Monday, August 8, 2011

Ride Away

"People do sometimes steal our bikes," admits bicycle renter Suwarno. "They just ride away and don't come back."
Suwarno rents out old-style Dutch bicycles with colourful sun hats and strident bells for Rp20,000 per hour ($2.00) to tourists in Fatahillah Square in Jakarta's old town district, Kota. "Usually I get between 10 and 35 customers a day, but now that it is Ramadan, the square is quiet."
Fatahillah was once the scene of public torture and execution, administered by the old city courthouse. Today, weekends at the square bustle with buskers and bicycles, slapstick theatre, fairground games of skill and chance, and photographers capturing fashion and romance.
Suwarno's 20 multi-coloured bicycles are available 24 hours a day.
"Do people rent bikes late at night?"
"Yes, even as late as two in the morning."
"Do the bike lights work?"
"No."
"Are there ever any accidents?"
"Yes, often. But not serious ones in which people are badly injured."

There are 18 bike rental agents working within the perimeter of the square. "We pay the Jakarta government Rp15,000 per bike per month to operate here."
A second bicycle agent sidles over.
"Foreign tourists are scared to ride these bikes," he comments.
"Is that because the brakes don't work?"
The agent shrugs. "Foreigners always try and haggle the price lower," he counters. "We only make Rp50,000 a day ($5.00); how can we survive on that?"
Suwarno and his competitors have to be vigilant all day. "There are thieves here at night. We lose about a bike a month. I refuse to lend people bikes, if I am suspicious of their motives. Sometimes people do cycle off and not return."
The bicycle agents also lead cycling tours around Kota and on to the old Watchtower, the maritime museum, the fish market, and Sunda Kelapa port.

The bike agent shakes his head, "There is so much information I'd like to tell foreign tourists about these places, but I don't speak any English."

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