School's out for Asian Games in Indonesia

Jakarta (AFP) –


Jakarta will close schools across the city during the Asian Games, organisers said Wednesday, in a bid to clear streets of notorious traffic congestion that threatens to create travel chaos.

With just over three months to go until the showpiece event, Games organisers have been looking at ways to tackle the Indonesian capital's traffic snarls.

It was not immediately clear how many schools would be closed during the August 18-September 2 event, which will see 15,000 athletes and hordes of spectators coming to Jakarta and co-host Palembang on Sumatra island.

Taking pupils out of their daily ride to and from school is expected to reduce traffic by about 20 percent, organisers said.

But primary and secondary students delighted by a free pass to skip school will find some strings attached -- they'll be required to write papers about the event at home, or possibly help out as volunteers at the second-biggest multi-sport event behind the Olympics.

"This is an opportunity for us ... to get the younger generation involved in the Asian Games and it will reduce the traffic by nearly 20 percent," Games chief organiser Erick Thohir told an organising committee meeting on Wednesday.

Organisers plan to create dedicated lanes for athletes and officials to ensure they reach events on time.

Jakarta may also expand an existing odd-even licence plate system to keep a lid on traffic, Thohir added.

The moves are expected to help cut drive times between an athlete village in North Jakarta and the main sporting venue in central Senayan district to 30 minutes from the current trip of almost two hours.

The closure could help reduce choking smog -- much of it from vehicle exhaust -- that can envelop Jakarta, a city of some 10 million.

But not everyone thinks closing schools is the best way to ease congestion.

"There are other problems in the city such as street food vendors who sell on the roads or construction projects which hinder people's mobility," transportation analyst Danang Parikesit told AFP earlier.