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Shifting school timing eases traffic, improves health, raises revenue
October 21, 2017, 4:15 pm

Even with no kids in school, you know the school season has started in Kuwait from the snarling traffic jams and bottlenecks that confront us each day. Major road arteries in the country get besieged by traffic each morning and afternoon, as moms, dads and drivers go to drop off or pick up children from schools.

Traffic chaos has become so inseparably entwined with the school year in Kuwait that most people have come to accept it as an inevitable part of living in this country. Rather than find effective solutions to this recurring traffic problem, the authorities come out with their stock responses and seem more interested in apportioning blame for this recurring snafu on our streets.

Congestion on our roads have been attributed by various authorities to poor road infrastructure, ongoing constructions, too many vehicles, lack of efficient public transport, and, of course, too many expatriates. The so-called experts have also each year come up with the same set of suggestions to remedy the situation: Build more roads, conclude ongoing infrastructure projects faster, reduce vehicles on roads, improve public transport services and, again, throw out the expatriates, or at least deny them driving licenses or charge them fees for using the roads.

Someone somewhere needs to wake up and realize that dumping expatriates is not the solution to our traffic woes.

We need to seriously rethink our car culture shaped by that ‘American ideal’ which equates owning cars with personal freedom, stature and success in life. Using individual cars as the preferred mode of mobility probably makes sense in sparsely populated large country such as the US. In a small country the size of Kuwait, where most people live and work along a short linear route stretching parallel to the country’s coastline, an efficient public transport system would have been the perfect choice.

Traffic congestions are not just an irritating inconvenience, they are a health hazard to vehicle occupants, a major cause of pollution to the public, and they account for a significant loss in productivity and revenue to the state.
One scenario that the authorities could consider is shifting school timings. Students in most schools now go to classes at 7 or 7.30am and leave around 2pm. Most children and their parents have to wake up way before 7am to reach school on time, depriving children of their much-needed sleep which impairs their health and scholastic performance.  Shifting school timing by even an hour could make a huge impact on road traffic during rush hours, and it could also have the added benefit of giving more sleep time to our children.

A recent study in the US, of students who start school early, showed that the vast majority of them arrived at school in a sleep-deprived state. This lack of sleep not only affected their academic performance but also left the children less motivated, more depressed and likely to be tardy and truant at school. The study also found that most of these undesirable traits were not manifested in children studying in schools that opened later in the day.

On a separate note, another study conducted by the RAND Corporation and RAND Europe on the economic implications of a shift in school start times in the United States, found that a nationwide switch to start schools at 8.30am could contribute as much as $83 billion to the US economy within a decade and more than $140 billion in 15 years. To digress, just imagine the number of the walls that President Trump could build with that kind of money.

The economic gains projected through the study model would be realized through higher academic and professional performance of students, which would impact the jobs that adolescents are able to obtain in future, and, in turn, the contributions they make to the national economy. Add to this, the reduced car crash rates among sleep-deprived college students rushing to their morning classes, the productivity gains to be realized from not having to spend idle time in traffic jams, and the gains of nearly $10 billion a year seem very conservative.

In a perfect world we would all whizzing around to wherever we wanted to whizz around in elegant public transport systems and children would be peacefully dozing in the beds at unearthly hours.

But then, we do not live in a perfect world, and so year after year we sit in our cars twiddling our thumbs while stuck in traffic, alongside thousands of other vehicles all belching corroding polluting fumes around us.



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