By: George Kurzom
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
The scarcity of spaces for construction, the traffic congestion in all Palestinian cities, the escalating fuel prices and the endless governmental financial crisis, should push the official and governmental authorities to abandon the policy of encouraging people to use private vehicles, especially luxurious cars in order to encourage people to use public transportation.
It will be a turning point if the Palestinian Authority announces a comprehensive and qualitative transformation in the transportation sector.
The fact is that Palestinians are so addicted to private cars to an extent that it became intolerable.
As a matter of fact, many people belonging to the middle and upper social strata have fulfilled, in recent decades, their "American" dream of building a "villa" on the outskirts of Palestinian cities. In addition to two or more family cars in the luxury home car park.
It's the expensive, health-harmful, environmentally polluted, dangerous and even deadly consumer dream, in terms of the enormous human losses that we see daily in the streets.
The contradiction is that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are not considered vast areas of land as in Australia, Canada or California and we don’t even have a car industry.
However, what is available to us is just small areas of land isolated from each other, densely populated and besieged by settlements, military bases and the apartheid colonial wall.
Therefore, logically, the philosophy and policy of the transportation sector is assumed to reflect this reality.
The Palestinian transportation system is draining and exhausting on several levels, in terms of massive air pollution, noise pollution, building roads which pass through large areas of open land, establishing underground parking lots, daily road accidents, wasting time, high fuel cost, and so on.
The car that's supposed to serve us has turned into an unbearable burden.
It is therefore time to make a clear and courageous strategic decision to decrease the interest in private vehicles. And to start promoting and encouraging the use of public transportation especially buses.
In the absence of adequate infrastructure and ineffective public transportation, it is easy to accuse the official authorities and the government of inattention and carelessness. But we do not have to wait for the country to change until we start changing our habits. We can start at the level of workplaces, institutions and companies, with simple practical steps that aim at significantly reducing the use of private and public cars, which are a major cause of troubles in the transportation infrastructure.
In order to achieve a significant reduction in the amount of private car use, activists must carry out intensive awareness raising campaigns (workshops, training, meetings, communication ...) among NGOs, ministries, government institutions and companies of the private sector.
To encourage the employees to use simple and cheap means, such as: encouraging work from home, the travel of employees, workers and students in partnership or by buses and public vehicles, the use of bicycles for most of the short commutes.
As well as walking, which is another fuel saving option that gives us a real sense of self-reliance, as a result of our dependence on our own physical energy. This guarantees an additional reduction in the use of private cars.
The use of a car instead of walking or cycling, leads to a significant increase in the percentage of people who suffer from obesity, and lack of physical activity.
In the same context, campaigns must be commenced to pressure decision-makers (through meeting with them), to take the necessary measures to motivate people to use public transportation, and to work towards promoting the use of buses and public vehicles within and between cities and towns, at affordable prices, as well as for the establishment of appropriate infrastructure, including streets, roads, and public vehicles stations.
We can also provide incentives that encourage reduced vehicle use, and thus reduced fuel consumption. Among these incentives: Allocating a specific monthly limit of kilometers for each employee (including the use of his own vehicle while at work). At the end of the month, the employee receives a report detailing how he used the car, and based on that he will be held accountable financially.
If the employee travels less than the ceiling allocated to him, the surplus amount will be transferred to his bank account. But if his use of the car is more than the specified ceiling, then the excess financial value is deducted from his monthly salary.
This method has impressively affected the driving habits of workers and employees in many institutions and companies in European countries. Some companies that have successfully applied this method, which aims to change behavioral patterns related to transportation, have managed to reduce the number of their employees who arrive at their workplace with their own cars to less than a third of the total number of employees in the company.
This ecological philosophy pours directly into the mill of reducing the impact of Palestinian society from its consumption of harmful fuel, and from the toxic gas and carbon emissions resulting from transportation polluting the environment and destructive to public health, thus encouraging people to shift to clean transportation.
Translated by: Rasha Abu Dayyeh