Tuk-tuk teetering on the roads | Sunday Observer

Tuk-tuk teetering on the roads

The recent announcement of reduction in three-wheeler or ‘tuk-tuk’ charges, was welcomed by many a commuter who opted to use them instead of public transport due to the vagaries of daily travel. Reportedly, there had been a few such reductions announced. The most recent being on Monday by Sunil Jayawardene, the convener of the All Island Self-employed Federation, a body representing the largest number of three-wheeler drivers, who said that the charges will be brought down to Rs. 50 for the first kilometre. However, according to commuters, there had been no such changes. The Sunday Observer finds out that the reduction of charges is only the tip of the iceberg.

Ayesh was travelling in a three wheeler from Pettah to Dehiwala. From the first kilometre itself he noticed something unusual. As he continuously watched the meter of the three wheeler, it was quite fast compared to previous breakdowns. Again at the 2nd kilometre at the 1.9 km, the next 100 metres came quite early compared to other 100 metre breakdowns. Ayesh knew that he had been deceived, and he didn’t hesitate to complain about it.

“Why the last 100 metres of each kilometre jumps too soon?”Ayesh asked the driver.

The driver turned back, stared at Ayesh and then grinned.

“There is a problem with the meter Sir. I cannot fix it myself. I have to go to the agency to get it fixed. It will cost me a large amount and also a huge time waste,” he said.

Sri Lanka which is an example for an awful public transport system, three wheeler taxi is a big relief sometimes, one might say. No matter where you live, this tiny, fragile vehicle is very helpful in satisfying transport needs compared to the bus service. and also it fits best in to the city traffic unlike any other vehicle except for motorcycles. But… Are these three wheelers doing justice to the passengers? It’s a frequently asked question, which hadn’t been answered properly up to date.

Three wheelers seemed to be given some sort of a regulation when the meter was introduced. Ending a time where three wheeler charges were different to one another for the same distance, was revolutionary. Especially, it was a boon to tourists who had been exploited by these three wheeler drivers. Even though locals had the knack of bargaining, foreign travellers were helpless back then.

Nevertheless, the incident of Ayesh, suggests the importance of closely monitoring the malpractices of three wheeler drivers. The Sunday Observer found many different meters are set to charge differently. The first kilometre could be from Rs. 50 to 60, while the second kilometre would cost between Rs. 45 and 55.

Rs. 45 is usually charged from the third kilometre. The practice of arbitrary charging continues, with some three wheeler drivers claiming broken or malfunctioning meters.

Sunil Jayawardene, the convener of the All Island Self-employed Federation, which boasts of the registered membership of over 65,000 three wheeler drivers of the country, told the Sunday Observer that he agreed to the passenger complaints of having false meters.

“Almost all three wheeler meters are counterfeits,” he said.

According to him, three wheeler tyres are subjected to decay after six months, and it affects the meter operations of the three wheeler.

“On August 3, I had a meeting with the Transport Minister. The Minister had an idea of making three wheeler meters compulsory. However, I told him about issues pertaining to such order, specially, about the lack of proper standard of these meters. Then, the Ministry officials contacted Sri Lanka Standards (SLS) officers and learnt that my claim was true. Therefore, the country needs a standard meter where three wheeler drivers can’t cheat on passengers,” he said.

“The three wheeler industry has become the symbol of informality now. Though we have questions about the quality of service, the private bus industry has a proper system. We don’t see such a system in the three wheeler industry.

I myself brought the concept of a three wheeler meter in to Sri Lanka. Our principle of running is less margin and more clients. It will lead us to more profits eventually,” said Lalith Dharmasiri, President of the All Island Three Wheeler Drivers’ Association.

Despite contrary opinions of the unions for three wheeler drivers, some three wheeler drivers we met on road had different opinion, and they were facing different issues.

“While everything is going up, we have to increase the three wheeler price as well. Not just the fuel price, there are other expenses. With this dollar rate, everything has gone up. For instance, a cable which was Rs. 80 earlier is now Rs. 100. None of those people who are representing us and talk to newspapers and TV channels don’t bother about our true issues. However, to change the meter prices, we may have to pay additional Rs. 500 and stay a few hours in a queue. There are a large number of three wheelers in the Colombo city limit. They are all not from Colombo. They come from distant areas.

“They even have pillows in the vehicle. They don’t even wash their faces and run taxies. Those are the real issues, and no one talks about them. The government should stop importing three wheelers now,” Ranasinghe a three wheeler driver from Kolonnawa said.

Adhikary, a three wheeler driver from Townhall, Colombo, said that they are reluctant to increase charges as they might lose the passengers.

However, the meter, its standard and different charges are not all issues related to the three wheeler industry. Sometime ago, the Chairman of the National Council for Road Safety, Dr. Sisira Kodagoda at a press conference stressed the importance of well disciplined three wheeler drivers. “With leasing facilities, many youth tend to buy three wheelers and become taxi drivers. But they don’t have any idea, that they are bringing passengers, and they can’t risk their lives. Fatal three wheeler accidents occur more often due to these younger drivers.”

In addition, some drivers are rude. “While they call you in very politely, it is an about turn in manners at the end of the journey,” said a female commuter who did not want to be named. Most of the time, three-wheelers out of Colombo do not have meters, and one has to haggle the price as the drivers tend to fleece passengers with exorbitant charges, she said.

“They quote a price just by looking at you, how you are dressed. Some don’t have even the basic facilities,” she added relating a story where she had to take a three wheeler home on a rainy evening.

“Though there were covers on both sides, the driver kept them rolled up even after requesting him to put the covers down as I was getting soaked. And at the end of the journey, he was trying to charge me a lot more than the agreed price,” she said.

A vehicle is supposed to fill the gap in public transport and render a great service to the citizenry, and the authorities should not turn a blind-eye to this mode of transport.

The increasing number of complaints from all stakeholders of the industry suggest nothing but the grave need of a proper system, a regulatory body for the three wheeler industry.

The trade needs to be regulated - from the import of three wheelers and meters, seating facilities, fares to that of training and licensing of drivers and regular monitoring.

Only by such a comprehensive approach, the issues of thousands of commuters such as Ayesh will be resolved.

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