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An aggregation of Tuk-Tuks

4 March 2019 12:07 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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 recent article on tuk-tuks (three wheelers doubling as low-level taxis), claimed there was a registered population of two million. Tuk-tuks, starting life as disdained, mechanical bone shakers, rapidly metatasised into every village. About one million of them had replaced rickshaws. Rickshaws offered only one product, that of short distance personal transport: tuk-tuks were the opposite. While rickshaws were given traction through demeaning human leg power, tuk-tuks were motorised providing a multi-product offering. Technology change is disruptive. 
When rickshaw pullers (wallahs) lost their jobs, a new cadre of tuk-tuk drivers emerged -- about 800,000 -- to replace them. Rickshaw pullers being at the very bottom of the social pile, were unable to mount a Luddite push-back against the loss of their livelihoods. New technologies pitilessly replace dated skills, the market place dictates their morality of Social Darwinism. The same happened when agricultural labourers were displaced by the enclosure movement in Britain, who were left to wither, events captured well by Charles Dickens. Rickshaw pullers, accompanied by their kith and kin drowned their sorrows in toddy taverns, of which Korteboam -- a notorious speak-easy, offered rot-gut solace. Morality flows from the clink of cash register. These rickshaw pullers led such miserable lives, literally a hell on earth, that their death was a celebration. Dancing and music followed their cortege.

 

"When rickshaw pullers lost their jobs, a new cadre of tuk-tuk drivers emerged -- about 800,000 -- to replace them"


This mechanical-mass of tuk-tuks, in addition to providing a double-barrelled noun to the English vocabulary, penetrated all 15,000 villages in Sri Lanka -- a tuk-tuk here, a tuk-tuk there, everywhere a tuk-tuk. Perhaps, when one wanders, lonely as a cloud that floats on vales and hills, it is likely, to suddenly, hear an aggregation of speeding tuk-tuks. 
In 1956, the CTB was established. Praise be unto the first board of directors are de Mel (chairman), Chandana Cooray (human resources), B.R. Devarajan (operations), and Andrew Joseph (planning). They created an excellent organisation which became later debauched by politics. There was an instance when a tailor was appointed as chairman of the board, perhaps to maximise on his skill of tailoring corners. The CTB provided a bus route to each village, dawning mass passenger transport. The tuk-tuks capitalised on this multi-modal breakthrough, providing link transport from bus halt to home, adding a side capability of simultaneously transporting the passenger’s small scale merchandise. The smart phone, of which there are 18 million, serving a population of 22 million Sri Lankans, was made the indispensable handmaiden of tuk-tuk drivers. 


The recent advance in information technology (with a globally reputed trade mark), enabled an information entrepreneur- using smart phones- to bring together a consumer, needing a tuk-tuk, with a producer, supplying it. A tuk-tuk is now at the business end of a mobile telephone call. The tuk-tuk driver could monetize wait time, with a fresh call from the service provider. For a rickshaw puller, his job was a dead end, for a tuk-tuk driver it is a live one, the first step in his upward mobility. He could extend his productivity, installing a GPS, foreclosing the necessity to consult passer-by person for an address.


The product range offered by tuk-tuks is wide spectrum, unlike a rickshaw offering a single product. The tuk-tuk range covered providing urgent ambulance services, minor freight and elopements, among others. Earlier, patients had to be carried by palanquin. Tuk-tuks provided products for eloping couples too. Earlier, a panting, eloping Daisy would have to make do with a bicycle meant for two, now, the demand had ratcheted to a tuk-tuk meant for two or more, possibly to accommodate complicit mothers-in law. As Lady Macbeth advised, “if it were to be done, it were best if it were done immediately”.

 

" The tuk-tuks capitalised on this multi-modal breakthrough, providing link transport from bus halt to home, adding a side capability of simultaneously transporting the passenger’s small scale merchandise"


One downside of the tuk-tuk micro-economy, is the hazardous nature of travel in it. Its wallahs drive like lightning and crash like thunder. They take deep curves with nonchalance, like 200 metre-athletes do at that particular vulnerable curvature of their, without a second of deceleration. A similar capability is enjoyed by the donkeys of Delft. Traffic lights are a challenge to tuk-tuk drivers, pedestrians on traffic crossings are considered an annoying intrusion. Tuk-tuks regularly turn turtle, resting on their hoods, their three wheels forlornly turning helpless, like upended beetles with flailing legs. But they have a secret friend up above. One tuk-tuk driver arrived to join a jostling crowd of popes, cardinals, impatiently waiting their turn to enter the Pearly Gates. When the tuk-tuk driver revealed his profession, he was processed speedily and granted instant entry. This strange preferential treatment was explained: tuk-tuk drivers had a special niche reserved for them, for “when they drive, passengers are fervently considering the lethal and constantly praying”.

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  Comments - 1

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  • Srian Monday, 04 March 2019 10:21 AM

    Beautifully written!!!


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