During the past few years, in most cities and suburbs, unprecedented traffic congestion has driven Sri Lanka into a multitude of crises. Of these the worst is air pollution. Most people are inhaling instead of exhaling carbon dioxide. That is perhaps one of the major reasons why more people are falling sick more often and private hospitals have become big business ventures while public hospitals are crowded like market places.
Another factor is the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars for the import of fuel. When the new Government took office in January 2015, one of its first measures was to slash the prices of diesel, petrol and kerosene. But the people-friendly and practical step saw Sri Lanka eventually racing to a huge negative impact or dead end. More than 700,000 vehicles were imported that year and the fuel price slash benefits crashed in traffic jams. Another crisis is the loss of precious time for millions of people who are forced to go through stress and strain in the massive traffic congestion especially at peak times from about 6.00 a.m. to 9.00 a.m. and from 5.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.
From Tuesday, the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry began implementing a comprehensive plan to ease traffic congestion. During the next few weeks in certain areas of the Colombo city and suburbs there will be a special lane for buses and school vans, initially from 6.00 a.m. to 9.00 a.m. Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, admired as one of the best and most hardworking ministers, has appealed to motorists and the people to give their full cooperation to ease traffic congestion because it will give enormous benefits to all people and to the country. He has also appealed to the free media to help find a solution instead of finding fault.
This comes amid claims by some government leaders that some media groups are excessively critical, highlighting the negatives instead of the positives. We also hope that all political parties, civic action groups, religious institutions and others will encourage the people to successfully work out this plan.
There are also many other ways in which eco-friendly and responsible citizens could cooperate in reducing traffic congestion which is part of the worldwide battle against climate change or global warming. For instance, more people could use public transport instead of private transport. It may be the more difficult way, but certainly it is the better way for the common good of all and to reduce our carbon footprints. The Government on its part needs to give priority to the improvement and modernization of the State transport system while also taking steps to prevent or curb sexual harassment of girls and women in buses. Strictly enforced regulations are also required to bring about better standards and discipline in private buses. Dangerous speeding is one of their main offences, and we hope that the new regulations against traffic offences will help curb this.
Another area is the transport of schoolchildren. Most of them have no option but to use school vans, and thousands of vans come to the cities and suburbs on school days. This is known to be one of the main causes of traffic congestion. Most developed countries including Japan have an efficient and streamlined school bus service, monitored by the school authorities and State transport services. One big school bus, comfortable and with modern facilities, could transport as many children who travel in four school vans. That means instead of 400 school vans there would only be 10 school buses. The saving would be enormous in terms of costs while air pollution and traffic congestion could also be significantly reduced. Here again school authorities and parents need to get together and work this out while the Government gives encouragement and incentives.
Until the 1980s, most children travelled in school buses while elder children even used public transport. If some enterprising school authorities could set the example by starting an efficient school bus service, then others would follow.
All our religions teach us that we need to be liberated from self-centredness and gradually become other-centred. Thereby we need to work for the common good by becoming eco-friendly and responsible citizens, proactively cooperating in the do or die battle against global warming.