Bicycle: A New Lease of Life | Daily News

Bicycle: A New Lease of Life

According to reports, office workers have increasingly taken to the push cycle to get to their workplaces in the face of the acute fuel shortage. Not just minor employees and public servants, even those in the private sector including executives are now using what was once called the poor man’s vehicle to take them to their offices. Even university dons are using the bicycle to travel to their campuses. The latest among the academics to do so is Prof. Meththika Vithanage, Head of the Applied Sciences Faculty of the Sri Jayawardenapura University.

It looks as if the worst fears of Private Bus Owners’ Association President Gemunu Wijeratne have come to pass. Wijeratne warned that very soon people will stop travelling in private buses due to the high fares occasioned by the fuel shortage and wanted the authorities to grant them concessions to avert such an eventuality. It is also reported that following the higher demand for bicycles, a push cycle once priced at Rs. 15,000 has now shot up to Rs.50,000.

Yet the people consider this as a bargain in the long run rather than having to part with the same amount for three months’ rides in private buses, with the fare for a 20 kilometre return journey costing as much as Rs. 300 per day per individual.

Initially the then Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera sought to encourage cycling to offices in the City as a means of preventing environmental pollution as well as arresting the increasing trend of Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Now, the energy crisis and high cost of fuel have forced the people to use this mode of transport.

A Cabinet Paper too was expected to be submitted aiming to promote the use of bicycles as a popular mode of transport, especially in cities. Now with the increased presence of push cycles on the roads special cycle lanes should be set up, as seen in other countries, at least when new roads are constructed. Incentives should also be offered to those coming to work in bicycles in the State sector thus reducing the country’s fuel bill drastically.

In fact, in a different era, cycling to workplaces was a common feature. There were popular cycle brands such as Raleigh and Humber well equipped with a dynamo toolkit including an ‘inflator’ in case of a flat tyre. Once mounted, it was plain sailing for the rider to his/her destination. Accidents involving cycles were very rare, with only a few motor vehicles on the roads and no speeding private buses to mow down the riders.

Fathers also used to take their children to schools by bicycle before going to their workplaces. Bicycles easily outnumbered other vehicles on the roads, adding to the safety factor. Cyclists also played a part in no small measure towards generating self-employment including “winkles” for cycle repairs.

Old timers would also recall the ubiquitous bath karayas (lunch wallahs) who rode on bicycles in groups to workplaces in the City to deliver lunches to office workers after doing the rounds taking delivery of the lunches from homes.

This was also the time that the medical profession had the least instances where they had to deal with NCDs, due to the exercise factor of bicycle riding. There are also cases of respiratory diseases associated with Carbon Dioxide emissions from the vehicles that could be combated with more motorists taking to cycling. Therefore, with little time to engage in physical exercises given the present day rat-race, cycling to workplaces could be the best remedy for a majority of office workers.

Riding to offices in the mornings could be a pleasant experience but not so the return journey - cycling all the way for 10 to 15 Km after a hard day’s work. The exhaustion could well discourage some. But with time, one may well get used to the practice like they did in the past. In fact, many countries have successfully promoted cycling to workplaces and their roads are full of cyclists at any given time of the day. In the West, even Prime Ministers have been pictured arriving on bicycles to do shopping at supermarkets, not just as a demonstration of their simplicity but perhaps also to promote cycling among the citizenry.

What is needed is a collective decision by all - rich and poor - to take up cycling to workplaces for the well-being of all. Very soon we may have no option other than resorting to cycling to workplaces by force of circumstances, particularly if the energy crisis does not resolve itself soon.

The Government will not lose in the long run if the success of the whole project would mean a lesser fuel bill. A special loan scheme should also be contemplated for public servants to purchase bicycles. A good bicycle as already mentioned can be expensive.

The bicycle was known as the poor man’s vehicle in the days gone by, as depicted in the popular song by Vincent De Paul Peiris Bisikale Bisikale Duppath Apage Bisikale. It may well soon be the vehicle of the rich man as well.

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