, Mexico 30,840
4 Surabaya, Indonesia 29,880
5 St. Petersburg, Russia 29,040
6 Moscow, Russia 28,680
7 Rome, Italy 28,680
8 Bangkok, Thailand 27,480
9 Guadalajara, Mexico 24,840
10 Buenos Aires, Argentina  23,760

Suffice to say there are plenty of really bad traffic hotspots in the region and traffic in Southeast Asia is certainly terrible in places. It is one of the really serious problems that will face the world in the coming decades. With populations expected to more than triple in the next 50 years, things can only get worse, a lot worse.

Following a highly successful 25-year career as a singer/songwriter and musician, Keith pulled out of the rat race and moved to Southeast Asia in 2008. First living in Thailand, he moved to Cambodia and then relocated to Ho Chi Minh City in early 2013. He started the Saigon Districts website, turning it into the fastest growing site in Vietnam. After careful consideration, he decided to cover not just Vietnam but the whole region that he loves so dearly. Keith has had work published in magazines and websites in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and Asia. He has written for the BBC and has appeared on TV and radio in many different countries. His great loves are music and travel, but he writes on a whole range of subjects. is a labour of love as Keith travels round the region garnering subject matter. Read more about the website here.