In traffic-choked Jakarta, volunteer motorcyclists help ambulances weave through congestion

JAKARTA: As quickly because the wailing sound of an ambulance sirens have been heard, three motorcyclists in matching leather-based jackets instantly sprang into motion, rapidly placing on their helmets and hopping on their bikes. 

With their arms revving the throttles, the three motorcyclists rapidly caught up with the ambulance.

The emergency employees contained in the ambulance have been aware of the trio, and considered one of them quickly rolled down the window to tell the bikers the place the ambulance was heading: A COVID-19 isolation facility within the southern outskirts of Jakarta.

Minutes into their journey, the motorcyclists’ presence turned apparent. The three-way intersection forward – disadvantaged of any site visitors gentle, street marking or police officer – was chockablock with vehicles, vans and bikes competing for house and proper of means.

With his personal sirens blaring, one of many motorcyclists gestured to the incoming site visitors to cease and make means for the ambulance.

READ: Contact tracers in Indonesia face threats, assaults in fight against COVID-19

For the subsequent quarter-hour, it was continuous work for the three bikers as they gestured to vehicles and bikes to yield or pull over to the curb and cease site visitors at U-turns and intersections. While most street customers heeded the three’s unstated calls for, some didn’t.

The three bikers are members of the Indonesian Escorting Ambulance (sic), a gaggle of motorcyclists who volunteer throughout their spare time to help emergency automobiles navigate through congested streets and roads of Jakarta and different Indonesian cities.

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A member of the Indonesian Escorting Ambulance attempting to get motorists to make means for an ambulance. (Photo: Nivell Rayda) 

Before the pandemic, Jakarta constantly ranked as one of many world’s most congested cities, based on research carried out by expertise firm TomTom. It discovered that on sure days, roads within the metropolis might be 95 per cent congested.

The metropolis can also be house to unruly drivers, with almost 500,000 site visitors violations recorded by the Jakarta police annually.

It is widespread to search out an ambulance caught in site visitors in Jakarta and lives are typically misplaced as a result of an ambulance can’t get to the place it must go in time.  

“I feel upset every time I see people not yielding to ambulances. How can people be so insensitive to not give the right of way to ambulances?” 23-year-old Sebastian Dwiantoro, an IEA regional coordinator for the Jakarta suburb of Depok instructed CNA.

“Ambulances are emergency vehicles. Meanwhile, we see ministers and other VIPs receiving vehicle escorts. And people give way to them. Why shouldn’t ambulances receive their own escort?”

The pandemic, IEA members mentioned, had compelled them to work longer hours, escorting extra ambulances and farther. But it was all value it once they obtained a thanks from the sufferers’ relations. 


IEA now has near 2,000 members with representatives in 80 cities and municipalities throughout Indonesia, one thing which was as soon as unimaginable for the group’s founder Nova Widyatmoko who was solely seeking to arrange a chat group for like-minded motorcyclists again in March 2017.

READ: Posing as ghosts, public shaming – How effective are Indonesia’s out-of-the-box approaches against COVID-19?

“Every day, I had to go through heavily congested streets. Almost every day, I would find an ambulance stuck in traffic. Sometimes, out of spontaneity, I helped clear paths for the ambulance and sometimes other riders helped as well,” Widyatmoko mentioned.

“It got me thinking, what if I could get all these people together and form a group so we can communicate better and help more ambulances on a more regular basis? I wrote a Facebook post and shared it with my friends. I created a WhatsApp group and called it Indonesian Escorting Ambulance.”

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Rescue employee Nova Widyatmoko began Indonesian Escorting Ambulance in 2017 as a result of he frequently discovered ambulances getting caught in Jakarta’s infamous site visitors on his solution to work. (Photo courtesy of Nova Widyatmoko) 

The social media put up bought shared and reshared. In only a few weeks, 150 folks joined even if nobody was getting paid and everybody has to pay for their very own gas and gear.

Sometimes, members modify their bikes to swimsuit the job by including sirens, flood lights, pink and blue flashers and aspect packing containers to retailer first help kits, all out of their very own pocket.

Most of the unique members have been from Jakarta and its surrounding suburbs, the 28-year-old catastrophe aid employee mentioned. “But there were also people from other Indonesian cities who expressed interests in setting up their own chapter,” he mentioned.

As its numbers grew, Widyatmoko mentioned some members started to encourage him to show IEA into a proper organisation, which they did in October that 12 months.   

“That group does not only consist of volunteer riders but also ambulance drivers we meet on the streets. After we escorted them, we told them: ‘If you need our help again, we can arrange something and coordinate.’”

The ambulance drivers quickly started telling their colleagues and superiors about IEA. Through phrase of mouth, the organisation now works with almost each hospital and ambulance supplier throughout the nation.

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Indonesian Escorting Ambulance members usually get notifications from ambulance drivers in want of their help through a messaging app. (Photo: Nivell Rayda) 

IEA additionally bought the eye of the Indonesian Red Cross, fireplace departments and numerous catastrophe aid companies and organisations.

“It has grown to more than just escorting ambulances. Our members are trained in first aid so we sometimes act as first responders. We are trained in disaster mitigation. So even in areas with no traffic jam, we are present,” he mentioned, including that the coaching was offered by the Indonesian Red Cross.

The volunteers would both hang around on the secretariats or at house, and spring into motion as quickly as coordinators like Dwiantoro obtain an SOS from the paramedics and put collectively an escort group. 


Ever for the reason that pandemic, IEA member Wildan Satrio Utomo mentioned he has been escorting an increasing number of ambulances and dealing longer hours. In whole, Jakarta has recorded greater than 390,000 COVID-19 instances, with round 1,000 new instances a day.

“There were days when I had to escort one ambulance to another from early in the morning to late in the evening,” the 23-year-old instructed CNA.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, there were not that many COVID-19 hospitals, so we had to escort patients from all corners of Jakarta to COVID-19 hospitals downtown,” he added. 

The scenario was higher when Jakarta was positioned below a lockdown, with no site visitors congestion impeding the progress of ambulances. 

READ: In gridlocked Jakarta, Indonesia’s first airport helicopter service targets niche market

Dwiantoro, who works as a safety guard when he’s not volunteering for IEA, mentioned the group’s busiest days occurred within the second half of 2020 when the federal government started easing COVID-19 restrictions.

“We can escort up to three ambulances in a single day. Before the pandemic, there can be only one ambulance in need of escorting and there were days when our service was not needed at all,” he mentioned.

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A affected person being loaded into an ambulance for a hospital switch. (Photo: Nivell Rayda) 

Between August and January, quite a few cities in Indonesia, together with Jakarta confronted severe hospital bed shortage.

During this era, dozens of COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 sufferers throughout Indonesia died as a result of medical employees couldn’t discover them an intensive care unit mattress to deal with their sicknesses. There was even one affected person from Depok, simply south of Jakarta, who died in a taxi on Jan 3 after he was turned down by 10 totally different hospitals.

Utomo famous that in that interval he might spend greater than an hour escorting an ambulance from one hospital to a different on the opposite aspect of town due to the hospital mattress scarcity.

“There was a shortage in medical equipment too. The ambulance driver told us to get to the next hospital as quickly as we could even though the two hospitals were very far apart because the ambulance could only afford to carry one oxygen tank,” he mentioned.

Utomo, an IT engineer, mentioned such hectic escorting conditions have been occurring much less incessantly lately as officers had addressed the hospital mattress scarcity concern.

But there may be one other downside – Jakarta’s site visitors congestion is beginning to return to pre-pandemic stage.


Dwiantoro mentioned the pandemic had a surprisingly optimistic aspect impact.

“People are becoming more aware of the importance of giving way to ambulances and other emergency vehicles. Perhaps they are scared that the ambulance might be carrying a COVID-19 patient. Perhaps it’s because there have been more and more people who need to use the ambulance,” he mentioned.

Utomo agreed, saying that extra folks now give solution to emergency automobiles with out a lot intervention from IEA volunteers.

“But there are still people who sometimes wouldn’t yield. Sometimes, they even scold us,” he mentioned.

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An Indonesian Escorting Ambulance member attempting to get a motorbike to present solution to an ambulance. (Photo: Nivell Rayda) 

“One time when we were out escorting (an ambulance), even as we tried to be polite in requesting and begging people to step aside, one driver said, ‘Don’t tell me what to do. I am not a child.’ Another time, one said, ‘Why are you escorting (ambulances)? You’re only creating more noise.’”

Utomo mentioned even after apologising and requesting drivers to yield or transfer their automobiles momentarily, some drivers refused to pay attention.

“Instead of getting into an argument and causing the ambulance further delay, we move on. I sometimes get upset but we are rewarded when a patient’s family approaches us to thank us. That really takes all my frustration away,” he mentioned.

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Indonesian Escorting Ambulance member Wildan Satrio Utomo figuring out the perfect route over the cellphone with fellow volunteers. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)  

Widyatmoko, the founding father of IEA, mentioned he’s proud of the prospect that in the future ambulance escort volunteers are now not wanted.

“That is our dream. We want Indonesia to be more like some countries where drivers instinctively give way to ambulances or other emergency vehicles in a traffic jam,” he mentioned.

“There are other fields where our members can contribute like disaster response, search and rescue and first aid. Even when our vision is achieved and people’s attitude towards emergency vehicles changes, we will have other activities which make our organisation continue to exist.”


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