I started my trip at the inter-city bus station. So there I was, standing there, looking around when suddenly it hit me: I have never done this before. (I do travel, but mostly by flying, and a couple of times by train. But never by inter-city bus).
That means, I did not know which bus I should take, I did not know where I should go to buy the ticket and I did not know how much the ticket would be.
And the worst part is, it seems I was the only fool in town. Everybody else seem to know where to go and what to do.
Unfortunately, it did not happen just once, because as I travel from one city to another, almost in every city I was back to being clueless: I did not know which one to take to go to where I wanted to go, and when I knew, I had no clue how much it would cost me.
(Sure, there was one time when I could see the price posted on a local angkot. But then when I paid exactly that price, the driver got mad. Apparently the price had changed and they did not bother to change the sticker.)
And the story did not end after I managed all that and got on. Because I still needed to know where to get off, to go to where I was going. Along the way, I ended up asking a lot of questions to a lot of people.
In short, I am a foreigner in my own country. I can't imagine how foreigners who visit Indonesia would feel when they had to take public transportation to get around. How do you ask question when you don't even speak the language?
You don't feel good when you are clueless. And you feel worse when you think you are the only one who had no clue.
Before this, I always thought a good public transportation would mean something that is efficient, on time, fast and comfortable. Now I realize, there is one thing that is more important.
A public transport is good when you can get from point A to point B, without having to ask a single question.
Sure, efficient, on time, fast and comfortable are all good. But if the system is confusing, a first timer like me would still find it annoying.
I know I should stop comparing what we have with what other country has, but bear with me for a moment. The first time I visited Japan, I had no experience in taking its public transport. But I could find out easily which one I should take, how much it will cost and where I should buy the ticket. Bear in mind that I do not speak or read Japanese, and outside Tokyo not all stations post the sign in english. But the signs are equipped with pictures and symbols that even I can understand it right away.
A system is good when even an illiterate first-timer fool like me can understand it.
So maybe, this is why people said good things about public transport in some developed countries. Sure, they may be fast and comfortable, but above all, the system don't make you feel like a fool.
We all want better public transport in this country, and we started with the busway, people talk about having a subway system, even dreaming about high speed train. They are all nice, but they are also a departure from what we have now. As if we want to ditch whatever we have because they are bad, and just start with something completely new.
Sure, why not. But creating an efficient, on time, fast and comfortable takes time. And money.
In the meantime, we still have to live with what we have, and actually we can make it better by simply posting clear signs at bus stations and bus stops, displaying the route and the ticket price clearly on buses and angkot - And be consistent with it.
Design it for a foreign illiterate first-timer fool such as I am.
When everything is clear, taking a local public transport in a small town actually has its charm.
More than any subway or high speed train can offer.