Padang, Indonesia’s Ridiculous Bus System

by Jason -- November 16, 2010

One of the more interesting things I discovered as we traveled around Asia was how different many of the countries public bus and taxi options were. Cambodia had their motorcycle pulled Tuk-tuk, Thailand had their songthaew and Indonesia has the Angkot. Towards the end of our trip we spent nearly a month in West Sumatra, Indonesia. While we saw some interesting taxi and bus systems, nothing could compare to Padang, Indonesia’s bus system called Angkots.

The Bus Aesthetics

Each Angkot was about the size of a pickup truck. The front had 2 seats. The back had two rows of benches that faced each other. The door to the back never actually closed. You could comfortably fit between 8-10 people inside, but were often forced to cram many more.

They are each uniquely decorated in crazy colors, stickers and whatever other accessories they can get on to the car. Most of the time the decorations lack one cohesive theme- you’ll see “Pimp My Ride” on a bus that also has a picture of Spongebob Squarepants.  Each “bus” looked like it may fall apart or stall at any given moment, yet installed in each one are expensive sound systems. The best part about the Angkot is the fact that each bus driver blasts their sound system at unhealthy levels the entire time. Senior citizens, little kids – it didn’t matter. They were blasting their music regardless.

The Angkot Bus “System”

The Angkot’s, while considered public transportation (at least to me), are actually individually run. When you first use an Angkot it seems as if there’s absolutely no order to them. There are no designated stops. You just tell the driver to stop and you get off. If you’re walking down the street they honk at you to get you on board. However, after using them for a while you begin to realize there is some order. The color of the bus corresponds to their general route. After realizing this, it now makes a lot more sense as to why they’re so crazily decorated.

From what I was told, each Angkot is rented by the driver each day. They pay a flat fee for the day to drive the bus and then keep all of the money they make. This is why they harass people walking down the street- they make whatever they pick up. Somehow this system has been standardized, however, such that each time you get off and on one, it’s 2,000 Rupiah ($0.22). Even as a foreigner, I was never expected to pay more. (Although don’t count on them giving you change, it’s always best to have the exact amount.)

Because each driver is simply trying to make as much money as possible, you can also bargain with them. For the right price, they’ll gladly go off their route and take you where you need to go. They’re even happy to arrange a time to come pick you up.

For some reason each person crumples up their bills as small as possible before they pay the driver. The driver then uncrumples it to keep it neatly in a pile. Why they do this? I have no idea, but nearly everyone I saw did it. So, naturally, I did as well.

Needless to say I was amazed at the Angkots. The blasting music and crazy decorations are a great memory from Indonesia.

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2 Responses to “Padang, Indonesia’s Ridiculous Bus System”

  1. Haha definitely some crazy looking buses!

  2. Reminds me a bit of the combos/collectivos in Southern Mexico. Brings back fond memories. Definitely my favorite form of transport there.

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