Travelling together keeps traffic jams away, the Backseat Buddies way!Baishali Mukherjee
After the successful completion of the initiative called ‘Backseat Buddies’, Earth Day Network is all set to launch the second phase of the campaign post pujas in October, 2015. First launched in 2012, ‘Backseat Buddies’ is a fun-ﬁlled-student-centric campaign to encourage car-sharing as a way to ease traffic problems. The initiative is aimed at motivating children to want to share their car on their way and back from school. They were told to persuade their parents to let them go in the same car as their friends’ who live in the same locality or to pick up friends on the way to school.
Like most of the metros, trafﬁc jams are also a common sight in Kolkata. It is frustrating to be stuck in traffic with engines idling, surrounded by toxic smoke, amidst the constant cacophony of honking, desperately trying to look for a spot through which to manoeuvre the gridlock. A clichéd urban reality indeed! Around 65 per cent of the arterial roads in Kolkata are congested by bumper-to-bumper trafﬁc, resulting in travel movements to as low as 20 km/hr. The automobile emissions from these traffic jams are the major contributors to Kolkata’s air pollution. Jams outside the schools of Kolkata are a regular. The approach ways gets choked with hundreds of cars trying to drop children to schools. The resultant jostling causes stress and anxiety among the little ones who are in a hurry to get to school on time.
The first phase of Backseat Buddies, which ended in 2014, created ripples in the city of joy with most of the schools appreciating the endeavour. The advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, Kolkata, generously designed the campaign free of cost. Their very creative team developed a Backseat Buddies Public Service Announcement ﬁlm, a logo, stickers, badges and posters using characters kids relate to. Harry Potter was seen on the broomstick with Hermione and Professor Dumbledore, while Batman invited Spider-Man and Superman to share his Batmobile. Scooby-Doo had other friends riding the Mystery Machine. A peppy number was created by the well known singer and composer Neel Adhikari.
The chorus of the song goes ‘Backseat Buddies, make a greener town, Backseat Buddies, we can turn it around.’ Sporting these catchy props, the Earth Day Network team started visiting schools. Most school principals of the city welcomed the idea and provided support for the Backseat Buddies campaign in their schools.
Students displayed great enthusiasm. A competition was announced to see which school best implemented ‘Backseat Buddies’. Teams of ﬁve students per school were designated to lead the campaign as Backseat Buddies ambassadors. Everyone learnt the Backseat Buddies song. Backseat Buddies stickers were pasted on vehicles that agreed to be part of the campaign. The Ambassadors developed novel ways to get the message across. Colourful posters, skits, songs, poems etc. were prepared for the ﬁnals of the Backseat Buddies competition.
Twelve schools made it to the ﬁnal. Oriental Seminary School carried home the trophy; however no school went home empty handed. Each school was awarded in some category or the other—best cheer leaders, best posters, best song. The children of these 12 schools are still practicing the concept of Backseat Buddies and are using car pools on their way to and back from schools.
“In its ﬁrst phase of Backseat Buddies, the campaign reached 70,000 students in 33 schools; 7,000 played an active role in implementing Backseat Buddies. Earth Day Network is now planning to take the campaign to other cities as well. Come October and we will launch the second phase of the campaign in Kolkata by going to back to the schools that participated in the first phase and also by approaching new schools. More Backseat Buddies will make for a less polluted world where the natural resources are prudently used leading to reduced pollution,” says Karuna Singh, India Head, Earth Day Network.