Going back to basics

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Ever since fuel prices started skyrocketing with oligopoly in fuel market giving shocking back-to-back price increases to consumers within a short span,  Esala Ranawakaarachchi, a 33 year old ‘history tutor’ has opted to peddling his bicycle from home to the tuition class spending thirty minutes, which otherwise would have taken only ten minutes using his car.

Esala not only chose a bicycle as his prime mode of commuting but also encourages others to shift to bicycles as well.

While, this is considered a wise way to take care and deal with your basic transport constraints it could be very costly exercise to own a new bicycle. Since the working class, both men and women, are compelled to use private or public transport not many have a bicycle of their own. According to a recent research about the current prices of bicycles in the market Ceylon Today learnt that prices of the bicycles have risen by 30 per cent within the past year.

When inquired about the prices Ceylon Today found that the price of a ‘Mountain Bike’ ranged from a minimum Rs 34,000 to a maximum of Rs 100,000.

The fuel crisis in Sri Lanka has made its peoples’ lives so difficult that they have to use alternatives instead of using their own private transportation.  An individual cannot even use public transport due to the skyrocketing fares. People used to travel by three-wheelers or by booking a taxi for a reasonable fare. However due to the fuel crisis and the constant increases in transportation fares people have turned to riding bicycles although at present even a bicycle is unaffordable.

Commenting on the crisis Esala Ranawakaarachchi said, while it costs a fortune to buy a bicycle the important factor is that it is the only available option for a poor man’s mode of transport. People might not prefer riding a bicycle to work due to various reasons. However, in reality it would better to ride a bicycle every day than spending thousands every other day being in long queues to fuel up your vehicle.

Furthermore it had brought relief to our mental and emotional well being, he said.

“It used to cost me between Rs 40,000- 45,000 every month to just to pump fuel to my vehicle but since I shifted to riding a bicycle that money is saved. It wasn’t that easy to change my mind and shift to riding a bicycle, but it is the current fuel crisis that compelled me to do so; to travel to work  by bicycle” he said.

Now he claims that even when the situation returns to normalcy he would continue to ride his bicycle adding that it has improved both his physical and mental health.

The use of bicycles was practised a long time ago and even the then governments had taken initiatives such as demarcating bicycle and bus tracks on public roads. However, its popularity had declined over time.

Meanwhile Amal Kumarage Senior Professor at the Department of Transport and Logistics Management, University of Moratuwa, reviewing the current situation has stated that he had submitted proposals to the responsible authorities a few years ago regarding the need to reintroduce cycle tracks on public roads.

“There have been many proposals with regard to demarking bus and bicycle tracks from about a decade ago. Within the Colombo city it would be convenient for people to travel either by bus or by bicycle considering the short distances to destinations within Colombo limits.”

“In the past, none of our governments have given priority to such projects or invested in the infrastructure to ensure both bicycles and buses could ply public roads simultaneously. Especially, since the 1970s and for the past 50 years the society has only been focusing on the use of automotives. Our whole country thinks that this motorisation is the way to go for every journey. Just consider how enslaved we have become, people are unable to live without fuel. The country has come to the point where it is necessary to import fuel even if it is bankrupt, ;even if there is no food and drink,” he quipped.

He said the Department had proposed on three occasions for the concept of a separate bus lane, but successive governments failed to implement them.

The former ministers who were in charge of the sector in 2016/17 were in favour of the proposals. However when the government changed the other ministers did not take much notice of it. The Government in power had only activated ‘the bus lane’ concept only for a brief period of six months, he added.

He alleged the government is not doing anything constructive to meet the actual needs of the public even though the introduction of ‘bus lane and cycle lanes’ does not cost much, and is beneficial to the majority, their focus is on projects to build flyovers, or six-lane bridges, or highways which could cost billions of rupees.

“From time to time the talk about the bicycle track comes to the authorities’ mind and that too only if someone has a personal interest in it. But so far there is no plan to implement bus lanes or bicycle lanes” he added.

He also said his department has proposed to the Ministry to move away from the policy of privatisation, which was the policy in the past, but once again there are moves to prioritise public transport and that includes walking and bicycle tracks too, he added.

Bicycles are considered as one of the eco-friendliest means of transport as they produce zero emission. Bicycles ride quietly and limit noise pollution and disturbances to the environment and nature. They encourage human interaction, communication, and connectivity. Bicycles are affordable and accessible to people with limited means. They do not require large expanses of impervious surfaces to be parked or stored.

Cycling to work tend to be more satisfied, less stressed, more relaxed and experience greater freedom compared to people who drive their car to work. Bicycle use therefore not only improves physical health, but also has a positive impact on mental health and subjective well-being. Therefore without spending hours in queues to pump fuel to vehicles one can ride a bicycle and save money in these hard times.

BY Aloka Kasturiarachchi