Transporters: More than meets the eye

By Kautsar Anggakara, Mellyana Frederika & Dalia Kuwatly

Together with United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Bursa Pengetahuan Kawasan Timur Indonesia (BaKTI), Pulse Lab Jakarta recently conducted user research on public transportation in Makassar. The study uncovered pain points and opportunity areas which were then used as a basis for a 3-day multi-stakeholder design workshop in Makassar. Through the workshop, we delved into user perspectives of the issue, coming up with creative prototypes that have potential for improving Makassar’s public transportation system.

Commonly regarded as the hub of eastern Indonesia, Makassar has seen itself grown into a bustling metropolis with constant economic growth, averaging at around 9% within the past five years. As with other big cities, rapid growth comes with consequences. In Makassar, one of the most notable ones is its increasing traffic jam. The rise in affordability has resulted in a rapid rise of ownership of private vehicles, one that is not coupled by sufficient growth of infrastructure to support it. The Mayor of Makassar and the city’s transportation agency acknowledged this issue and welcomed collaborative efforts with PLJ and UNDP to obtain different perspectives in tackling the challenge.

While most might regard traffic congestion as an infrastructure problem, a deeper look into the issue revealed that one of the main causes of traffic in Makassar is the decrease in the use of public transport, driven by the move to private vehicles and the lack of proper public transportation services that cater to people’s needs. This shift has rendered the thousands of public transportation vehicles in Makassar obsolete, causing an even greater problem for both road users as well as public transportation drivers. Based on this initial observation, we narrowed down the design challenge to focus on better utilisation of public transport in Makassar.

Getting to know the users

As with all human-centred design projects, we begin by trying to understand of the life context of those we are designing for. We talked to road users — not just users of public transport, but also private vehicle users and public transport drivers, and tried to gain a better understanding of both their transport preferences and their mobility patterns. By widening our scope to understand people’s mobility habits and patterns, we discovered opportunity areas through which public transport services can be shaped to better adapt to the needs of the citizens.

For instance, our observation revealed that people in Makassar prefer using private vehicles mainly because it is perceived as an easier and faster way to reach their destination. People without access to private vehicles opt for informal public transportation that offer the same advantages, such as bentor (motorised rickshaws), motorcycle taxis or taxis. These modes of transport operate without routes and thus can take passengers from door to door. The current public transport route, however, is unable to provide the same service. Public transport usually operates on main streets, so using this often requires walking a fair distance or combining it with other modes of transport. Based on this insight, one of the conceptual prototypes that came from the project was a feeder system that utilises idle public transportation vehicles to connect commuters from their homes to other transport modes and public spaces, such as malls, markets, and schools. The teams also came up with ideas for ancillary services to improve user experience, such as provision of wi-fi in terminals and an e-ticketing service that allows commuters to pay just once for a whole day’s trip.

Another insight from the user research was that people’s mobility preferences and habits are largely occasion-driven. During peak commuting hours, timeliness is a more important factor than comfort and safety, while during the weekends, people place more importance on comfort over any other aspects. This insight then became the basis of two ideas to improve the public transportation system. One idea involved designing a system to help users plan their commutes better — this could involve online and offline platforms providing real-time information on traffic conditions and vehicle arrivals. Another idea was to repurpose existing public transport vehicles to further improve the comfort of public transport passengers. At present, pete-pete — the minivans that are the most commonly used public transportation in Makassar — roam the city with only a few passengers at a time, prompting many of the drivers to drive recklessly in their pursuit of picking up passengers. Our assumption is that if the pete-pete can be repurposed in a way that guarantees a steady flow of passengers, there will be less drivers fighting for passengers, thereby improving traffic flow by decreasing stop times. One prototype that came out of this insight was Pasikola, a concept of repurposing the pete-pete as a vehicle to transport students between the schools and their homes. This way, idle vehicles can be put to effective use, while the designated routes can prevent drivers from aggressively competing against one another for passengers. To make this prototype work, though, we would need a few enabling factors, including the encouragement of behavioural change for drivers through campaigns and initiatives.

Uncovering new opportunities

These prototypes were the product of a collaboration that emerged through a multi-stakeholder design workshop facilitated by PLJ, UNDP, and BaKTI. The workshop adopted a human-centred design approach, and was attended not only by representatives from transportation agencies, but also practitioners from creative sector, businesses, and startup communities. Through the process of insight mining, ideation, fieldwork, prototyping, and testing, participants were exposed directly to the users of the proposed solutions, enabling them to design solutions that responded directly to the needs of citizens in Makassar.

The multidisciplinary nature of the workshop uncovered new perspectives in solving urban issues. By allowing participants — especially those working in the transportation sector — to field-test their assumptions and ideas to transport users, participants shift their gaze to more user-centric solutions. Participants also indicated that the workshop provided them with the opportunity to engage creatively and constructively with other transport stakeholders, a process which many found challenging to do in formal meetings. While most participants initially thought that it would be difficult to gain support from a wider range of stakeholders, the workshop has opened opportunities for a broader range of actors to provide inputs to improve Makassar’s public transportation system and increase public ownership.

Resulting prototypes will be further developed into MVP (Minimum Viable Products) through an incubation process lasting between January — February 2016. Stay tuned for updates!


Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Government of Australia.