One Car Too Far, One Tourist Too Many

There are no words to describe Ubud in August. Well yes, there are: crowded, packed, crowded, depressing, jammed, crowded, dirty, blocked and crowded. Did I mention crowded? 

I know I’m being hypocritical. I was a tourist once myself, then I moved here and got all holy. But believe me, Ubud was never like this.  Until about five years ago tourists came in seasons, you could actually walk on the sidewalks and a motorbike trip from the statue to Campuhan Bridge took seven minutes.

Fast forward to traffic gridlock, chaos, exhaustion and irritation.  Ubud increasingly resembles Kuta with its branded chain stores. Huge buses block the narrow streets, spewing exhaust. Bewildered tourists tumble through gaping holes in the shattered sidewalks as they try to avoid piles of garbage. It’s not pretty.

Tourism is a double-edged sword, with the potential to bring prosperity and do great damage.  This US$ 8 trillion industry is the largest employer on earth; one in every 11 people works in some dimension of tourism and travel.

According to a recent article in the Guardian a number of factors including open borders, leaps in technology from airplanes to the internet and the rise of the global middle class (think China) has put travel within reach of huge           numbers of people for the first time. The World Economic Forum recorded 1.2 billion international arrivals last year – 46 million more than in 2015.

Closer to home, Bali saw about 13 million tourist arrivals in 2016 – almost five million international and eight million domestic travelers. The government sees tourism as an easy moneymaker and a short cut to economic development. According to Indonesia Travel, last year Indonesia’s total tourism sector contributed 11% to the country’s GDP from total tourist spending in Indonesia  thereby providing direct, indirect or or in related tourism jobs for almost 12 million people.

“These significant achievements have strengthened Indonesia’s resolve to aim even higher by raising our goals and targets for 2017 to 15 million international arrivals – or a growth rate of 25%, and on to 20 million arrivals in 2019”, said Minister Arief Yahya.

How about raising the standard and scope of the infrastructure to match those goals, Minister?

Bali has tourism exhaustion.  It’s happening all over the world.  An article in the Guardian on August 7 describes how residents in Venice, Santorini and Barcelona are lashing back at the huge numbers of tourists clogging their streets and inflating their economies.  Cities are buckling under pressure, but solutions are unclear.

“As tourists and residents battle for supremacy of shared spaces, local authorities are uncomfortably in the middle. The tourism and travel sector is one of the largest employers in the world, with one new job created for every 30 new visitors to a destination – but at what cost to locals’ quality of life?”

The national government has finally acknowledged that Ubud is in serious trouble. According to a story published September 1 in the Bali Express, the head of tourism in Gianyar was summoned to the capital to explain why Ubud’s international tourist ranking had dropped dramatically over the past year. Ubud’s image has suffered from its severe traffic jams, broken sidewalks and piles of garbage; the golden goose is very sick.  But those who live here are not sanguine that the many levels of local and regional government will pull together to address these issues any time soon.

Among the 32 desa adat (traditional villages) of greater Ubud, one has created its own solution.

“Traffic is at crisis point,” says Kadek Gunarta, a highly respected member of Padang Tegal village. “We need regulation to establish community parking areas and compel people to build private garages. This will free the roads of parked vehicles and make it possible to use shuttles.”

“The Ubud area provides 70 per cent of Gianyar’s GDP,” he points out. “Grassroots and government must work together to fix the traffic and parking issues.”  Three years ago a team of Padang Tegal village members presented a meticulously researched and planned integrated traffic/parking solution for Ubud to the Gianyar government.  It did not respond.

Padang Tegal has already established a comprehensive and successful waste management program. Now it’s addressed parking and traffic within its village limits.

Desa adat Padang Tegal is responsible for the Monkey Forest, which receives 2,000 – 3,000 visitors a day. The desa’s main artery is Jalan Hanoman, which is often jammed with traffic and parked motorbikes and cars.  Many of the businesses have no parking for visitors and most of the parking spaces are taken up by employees.

The decision was taken to create a central parking area for the  buses visiting the Monkey Forest and the desa’s private vehicles.  Residents would be given the choice of building a private garage on their land or paying to use the central   parking area.

Using tourist revenue, the desa began to accumulate parcels of land east of the Monkey Forest. It now holds about seven hectares and hopes to double this in the years to come. Opening this month, the area will provide a community park, children’s playground, education centre and (perhaps most importantly) a central parking area for all the private vehicles in the village. It will also be the drop-off point for 25-seat tourist buses bringing visitors to the Monkey Forest, which will end the traffic jams at the current entrance to the forest.  The project officially opened on September 7.

There’s a large green area which could become a community garden. The paved, two kilometre long perimeter path is already being used by joggers. Many young trees have been planted to create a pleasant, shady environment. “This is a green space in perpetuity for the people of Padang Tagal,“ Dek told me proudly. “We’ve created it and the next  generations will inherit and improve it.”

“The desa adat has the authority to mandate and enforce  rules about where residents can park,” says Dek, who is very knowledgeable and articulate about the complex social, political and infrastructure issues involved.  He dreams of a pedestrian-friendly Ubud with shuttles and banks of electric bikes to move visitors around.

“The problem can be solved at the village level with some planning. Each desa adat has empty land that could be used for central parking and tourist promotion for its attractions. It could be a place for the street drivers to be registered and meet passengers off the buses, charging fair and consistent fares.

“This system has a lot of potential. But all the desa adat need government authority to create parking under a common framework, manage the income from parking and establish who is in charge.  Parking isn’t just about cars and space, it’s also about safety and income management.”

Once the roads are clear of parked vehicles there will be space for paid parking, but that has to be regulated at the Gianyar government level.

All digits firmly crossed that the Padang Tegal pilot project will inspire the Gianyar government to work with all the desa adat of greater Ubud.  Because we’re very near the edge and one more car may tip us over it.



Copyright © 2017 Greenspeak

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