Transportation in Sri Lanka has been a learning experience for me as I take to the roads as a driver and a pedestrian. Transportation in Sri Lanka is nothing like I expected to be, although I did not really know what to expect. Driving on the other side of the road and risky traffic will sometimes make you crazy. I knew that it was custom to drive on the left side of the road in Sri Lanka but I did not understand road conditions, vehicle types or unofficial road rules. Sri Lankan vehicle types are comprised of motorbikes, tuk-tuks or three wheelers, scooters, cars, buses, bicycles and tractors. This is also the order of vehicle popularity among the general population in Matara. The road conditions in Sri Lanka range from perfectly paved highways to pothole filled side streets. While I am used to nice paved streets in America, I have become accustomed to traveling significantly slower to avoid the deep holes. The most exciting parts of Sri Lankan transportation are the unofficial road rules. For example, I have never seen a stop sign at any intersection in Matara. For the longest time I never understood why there are not thousands of wrecks a day, however, I realized that beeping is how people communicate at intersections. When a driver approaches an intersection, he/she beeps the horn and if there is not a responding beep from another driver then it is safe to drive through. This is the norm for transportation rules in Sri Lanka.
A tuk-tuk is a three wheeled, partly enclosed trishaw that is used by anyone who needs a ride for any reason. Tuk-Tuks are like the yellow taxis of New York City because they both are everywhere. People get in a tuk-tuk to go to work, school, the beach and even grocery shopping. Besides using the tuk-tuk, people usually have motorbikes, more similar to dirt bikes rather than motorcycles, which are used for everyday errands around town. To travel further distances most people use buses, which service every part of the country. The bus system is fantastic because if goes to every neighborhood and is cheap. Beyond buses Sri Lankans have cars similar to those in America, bicycles for shorter distances, and scooters for medium distances. My preferred mode of transportation is the bicycle because it gets me everywhere I want to go without waiting for a bus or buying gas.
When I arrived to Matara, I bought a bicycle, or “footbike” in Sri Lanka, in order to get from my house to school and the grocery store. I love riding the bike every day, because it gives me a little exercise yet it is much faster than walking. I sometimes use tuk-tuks when I need to go somewhere a little further in town and I have a driver friend that likes to pick me up and take me places. Riding the tuk-tuk is extremely fun because it is different than anything I have ridden. I take bus to go to different towns, but it is usually packed full of people. The buses drive very fast and dangerously but I have never been in an accident. One downside to the bus is that I have to fight for a seat or I will be standing on it for hours. Overall, while I prefer the bike, I really love getting around in a scooter. The scooter is slightly bigger and faster than a bicycle but smaller than a tuk-tuk. This is an advantage to me because I can go longer distances, unlike a bicycle, and I can weave in between cars and buses in traffic, unlike a tuk-tuk.
Most people in Sri Lanka do not have to go long distances to get to work or school. The reason for this is multi-faceted, but it does include the cultural norm that families stay close to each other for their entire life. Because of this cultural norm children and parents usually live in the same town and also work in the same town. Therefore, most people travel only small distances, which is why motorbikes and tuk-tuks are so popular. Furthermore, cars are very expensive for most families in Sri Lanka, which is why the bus is more popular for longer distances. Overall, transportation in Sri Lanka is different and exciting. While I like my daily bicycle commute to school, I also love the practicality of the scooter as a vehicle that can do everything from long-distances to traffic weaving.