Let’s Not Get Carried Away with Getting About
By Novar Caine
There appears to be panic about how to fix the increasing traffic problems in Bali that have become so severe that it’s not uncommon to sit in kilometres-long tailbacks. There’s been a merry-go-round of talk of underpasses, overpasses and back again.
This week the underground option, recently shelved in favour of a road over the mangroves near the airport, has been given the all-clear again, but it’s far from clear how it will come about. The main obstacle had been its construction, a central element of any infrastructure plan, because it would have clashed with water tables beneath the surface.
The flyover, after years of being tossed back and forth and debated by religious leaders who fretted it might be an offence to the Hindu belief that nobody should be above one’s head, had been determined as the solution, but it seems to have taken the back seat again.
Elsewhere, bridges and even trains are advertised as the means to free up clogged roads in southern Bali which threaten to stymie booming tourism growth. Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik told us last week we’d have the train chugging around the island’s coastline within the next three years. That’s great; it’s also highly unfeasible. Just how the projected US$810-million project will prove viable is anyone’s guess. (But it would be fantastic to board a train that takes you around the island, hoping off along the way to visit famous sites.)
And then there’s the great plan to build a second commercial airport, somewhere up north. That’s the real goer, as transportation dreams come and go. Many northern parts of Bali are underrepresented on our tourism map, and as people grow more affluent in the south due to the tourist influx, in the north – particularly the northeast – poverty rates are extraordinarily high, a sad fact lamented by Governor Pastika earlier this month.
So here’s the chance to fix it, and equal the tourism inequity. Forget about on-again, off-again traffic-alleviation plans in the south and get more people up north. Bali’s a small place and shifting some attention away from the south, where the tourism sector has been chiefly located, will do no harm; indeed, it stands to greatly benefit the southern regions as they become more attractive to holidaymakers due to less overcrowding.
The fact that most people come to Bali to view its natural beauty should be a spur for those mulling a second airport: In southern parts the vistas are too often made of concrete. Another airport would goad investors into realising that they don’t need to build any more luxury hotels or villas in the south – and the governor doesn’t want them to – but they can look north and bring prosperity with them.
In a supposedly rich island like Bali we should not be hearing tales of mothers who didn’t make lunch for their families because they had no food, and have a long debt of borrowing. We should not see young children – indeed anyone – forced from their villages to hazardously beg from motorists at Kuta traffic lights. We should see an end to the alarming rise in economic suicides, and stay-at-home children whose parents cannot afford to send them to school and tragically place them in orphanages because they have no money.
The economic disparity between the south and north of Bali is shocking, all the more so given that southern areas are so overpopulated with tourists and residents that they are finding it hard to cope. Hence our traffic and pollution dilemma.
The answer, however, is not one that is baffling: Get more people out of the south and up north. As long as there remains a single international airport, now at breaking point as tourist arrivals creep near 3 million a year, nearly matching Bali’s indigenous population, people will choose accommodation nearby. This is especially true of the majority of tourists, who come for short stays of around three days.
So let’s dispense with endless talk of new roads and bridges and start work on a new airport so that the Bali imbalance can soon be redressed. Then there may be good times for all.Filed under: Arts & Entertainment