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Wednesday, 19 September 2018
Wednesday, 19 September 2018 | Sri Lanka Watch
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Want to Take the Train with Your MP? PDF Print E-mail
My PhotoI read an article about a past MP in a Sinhala newspaper a few days ago. It's not my habit to read newspapers regularly, in any language, but I just happened to find this one. What struck me about this gentleman was how he had described the way he used to travel to Colombo by train to attend Parliament sessions. That sounded like a joke as we who live in this country today have never seen a parliamentarian using public transport even occasionally.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not about to start a long harangue about politicians' privileges having grown exponentially in the past few decades, while the lot of the common man took a totally different trajectory. All that is only too well known and just water under the bridge, if I may say so. But is it only the political bigwigs who shun public transport these days in our country? My impression is rather that almost anybody would prefer to do without it if they could only afford to.

Using your own conveyance is no easy job in Sri Lanka. To say nothing of the exorbitant expenses involved, driving on our roads is no child's play either. For one thing, they are often congested and you drive or ride practically with one foot on the brake all the time; for another, the roads are still not so good and you have to be on the constant lookout for potholes if you care about your shock absorbers; and the list could go on.

Why then do people still go for this option, given half a chance, even when they just go to work? I know, it's a silly question. Anyone who has ever travelled by public transport, especially at rush hour, would know the answer. It's in terrible state even by Asian standards. In fact, I once read in a travel guide for Sri Lanka that a bus ride in Colombo during rush hour is the closest thing to hell on earth!

And see the way it's organized. You get off one bus at Gunasinhapura in Pettah, and you sometimes have walk in the hot sun to another place on the other side of Olcott Mawatha to get your connection. The railway station is located still farther.

Many Asian countries have long since gone past this. Today they have far better transport systems than we do. Singapore has MRT, Bangkok has Skytrain and Metro, but what have we got? Of course the now-red-coloured SLTB buses and the omnipresent private buses. And then we have our trains that look like they belong in an age 50 years ago. Can they even compare? One could argue that they are cheap but that's about all you could say in their favour.

I have heard from elders that it wasn't always so. Especially the railway has seen better days when the trains had more amenities. Where have they gone? While the rest of Asia has gone forward, we simply seem to have backtracked and lost even what we already had.

If we just had decent public transport in this country, people wouldn't hesitate to use it, at least in everyday life, easing the traffic conditions in Colombo and other cities in the process. It would also save a bundle in foreign exchange needlessly spent on fuel. It would definitely make our roads a more pleasant place.

And who knows, you might even meet your dear politicians riding along too. The only thing is they would need to book a whole compartment today for their entourage.

By Sujeewa de Silva

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