Reining IN the road hogs | Sunday Observer

Reining IN the road hogs

Three Wheelers, more popularly known as Tuk-Tuks, continue to be a favoured mode of transport for tourists and locals alike in the Asian region. While its cheap rates, speed and ability to weave through traffic jams makes it an integral part of the public transport system in Asian countries such as India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, foreigners are often attracted to their novelty and quirks such as, the famous ‘Tuk-Tuk wisdom’ stickers, eye-popping colours and outlandish decorations.

But, despite their increase in number and popularity, Tuk-Tuks also have come under fire in recent times for their involvement in various rackets, especially, relating to the tourism industry, while at times Embassies have thought it needful to warn their citizens to be wary of Tuk-Tuks and their drivers as a result of various complaints received.

Tuk-Tuk Licensing

Being home to over a million three wheelers, the issues regarding the local industry revolves around the failure to regulate it. While the government has sought to introduce a new regulatory authority for the industry through the Budget proposals of 2018, the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) has already taken initial steps to introduce more ‘Tourist friendly Tuk-Tuks’ in their overall efforts to improve all services being offered to tourists while strengthening the licensing 

process. According to a spokesperson of the SLTDA, identified as one of the major informal service providers of the tourism industry Tuk-Tuks are to be a main focus of the new project.

The Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005 requires all tourism service providers to be registered with the SLTDA. However, many service providers continue to function without proper licences and the SLTDA is now determined to change this.

“All service providers in the tourism sector will be expected to register with us,” the Spokesperson said. Any business not complying with the regulations will be deemed as illegal, he said. The SLTDA is also currently making the necessary preparations to set up an enforcement team. “The team will act on complaints received and also conduct raids to ensure that only licensed businesses are in operation,” the source from SLTDA said, adding that Three Wheelers will also be checked to ensure they have necessary approvals to transport tourists.

According to new regulations to be enforced through a gazette in December, Three Wheelers seeking to register with the SLTDA will have to fulfil requirements set out by the authority. “The Tuk-Tuk will have to be fitted with a meter and display the details of the driver,” he said, explaining that it would also have to include details such as the number of the Police Station the three wheeler comes under, training details of the driver, contact number, among other information.

Meanwhile, following through a proposal in the Sri Lanka Tourism Strategic Plan 2017 - 2020 and the 2018 Budget, the SLTDA will provide necessary training as travel guides to Tuk-Tuk drivers. These training services will be provided free of charge, and those who complete the training successfully will be registered as licensed tour guides and receive special stickers to be displayed on the three wheeler, the official said.

The new moves would ensure proper regulation of Tuk-Tuks engaged in the tourism industry, while the licensing process is expected to curb crimes and fraud being reported as committed by certain Tuk-Tuk operators.

Curbing fraud

Officer in Charge, Police Tourist Division, CI Prabath Vidanagama says, the complaints against Tuk-Tuk operators have become a serious issue, especially, within the Colombo city. “We receive a wide range of complaints from tourists,” he said. ‘Many can be categorized into three groups’.

According to Vidanagama while certain three wheeler drivers often engage in over charging foreign clients others tend to work as touts for gem merchants and other tourism related businesses, receiving between a 30 - 40 per cent cut from each sale.

“We have discovered that many tourists are forced to visit these shops they tout for and convinced to buy goods,” he said, explaining that on investigation it has been discovered that tourists are over charged for these goods and services. Presenting an example, Vidanagama said, a gem merchant was found to have sold a gemstone to a tourist at a price of Rs 369,000 while in fact its real value was approximately Rs 1,250. Vidanagama says, some work in groups and conduct similar fraudulent activities.

With no registration process at the SLTDA in place previously, the Tourist Police Division has had to maintain its own database of Three Wheeler drivers, Vidanagama said. “We provided them with applications and information is stored with us so they can be utilized in investigations,” he clarified adding that the new program will streamline this process.

As an initial step the SLTDA, along with the Tourist Police Division is set to hold an awareness program for all three wheeler drivers in Colombo operating in the tourism industry. “They will be informed of the upcoming licensing program on that day,” he said. “The Police will also provide officers to the enforcement team of the SLTDA at the initial stages”.

According to Vidanagama identifying informal service providers in the tourism industry is a timely need due to its fast growth. “These issues are giving the country a bad name and therefore, regulation is needed,” he stressed.

Good move

The Chairman, All Island Three Wheel Owners’ Association (AITWOA) Sudhil Jayaruk has hailed the new move claiming it as a welcome change. According to Jayaruk the union had previously requested for training as travel guides, along with language and guidelines training. “We wanted to be included in the tourism industry,” he said and is pleased that the government has considered the three wheeler industry as a service provider for the tourism sector.

Expressing his concerns regarding possible delays in implementation, he opined that licenced three wheelers will benefit not only tourists but local clients as well. However Jayaruk stressed that the licensing process should be enforced by the SLTDA along with the proposed regulatory authority which is yet to come into being.

Jayaruk says, out of over one million three wheelers only around 15,000 are solely operating in the Tourism industry, but that they are bound to increase in number, with the new training. Jayaruk believes, the Three Wheeler industry and the economies of the operators will experience a significant growth as a result.

“We believe these changes will be beneficial to the Tourism as well as the Tuk-Tuk industry,” he said. A joint effort by all government agencies is a must for proper implementation.