For decades, tourists to Sri Lanka have run a gauntlet of unscrupulous taxi drivers charging elevated fares and making unscheduled stops at commission-paying souvenir shops, but all that may be set to change as a result of the government’s new budget proposals.
Under new rules planned for 2018, working meters will become mandatory for all passenger three-wheelers, and a national three-wheeler regulatory authority will be established to give passengers recourse in the event of fare disputes. At the same time, a new programme will train tuk-tuk drivers as tourist guides, with the aim of finally delivering the ‘tourist-friendly tuk-tuks’ that the government has been promising since 2009.
As part of the project, tuk-tuks carrying tourists will be licensed by the Sri Lanka Tourist Development Authority and required to sign up to official standards, including a requirement to display the name and address details for the driver prominently in the cab. Drivers will also be given lessons on etiquette, customer relations, essential first aid, language skills and road rules.
Sri Lanka’s tuk-tuks are also set to go greener in 2018. New taxes on the import of fossil-fuelled tuk-tuks will be introduced next year, alongside a special scheme to lease less-polluting electric vehicles to tuk-tuk drivers on favourable terms. Longer term, the government hopes that the nation’s entire fleet of 1.5 million tuk-tuks will be powered by electricity by 2045.
The fate of all those unwanted internal combustion-powered tuk-tuks is already being thrashed out, with the government of Bangladesh expressing an interest in importing the vehicles at a discounted rate. While a cynic might say this just moves the problem elsewhere, cities such as Colombo and Kandy are some of the most polluted in Asia, so the effects in Sri Lanka may be hugely beneficial for future generations of tourists and locals.