Angkots of Bogor (and Beyond)

By Katy Rennenkampf

Bogor has many nicknames, including “Rain City,” “Green City,” and “Angkot City.” They’re all true and all part of why I love this beautiful site. But I find the angkots most fascinating—each angkot seems to have its own personality and individual flair!

The word angkot comes from angkutan perkotaan or “city transport.” They are a mix of minibus and van that serve as public transportation, and have different names and shapes in various parts of Indonesia (such as bemo in Nusa Tenggara). Like buses, angkots circulate on predetermined routes throughout and between cities, but unlike buses, they do not have predetermined stops. Instead, you can flag down an angkot anywhere along its route, and ride it as far as you need to go—when you want to stop, tell the driver, “Kiri!” [1] and disembark.

Angkots are particularly plentiful in Bogor and the bright green vehicles can be seen crawling all over the city. People love them because they run everywhere, and hate them because they cause traffic. In Bogor, residents can hop on local routes that circulate the garden and various residential areas, or they can climb aboard the long-distance angkots that run out to the villages, up to the mountains, and into the outskirts of Jakarta. The local angkots are painted bright green with colored baseboards and numbers to indicate various routes. For example, the number 06 is yellow and circulates from the Ciheuleut area (where I live), behind the bus depot, counterclockwise around the botanical gardens, and past the Botani Square mall. The number 03 is dark blue and goes to the train station. The number 08A is silver and runs behind Jambu Dua mall and into the residential area on Jalan Pandawa Raya. And so on. It has taken me seven months, many questions, and several fingers-crossed journeys to pin down the exact routes of various angkots, and I continually wish there were a color-coded map available. (Of course, in doing a bit of research for this article, I did stumble upon this handy guide to Bogor’s angkot routes.)

Katy 1

Red, pink, and blue angkots circulate in downtown Sukabumi.

In Bogor, increasing affluence is leading more Indonesians to purchase private transportation and travel by motorcycles or cars rather than angkots. The result is an excess supply of public transportation and relatively empty angkots crowding the now-busier streets. In 2010, Bogor’s Department of Transportation, Communications, and Information began trying an “angkot shift program” to reduce the number of angkots on the road—every driver was assigned to a shift (A, B, or C) and on any given day only two of the three shifts could be in operation. The program not only helped reduce the number of angkots on the street on any given day, but angkot drivers also reported higher earnings. Although angkots continue to be publicly criticized for causing congestion, they also remain a huge part of Bogor’s culture and serve thousands of people every day as they travel to school, work, stores, and homes—and have even become the subject of their own online game. In my opinion, the traffic problems lie not with the angkots, but with the public shift away from shared transportation and in Bogor’s aging, colonial-era infrastructure. I would prefer to see fewer cars and motorcycles on the road and more effective use of these meandering minibuses in this, the “green city.”

Every morning, I watch angkots overflowing with white uniforms and tired laughter deliver students to SMK-SMAK Bogor. In the evenings, I ride the angkots alongside other women doing their shopping or returning home from work. Vendors perch at the fronts of the benches, toting large packages filled with snacks and using the floor as temporary storage space. Families with suitcases climb on and cram in, making their way to the train station with their bags perched on their laps or nestled between their feet. Young men with guitars and ukuleles hop on and offer brief serenades, hoping to pick up some spare change as they sing out “original songs of politics and revolution.” Children sit on parents’ laps, sleeping or sweating or pointing at the deer as we pass Istana Bogor [2].

Photo 2: This Number 06 angkot has been decorated with "Hello Kitty" decals and is also a part of the “Sexy Auto Club”.

This Number 06 angkot has been decorated with “Hello Kitty” decals and is also a part of the “Sexy Auto Club”.

Inside each angkot, the edges are lined with benches on which up to 12 people can sit (if you really cram together like ikan asin [3]). The passenger seat is usually taken by someone who wants to smoke, and is therefore most often occupied by a man. Some angkots shake and rattle and reveal their age as their drivers struggle to shift gears on Bogor’s deeply potholed back roads. Others are well-maintained and feature disco lights, brand new brightly-colored upholstery, and thickly cushioned seats.  Sometimes, they seem full of contradictions—loud speakers blast music late at night, empty “Mix-Max” [4] bottles serve as decorations, and decals announce the angkot’s membership in the “Sexy Auto Club” (or other, more inappropriate ideas).

I find angkots fascinating and fun! They connect me to the train station, the bus depot, the mall, the gardens, my home, and the city as a whole. They provide interesting conversations, excellent people-watching, and a safe way to explore the city. They run all day and sometimes late into the night. When heavy rain turns the roads into black rivers, they wade through the onslaught and continue on their city-wide missions. And when their drivers are finished, they park in front of houses or on the sides of streets, quietly sleeping steeds awaiting their next dawn journey.

Photo 3: ETA Elizabeth Kennedy rides an angkot in central Bogor.

Photo 3: ETA Elizabeth Kennedy rides an angkot in central Bogor.

* * *

In my second year as an ETA, now living in Nusa Tenggara Timor, my borderline-obsession with angkots has only grown. Here, they are known as bemos and are even more extreme in their color and volume. Their windows are so thickly coated in images that it’s hard to see where we are going. Every spare centimeter of glass is plastered in pictures of Avril Lavigne, Eminem, Elvis, Jesus Christ, Mary [5], Green Day, British flags, and other icons of popular and local culture. The music is so loud I can barely hear myself think, and when passengers wish to disembark the assistant, who hangs out the door, raps loudly on the door’s glass with a coin. It seems that no inch of interior has been left undecorated—plastic tchotchkes and rainbow-colored stuffed hearts dangle and dance to the blaring beats as we rumble down Atambua’s roads.

These little minibuses continue to astound me with their vibrant colors, deafening volumes, and big personalities, and wherever I find myself in Indonesia, they are my first choice of public transportation.

VIDEO of riding a bemo in Atambua:

[1] Kiri translates to “left,” thus indicating that the driver should pull over to the shoulder of the road (remember that, in Indonesia, we drive on the left side of the road)

[2] Istana Bogor is the summer palace situated in the center of the city

[3] Ikan asin are small, salty fish. This idiom is much the same as being “packed like sardines”

[4] Mix-Max is a pre-mixed, bottled alcoholic drink

[5] Atambua is a majority-Catholic area, so depictions of Jesus and Mary are common images.  

About the author: Katy Rennenkampf is a second-year Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Atambua, East Nusa Tenggara. She graduated from the University of Maryland College Park in 2013 with degrees in math, economics, and English. Katy finds wisdom in the words of Dr. Seuss and is hopelessly addicted to rujak.  

3 thoughts on “Angkots of Bogor (and Beyond)

  1. Pingback: Angkot Stories | WANDERING TURTLE

  2. Pingback: Effects of the Gas Subsidy Reduction in Kupang |

  3. Pingback: ISIS and Indonesia: Thoughts on Combating ISIS in Indonesia |

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