Jakarta's governor, Basuki Purnama, more commonly known as Ahok, has been making a lot of big pronouncements recently aimed at improving Jakarta's public transport.
Among others he wants to ban all angkots from Jakarta, have Transjakarta buses competing with traditional providers on all routes, and get rid of subsidised "premium" fuel from all Jakarta petrol stations, pushing up costs for all operators, and likely pushing those that don't have working relationships with the city government out of business.
The Jakarta City Government has been complaining about the buses for years, but years ago, the complaints didn't seem to have teeth. Some may attribute this change in approach to Ahok's ability to talk tough and get things done. This may be a factor, but I think there's something else that has profoundly altered the bus industry: Transjakarta acting as a legitimate competitor to traditional operators.
Public buses in Jakarta pre-Busway
Traditionally, bus routes were carved out based on agreements between the various operators, including Metro Mini, Kopaja, Mayasari Bakti, angkots, and so on. Yes, there were a variety of actors, but they acted like a cartel. The operators colluded such that each enjoyed a degree of market power on their route, and provided very poor service.
While DKI Jakarta was able to regulate their tariffs, it seemed like their ability to force any other change in business practices was fairly limited. Here's an article from the Jakarta Post in 2012 where the head of the Jakarta Transportation Agency is using every policy tool available to him to try to make it such that "all [Metro Mini] drivers will have to possess driver’s licenses." Based on the article, it seems like the only tool he has at his disposal is writing angry letters to them.
The Jakarta Globe has a nice photo essay that gives an idea of the sort of safety standards most Metro Minis are held to. ILO also has a nice piece on how common it is for underage drivers to be behind the wheel of Jakarta's buses.
In the bad old days, a strike by bus operators was catastrophic for the city. People literally had no other option to get where they needed to go. Knowing this, bus operators pretty much did what they wanted, and the City Government had to let them.
The new dynamic
Transjakarta has come a long way since it launched its first corridor on Jalan Sudirman in 2004. It now operates 12 routes, with construction of another 3 underway, and has cooperation agreements with other companies to provide feeder buses.
Ahok's administration has been pushing to increase the number of buses on the Busway for a while now. He has been pushing so hard, that bus operators are complaining. He even seized buses that were being used to take public servants to and from work that he didn't think were needed, and put them to use on the Transjakarta system.
Historically, when events like this had happened, there was nothing the City Government could do. This time, the crackdown was swift. Dozens of Metro Mini and Kopaja buses were impounded for not meeting roadworthy standards, or for having drivers without drivers' licences.
Metro Mini threatened to strike. Ahok's response: "Metro Mini Silakan Mogok, Gue Pengen Lihat..."* They did indeed strike, but the disruption was limited.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, some of Ahok's proposals for this year are incredibly ambitious and are without precedent in Indonesia. That said, the dynamic has changed now, and we're in a completely new strategic environment.
Kopaja has read the situation loud-and-clear, and they formalised their integration into the Transjakarta system in December. After testing their strength late last year and finding it lacking, I suspect Metro Mini is not far behind.
*Literally, in English, this translates as "Please, feel free to strike, Metro Minis. I want to see it", but his choice of words makes it a lot ruder in Indonesian....