The City of Makassar in Indonesia has partnered with the United Nations Development Programme to pilot design thinking techniques. These will help address its public transport challenges.

Traffic congestion in the city is steadily growing. In October, on average 195 new motorbikes and 43 new cars were bought daily, according to the city’s transport department. “The big problem is the motorcycle,” Makassar’s Mayor, Ramdhan Pomanto, tells GovInsider, adding that 70% of traffic accidents involve two-wheelers. He wants to reduce the number of motorbikes on the roads and get more citizens to use public transport.

In November, UNDP and Pulse Lab Jakarta held a workshop to introduce design thinking techniques to Makassar’s officials. GovInsider spoke with the United Nations Development Programme, design thinking experts and city officials to find out how this will help.

Finding the way

Minivans are the main form of public transport in Makassar. These distinctive light blue vans are known as ‘pete-pete’ locally and carry up to 10 people typically. They are not owned by the government, however. The vans are privately owned and then rented out to drivers, with routes negotiated among the drivers and owners. This lack of planning has resulted in overlapping routes and congestion on the more popular routes.

The UNDP and Pulse Lab conducted a sample study of transport patterns in Makassar. They identified three key areas that must be addressed: designing routes to meet users’ needs and avoiding overlapping; nudging changes in the behaviour of users and transport operators to follow traffic laws; and making information on transport schedules available to commuters.

Participants at the workshop had to come up with ideas to solve these three challenges. It was attended by 33 participants, including the city and provincial transport departments, pete-pete owners association, planning agency, police, taxi companies, disability association, and members of the startup and design community.

On the first day of the three-day workshop, groups had to throw around ideas and start coming up with possible solutions. On the second day, they took to the streets to interview citizens (pictured above) on their public transport experience and test whether their solutions would help solve some of those problems. Finally, they returned to the drawing board on the third day to refine their ideas and build prototypes to demonstrate them.

On the right track

In the end, three key ideas stood out, says Paavani Reddy, Governance Specialist at UNDP Asia Pacific, who is leading the initiative. One was about “revitalising pete-pete” to make them more economically viable, she says. Most pete-pete drivers are currently losing income because people are moving to private vehicles, she explains.

The idea is to have the minivans pick up students from their homes in the morning and drop them off after school in the afternoons. The system provides a certain guarantee of income to drivers because schedules can be fixed in advance, Reddy says. Officials proposed using simple video animations to market the initiative to drivers.

The second idea is to use the pete-pete as first and last mile transport between housing complexes, schools, shopping areas and provincial-run bus routes. Officials also proposed constructing bus shelters every 500 metres along these routes so that drivers don’t stop in the middle of the road and block traffic, she says.

Third, officials want to build an app to give commuters pete-pete arrival times. “They also want to provide offline solutions like information boards at bus stops,” Reddy says. Commuters currently have no information on bus schedules, making public transport a less reliable alternative to buying your own motorbike.

Elements of design thinking used in the workshop have helped officials refute their assumptions. “If it turns out that the initial prototype doesn’t address the citizens’ painpoints, they have to come up with new prototypes,” says Kautsara Angakkara, Design Research and Strategy Lead at Pulse Lab Jakarta. “Most groups ended up with final prototypes which were completely different from their initial ideas,” he adds. These prototypes will be incubated over the next two months with funding and support from the UNDP.

A bumpy ride

There are a number of other challenges that Makassar must address to attract public transport users. The current infrastructure is ageing, says Andi Faizal Majid (pictured above), head of public transport in the city’s transport department. “There are 4,100 pete-pete across 17 routes. Most of them are 10 years old and we have asked the Mayor for new ones,” he says.

Mayor Pomanto plans to bring in new minivans over the next two years – a plan he has dubbed “smart pete-pete”. The Mayor, a former architect, has designed the new vehicles himself. He will launch the design and first prototype on 12 December, he says.

The “smart” pete-pete will have GPS sensors to allow their locations to be digitally tracked. They will also have WiFi and air-conditioning. The Mayor is convinced that these improved facilities and relative comfort will encourage people to ditch their bikes and use public transport. “Every citizen will not buy a motorcycle. They will change to smart pete-pete,” he says.

Many also prefer to use private transport because it is cheaper, the UNDP found. The Mayor estimates that on average people spend 20,000 rupiah (US$1.5) a day for fuel and parking of motorbikes. He plans to undercut the price with one-day passes of 10,000 rupiah (US$0.74), offering unlimited number of rides on the smart pete-pete.

The road ahead

Paavani Reddy

Makassar’s strategic location as a trading hub to east Indonesia will add more pressure on its transport network in the future. “They are upgrading the port, and with that they anticipate a lot of heavy vehicular traffic in the city,” says UNDP’s Reddy (pictured above, centre). The transport department expects roads to be as congested as Jakarta’s in 5 to 10 years.

The transport system needs to be better organised and planned to cope with this. It will be particularly important to plan based on users’ needs. “It’s one thing to assume that a route is required in housing complexes, and another thing to know that it will be used,” Reddy says. The transport department has asked for additional budget to survey residents on their transport needs, Majid, the city’s public transport chief says.

Funding will be another hurdle to cross. The Mayor estimates each new pete-pete to cost about 250 million rupiah (US$18,577) and is personally funding the first prototype. He hopes that the minivan owners will finance them in the future with loans from banks. “It’s not difficult for the bank to give credit to the owner because we will facilitate,” he says.

With the first smart pete-pete prototype unveiled this month, the Mayor plans to build another 10 next year and pilot them on a selected route. The system will be fully launched in 2018, he estimates.

Makassar has ambitious plans to use technology to make public transport more reliable. But it must build around residents’ needs to create meaningful change.

Images by UNDP and Pulse Lab Jakarta