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PT KAI Train Food Too Expensive? Netizens: Here’s Why

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On 2 November 2020, “PT KAI” became a trending topic among Indonesian Twitter users. The state-owned enterprise PT Kereta Api Indonesia (Indonesian Railways) or PT KAI is the national train service operator. What was behind it?

From 1 to 3 November 2020, Netray investigated the trend through monitoring on Twitter. As it turned out, it was the price of food served on trains that became the point of contention. But how did a serving of fried rice sparked a discourse?

From a Netizen’s Complaint to Widespread Debates

Netray found that during the monitoring period, the tweet that started the debates was posted on 1 November 2020 by Muhammad Hallala (@dehallusinate). He made a thread about his experience on the KA Kahuripan line. 

Hallala complained to KAI about paying Rp45,000 for a serving of fried rice and a bottle of fruit tea. He said that it was too expensive as it cost more than half the price of an economy class ticket, namely Rp80,000. He mentioned PT KAI’s official Twitter account, @KAI121.

Tweet by @dehallusinate protesting about the high price of train food to PT KAI.
Tweet by @dehallusinate protesting about the price of train food to PT KAI.

His thread attracted much attention until it became viral on the next day. As a result, “PT KAI” became a trending topic on 2 November 2020, and his first tweet received more than 12,000 engagements.

In total, there were more than 13 thousand tweets containing the keywords kai, kereta && makan (train && eat), and kereta && makanan (train && food). They are seen 41.7 million times and reached 48.8 million users.

The widespread impact of the trend did not mean that netizens agreed with the criticism voiced by the thread. In fact, tweets containing negative sentiment were more than three times the positive ones.

Many netizens responded to @dehallusinate’s tweet negatively. In a very typical Twitter fashion, many netizens mock Hallala through jokes.

Tweet by @FiersaBesari.

In fact, the reason the topic blew up on 2 November was because of a satirical tweet by writer and musician Fiersa Besari (@FiersaBesari). He said that train food prices are cheap compared to the trials and tribulations of life which are priceless.

Peak time for 2 November 2020.

Nonetheless, a group of netizens such as @ardianpancaa supported Hallala, expressing that it would be good if the price is lowered. Even some critics that showed negative sentiments like @lerougeoctobre agreed that the price is unreasonably high.

Tweet by @ardianpancaa.
Tweet by @lerougeoctobre.

The consensus seemed to be that the high price is considered commonsense. A popular tweet by @efenerr, who told Hallala to “think logically” about why the meal was costly, voiced this perspective. 

Tweet by @efenerr.

But what actually makes the high prices of food on trains considered normal? Netray Media Monitoring examined the popular tweets on this topic to find the explanation.

Netizens Explained Why Train Food Are Expensive

While a lot of netizens were quick to jump at Hallala’s tweets, many took the time to explain the reason behind the high prices of food and drinks.

Several of them, such as @briankhrisna, said that the cost reflects the quality of the service provided. They compared train travel across the years and argued that PT KAI now has stricter standards for safety and security.

Tweet by @briankhrisna.

Nowadays, only official vendors that set high prices can sell food on the train. While peddlers can no longer sell cheap food on the train, neither can random people enter. This ensures the security of the passengers’ belongings.

Additionally, official vendors must comply with stricter safety measures. One of them is that fire is prohibited on the train, as explained by @Outstandjing who responded positively to this policy. Naturally, this has changed the way food is prepared and drove prices up.

Tweet by @Outstandjing.

Clearly, there are also other factors in the setting of prices. Some netizens pointed out that the transportation aspect is the main service. On the other hand, meals are additional and not mandatory.

@Soviet_Foxtrot, a self-proclaimed train enthusiast, wrote a thread responding to Hallala’s. In it, he mentioned that although KA Kahuripan is PT KAI’s public service obligation (PSO), only the tickets are subsidized, but food and drinks are not.

Tweet by @Soviet_Foxtrot.

His point addressed Hallala’s question about why the meals are expensive when PT KAI is a state-owned enterprise (BUMN). Despite their status, that state-owned enterprises are legally still profit-oriented because they are not tax-funded.

Foxtrot also said that there are extra costs incurred to provide food and drinks at a speed of 90 km/h. While he did not elaborate it, other users such as @kleponwajik explained some of those additional costs.

Tweet by @kleponwajik.

For example, there is the cost incurred to maintain food supply and cleanliness and dispose of wasted meals that are not sold. Lastly, there is also the labor cost for workers who do those tasks.

Indeed, these extra costs drive up the prices. Here, another insight arose from a popular tweet by @WidasSatyo. He said that pricing strategies are aimed at certain market segments.

In this case, the meal sold at Restorasi KAI, the name of the carriage designated for providing food and drinks, is indeed aimed at consumers who are willing to pay more.

Tweet by @WidasSatyo.

For those who cannot pay more, there are affordable alternatives ranging from cup noodles to bringing one’s own home-cooked meal. Roti O was apparently netizens’ favorite option as the brand also became a trending topic.

Tweet by @coffebit.
Tweet by @thepanturas.

The bakery is one of the tenants that PT KAI cooperates with, so it is found in most train stations. Its prices are also considered affordable for a large portion of train travelers.

Unsurprisingly, Roti O’s signature coffee bun becomes a staple for travelers.  The rock band The Panturas (@thepanturas) even joked that Hallala was absurd because he ate fried rice rather than Roti O as people should do on the train.

What Netizens Can Learn

The Indonesian Twittersphere is notorious for online discourses on seemingly mundane things. Nevertheless, sometimes there are lessons to be reaped from such debates. For instance, from this debacle about train price meals, netizens can learn about several basic economic principles.

However, not all netizens argued rationally like those who were cited above. There are also others who were quick to jump on the bandwagon and attack him without raising reasonable arguments for the high price.

Unsurprisingly, several accounts such as @nksthi and @romeogadungan criticize the reactiveness of Indonesian netizens who like to pry into other people’s business and escalate trivial matters.

Tweet by @nksthi.

In fact, Hallala confirmed that PT KAI itself approached him to apologize and explain the inconvenience. They acknowledged his complaint as a valid suggestion for future improvement.

The latest tweets in Hallala’s thread after he met KAI representatives.

A picture of smiling Hallala and KAI representatives became the Top Media for this issue.

Hallala and KAI representatives.

Seeing that the topic was quickly dropped after KAI responded well to the criticism, the reactiveness of Indonesian netizens was evident. Perhaps, this episode can be a lesson to respond to people’s opinion rationally rather than simply judging.

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