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Bahasa 101: Public Transportation

Proper and well-functioning public transportation is argued to be a recent development in the right direction in Indonesia. It’s worth noting that the experience in using it in Jakarta nowadays can be comparable to those used in major cities like New York or Singapore. So if you want to save some money or you’re one of those people who’s used to traversing concrete jungles, then public transportation in Jakarta is your top pick for commuting! So to help you out, here are some words and phrases in Bahasa that will aid you when using public transportation in Jakarta!

Basic words


Saldo is Bahasa for ‘balance’ as in the balance of your public transport card. You can also use this to refer to the balance in your debit or your credit card, or anything digital really. It’s actually a loanword from Dutch meaning the same thing.


Halte means ‘stop’ as at the bus stop. You’ll notice that some words in Bahasa  especially for the ones related to relatively modern things use loaned Dutch words. This is because many of their cultures were intertwined for a significant amount of time in the past. 


As you can probably guess, just from the sound you can kind of understand that it means ‘station’. It can refer to commuter line stations or train stations. The way to say it is like saying the ‘sta’ part like saying ‘start’, the ‘si’ part like approximately saying the word ‘yes’ in Spanish, and a hard ‘un’ like in Kim jong-Un.


‘Tarif’ means the cost of certain transportation. The word also exists to denote ‘tariff’ in the sense of economics. Reading it is still relatively easy for native English speakers since the way you say it would be like saying ‘tariff’ but the ‘a’ is pronounced like in pronouncing ‘car’.


Rute’ roughly means (again, as you might have guessed) ‘route’. ‘Jalur’ also means the same thing. Alternatively, people may sometimes still use the arguably older version of ‘rute’ and ‘jalur’ which is ‘jurusan’.


Maaf, kursinya dipakai

This phrase exactly means ‘sorry, this seat is taken’ which of course has its function to tell people not to mistake your friend’s seemingly empty seat as being actually empty. Alternatively, you can say ‘maaf, dipakai’, or ‘maaf, ada orangnya’.

Maaf, saya tidak tahu

This phrase means ‘sorry, I don’t know’ and also ‘sorry, I didn’t know’. Notice that the phrase can be used for the present tense and also past tense. This is because the Indonesian language does not concern its verb with the details of time. The former can be used for telling people that you don’t know something in general and the latter you can you for apologizing for unknowingly breaking a rule or maybe for taking someone else’s seat that seemed empty.

Maaf, saya tidak sengaja

This phrase roughly translates to ‘sorry, I didn’t mean to do that’, which sort of has the same function as phrases such as  ‘sorry, it was a mistake’ or ‘sorry, it was an accident’. You can use this generally in situations when you need to make an apology.


Now we move to phrases that will be helpful in terms of traversing between the crowd of passengers. ‘Permisi’ means ‘excuse me’ and you can use it in the sense of excusing your self to move along through a relatively cramped place. You can also use this word after knocking at someone’s door. You can also use it multiple times in both cases. Of course, use it proportionally.


Silahkan is translated to ‘please’ in English. The context here is for allowing someone to take your seat or place or even to get through a cramped space that can possibly make you feel uncomfortable. One example of usage can be for giving your seat to an older passenger, a seemingly tired and strained passenger, or a pregnant passenger.


Isi saldo di mana?

This phrase means ‘where can I top up my balance?’ which is especially helpful when you’re kind of in a rush and you need to top your card up quite quickly before the next commuter line or bus.

Maaf, apa ini untuk ke arah + (insert name here)?

This phrase means ‘excuse me, is this going to + (insert name here)?’. Notice that the meaning of ‘maaf’ changes to ‘excuse me’ rather than ‘sorry’ which is perfectly fine in Bahasa Indonesia. Kind of the same way using ‘excuse me and ‘sorry’ interchangeably in English in terms of the context of excusing yourself to bother someone to ask and inquire on certain information.

Untuk ke + (insert place/area here) + ikut jalur/rute mana?

Now we move to the more complex ones which are phrases. This particular phrase roughly translates to ‘for going to + (insert place/area here) + which route do I take?’. Alternatively, you can switch the positions a little bit to change it to ‘ikut jalur/rute mana untuk ke + (insert place/area here)?’

Kursi ini kosong?

This phrase translates to ‘is the seat empty?’ which is one way to say ‘is the seat taken?’ but in an inverted fashion. You can make it more polite by saying ‘permisi’ or ‘maaf’ before saying the phrase. Indonesians are a society that really appreciates etiquette, so try to adapt whenever you can!

If you’ve made it this far down with the article, congratulations! You’ve learned a significant amount of important Indonesian phrases and words that you can use to travel around town or around the country with public transportation. Some of these can even be used for other social settings. So as you learn more 101 conversations, you can begin to understand the link between one phrase or word to the other. Learn more words in other social settings to connect more dots!

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