Of Taxis and Tuk-Tuks

Tuk-tuks By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

From the scholarly streets of one of England’s venerable university towns comes the story of the tuk-tuk proposal, as related by Jack Grove in the Cambridge Evening News. Grove, on closer scrutiny, appears to be one of those eclectic-minded journalists who writes about everything. He provides some helpful background to raise our tuk-tuk awareness:

¦ Tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled motorised rickshaw, is named after the spluttering noise emitted from its engine.
¦ They’re very popular in the Indian sub-continent and Far East, particularly in busy cities such as Mumbai, Bangkok and Delhi.
¦ Models proposed for Cambridge would carry a driver and two passengers, would have seatbelts and a maximum speed of 35mph.

These little vehicles, which seem more appropriate to a circus ring than a city street, are cute, but are they safe? A tuk-tuk can roll over, and it’s eggshell-frail, so there is little protection for passengers in the event of collision with, say, a bus. The safety issues are pointed out by the taxicab companies, whose motives are purely altruistic and community-minded.

Thus far, only one entrepreneur has applied for a tuk-tuk license in Cambridge, but worried clingers to the status quo have warned the public that once you let one fleet of tuk-tuks loose on the streets, others will soon follow. And they’re probably right.

The proponents say that tuk-tuks could help alleviate the congestion in the ancient streets, even if all they do is carry around guided tour parties, which is about as far as the idea extends, for the moment at least. They say we have the technology to improve on the Thai or Indian tuk-tuk designs, and with a speed limit of 30 mph they should be safe. Besides, your average tuk-tuk gets 150 miles per gallon of fuel. Which is always a plus.

In The Third Tower Up From the Road, Kevin documents his surprise to find that in Manila, the tuk-tuk is an unknown species. Instead, you find vehicles that are kind of like bicycles with sidecars, some with the same rickety motors, others just with pedals. The passenger compartment is covered on top and open on the sides.

However, he does go on to say a few well-chosen words about Filipino taxi drivers. You might also want to check out his review of the tuk-tuk drivers of Thailand.

In other international taxi-related news, we note that Seoul, Korea, has a fleet of 120 taxis for the exclusive use of foreign visitors, with English- or Japanese-speaking drivers, that can be reserved by phone. In Myanmar, you can still catch a cab that’s so rusted out, the road can be seen through the floor. In the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, the government has given up on trying to regulate taxis, much to the detriment of tourist transportation. In Colombia, travelers are warned not to get into a taxi that already has two occupants, and advised to let the driver see that you are memorizing the number on the side before getting in.

China is about to acquire 1,000 London-style taxis, which will be manufactured in Hangzhou. In the Shanghai Daily, Dong Zhen and Ni Yinbin report that Shanghai installation of special rooftop lights in all of the city’s 40,000 taxis. A taxi must signal availability, and then make itself available to any passenger who wants to ride, rather than being picky on the basis of whatever criteria taxi drivers tend to be picky on the basis of. Shanghai also now offers a hotline that travelers who speak English, Japanese, French or German can call for help in communicating with taxi drivers. And Laura Bashraheel reports from Saudi Arabia on the sad and very expensive plight of foreigners and, more importantly, of Saudi women, since neither class of people are allowed to drive. Taxis are not a satisfactory solution.

At TechCrunch, Jose Antonio Gallego Vazquez gives advice specific to Madrid, Spain, while at Associated Content, Jeffrey Hanes offers five handy foreign-taxi-savvy tips, and Jose Soares offers several more. General rules everywhere include: carry plenty of small-denomination money so you don’t encounter a situation where a driver claims he is unable to make change. And always, always check for stray belongings before exiting a car, which is so much easier than trying to track them down after your taxi has driven away.

Sicilian photo courtesy of geoftheref, used under this Creative Commons license; Thai photo courtesy of Marshall Astor – Food Pornographer , used under this Creative Commons license; Cuban photo courtesy of exfordy, used under this Creative Commons license

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