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24 August 2015

While trapped in Jakarta traffic, seemingly hours away from your dinner destination, the instantly recognisable green uniform of a Go-Jek driver on his motorbike zips past you.

A feeling of envy washes over you: someone’s going to be enjoying their meal a long time before you are.

Go-Jek is a highly popular delivery service that shows how the shared economy is solving urban problems in Southeast Asia.

An army of some 10,000 Go-Jek motorcycle drivers whip around one of the world’s worst cities for traffic, delivering groceries, taking dinner orders and picking up Jakartans from their offices and transporting them home.

It’s a system that cuts right to the core of Jakarta’s traffic congestion – with a few swipes you can tell Go-Jek what you want, whether it’s a good bottle of Australian wine or the house keys you left at the office. Place your order and leave it to your dexterous motorcycle driver and his smartphone to do the rest.

In a city such as Jakarta, where a benevolent home culture seems to create order out of chaos, Go-Jek’s integration has been seamless. It’s also boosted the salaries of traditional ojek motorcycle taxis and couriers across the city.

Founder Nadiem Makarim, a Harvard-educated Jakartan, calls Go-Jek “the first company in the world to transform informal transport into a full-blown urban logistic solution”.

This isn’t the first major example of smartphone apps easing traffic woes in Southeast Asia either.

While cab companies in the western world are struggling to co-exist with taxi app Uber and the industry scrambles to adjust, a Malaysian entrepreneur addressed this issue with Grab Taxi.

Grab Taxi, formed by two Harvard graduates in 2011, is now available in six Southeast Asian nations, taking an estimated seven bookings per second on its system.

It has taken the learnings from Uber and applied them to existing taxi networks offering passengers safe and reliable rides in these developing nations.

With the smartphone market in Southeast Asia enjoying rampant growth and app development being a fairly low-cost exercise, there seems to be little standing in the way of pioneering developers continuing to innovate in this sphere.

Yet while the private world is capitalising on these innovations, we are yet to see a major government success story drawing upon these opportunity. Ridwan Kamil, the mayor of Bandung in Indonesia who has more than 2 million followers across his Instagram and Twitter accounts, is pushing in the right direction.

His Tombol Panik or panic button app is streamlining emergency rescue efforts, allowing citizens in trouble to simply press a button on their phone to alert emergency services and the geographic data taken from their phone speeds up response times.

But back in Jakarta the big issues still need to be addressed. It’s estimated congestion costs the Indonesian economy almost US$5bn a year.

With this in mind, Jakarta’s governor has thrown down the gauntlet for Go-Jek’s founder, asking him to solve the major problem of empty delivery trucks clogging up Jakarta’s streets. It’s been reported that half of the trucks on Jakarta’s roads are empty.

And so Go-Truk will soon launch to address this problem, allowing users to capitalise on these empty spaces and perhaps make the city’s roads that little bit more manageable.

Nolan Giles is Monocle’s Singapore bureau chief.


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