Sunday edition -- November 23, 2003

GO WITH THE FLOW: Hundreds of passengers crowd the pier at Merak seaport, Banten, to embark on ferries headed to points across Sumatra. Port officials said on Saturday that departures from Merak were reaching their peak, with ticket sales as of Friday night exceeding figures from the same period before the post- fasting month holiday of Idul Fitri in 2002. JP/R. Berto Wedhatama

Exodus to reach peak on Sunday
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Cirebon/Semarang

The annual Idul Fitri exodus was once in evidence in the capital on Saturday as thousands of people left Jakarta by various means of transportation.

Meanwhile, the death toll during this year's exodus has already reached 17.

The massive getaway is expected to reach its peak on Sunday and Monday.

For some lucky travelers, free trips home have been sponsored by private sector companies and a political party.

An increase of 6,000 passengers was recorded at Pulogadung bus terminal in East Jakarta over Friday's total of about 10,000 travelers.

Terminal director Pardjiman predicted that the exodus would reach its peak on Sunday. However, he did not give any figures for the estimated number of travelers.

To anticipate the increasing number of passengers, he said that the Jakarta administration had arranged to provide more buses as part of its contingency plan.

"We sent 502 buses off on Friday. Today, we estimate that some 600 buses will depart, provided there is no heavy rain," he said.

The Meteorology and Geophysics Agency has warned that rain could disrupt this year's exodus.

The Patrol area of West Java, which is traversed by the north coast highway, has been the seen of 13-kilometer tailbacks due to narrow streets and indisciplined behavior on the part of drivers and street vendors.

A heavy downpour on Saturday worsened the situation as motorists were forced to slow down and avoid flooded sections of the road.

Back in Jakarta, 137 buses were dispatched from the Jakarta Fairground in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, by instant noodle company PT Indofood Sukses Makmur, which is transporting more than 7,700 vendors to various destinations in West Java and Central Java.

Many companies, including shoe and jamu (traditional herbal medicine) producers, annually provide free transportation for thousands of their employees and the vendors who sell their products.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) has also followed suit, and has providing 20 buses for hundreds of people traveling home. The buses left from party headquarters on Jl. Lenteng Agung Raya, South Jakarta.

Some 144 other free buses will leave on Sunday from Kemayoran.

The party's secretary-general, Soetjipto, denied this was an electioneering tactic to win support for the party in next year's general election.

"It is part of our humanitarian mission and an attempt to ease the government's burden in transporting holidaymakers," he claimed.

Party donors have contributed Rp 1.4 billion (US$160,000) to fund the free buses.

Two people were killed in a head-on collision in Subang, West Java. The dead persons were identified as Manginar Siregar, 48, and Budi Heryanto, 29, both of whom died instantly at the scene.

Meanwhile, a bus conductor, Suyoto, was killed when his bus smashed into a house in Bantul, Yogyakarta.

These two accidents brought the death toll to 17 after 14 people died in two different traffic accidents in East Java and Lampung on Friday.

Train company PT KAI has recorded a 9 percent increase in passenger numbers compared to the same period last year, with 44,758 passengers traveling by rail last year and 48,902 this year.

Air-conditioned executive-class trains depart from Gambir train station while economy-class passengers must struggle to secure a berth on the trains departing from Senen train station.

The company's Jakarta network director, Masduki Achmad, said that PT KAI was expecting an increase in passenger numbers on Sunday and Monday, with about 57,000 and 68,000 passengers being carried respectively.

Merak seaport, from which ferries connecting Java and Sumatra islands depart, saw a steep rise in passenger numbers from 50,000 on Friday to 70,000 on Saturday.