Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Daily Grind: Congestion, Pollution and Commuting

One of the most important aspects to living in any city is the ability to efficiently travel from A to B. We are social beings by default and aside from getting to and from work, we like to visit friends and family, seek entertainment and carry on with our daily routines. More often than not, whether we drive, commute by bus, tuk-tuk, taxi or train, we take it for granted. This happens globally, and it is no different in Sri Lanka.

Over the past few years of living in Colombo I've witnessed the increase in congestion on the roads. There seems to be an increasing number of vehicles (cars, buses, vans, trucks) on the road (note- I have wondered about the correlation between Sri Lankan Government regulations on the import of Japanese vehicles and the funding of grants and loans for major road infrastructure in Sri Lanka by the Japanese government). And, I've noted the buses and trains are filled to capacity (with no regard for health and safety matters as demonstrated in the image above) as commuters come in and out of Colombo. And I've yelled my fair share of expletives whilst sitting in traffic trying desperately to reign myself in from jumping out and punching a bus driver whose fingers move too easily to honk on the horn.

In addition, the roads seem less able to cope with the larger capacity and Sri Lanka's town planning is being put to the test. The fact that there are only one or two main roads leading into and out of the major towns (like Colombo, Kandy) mean there will be constant pressure as the population attempts to navigate around. There must be more that the Sri Lankan Government and municipal councils can do. The Southern expressway to Galle is already complete. And there are additional expressways between the Katunayake Airport - Colombo, and Colombo-Kandy with some work underway, but within the major city hubs I don't see any further plans or solutions to ease the current pressure and address the future areas. And it is definitely becoming an imperative.

The bus drivers in Sri Lanka drive me up the wall. They are a breed unto themselves. Your atypical bus driver is generally male, impatient, somewhat reckless and they abhor any road space ahead of them (or even ahead of you, if you are driving in front of them). Whether you're a fellow driver or a passenger you are definitely in for the experience of your life. That's to say, it's potentially unsafe, or at best, frustrating!

Tuk-tuk drivers are also quite unique in that they constantly weave their way around the traffic given their smaller vehicle size. However, most of the time these tuk-tuk drivers fail to see that they create more congestion as a result of their movements. This is frustrating to say the least. Many a time I have gotten stuck at a traffic light due to a number of tuk-tuks overtaking and weaving through the traffic to create three lanes out of only one.

I recently visited Kandy and it is much of the same story. The traffic in and around the lake is congested and the exhaust fumes make it almost impossible to enjoy a walk around the lake, especially at peak times for school drop-offs, pick-ups and before and after work hours. Additionally, many commuters are forced to come into Kandy from outer towns to access buses, trains and coaches to Colombo and surrounds. On top of this, you'll also have tour buses, coaches and light vehicles. All this makes for a helluva traffic nightmare.

This predicament did get me thinking about possible solutions to the congestion, pollution and commuter issues. Back in the day, there were less vehicles due to affordability and access. So people went by foot, or rode on animals, bicycles or, if possible, rode on public transport.

Certainly, a combination of the above is still very feasible. I'm not necessarily promoting riding animals any longer. However, travelling on foot or on bicycle promotes good health through exercise. And if the transport system is sufficiently funded, regulated and well-designed it can bring ease, affordability and access to everyone. Just think of the major underground systems in New York, London, Dubai etc. Or the bus, trams, trains in places like Melbourne, San Francisco, Berlin as examples. Overall, less vehicles on the road also mean less pollution and toxic fumes, which is good for us and also the environment. If we must have vehicles, then hybrid vehicles should be encouraged.

There is certainly a lot more that can be done by the powers that be via transport regulations, urban planning, vehicle licencing, infrastructure investment and strategic planning. If things do happen to move forward, this can only make Sri Lanka a better place to live...


HomeRefiner said...

Love your blog! Just came across it and can't stop reading :). Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!

Eva Stone said...

You're welcome. Thanks for the comment HomeRefiner

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