Three-wheelers are the common mode of transport for many as it is a mode of convenience and the fares were reasonable, however, that is not the story anymore. Read on to see what unfolds.

Taxis play a significant role as a transportation substitute all over the world. In urbanised countries, taxis are used as an alternative for private vehicles by passengers who use it for convenience or because they do not want to own a car. In developing countries, taxis are often used to supplement inadequate public transport systems such as buses or trains.

At the moment citizens of our country are facing an insurmountable crisis and  should be given some form of relief. However, that is not the case, the public has to face difficulty after difficulty.  Due to the prevailing economic crisis, fuel prices have skyrocketed pushing all sectors to face many difficulties in their day- to-day lives. High transport rates have had a severe impact on the majority of the people. Many opt to travel in three-wheelers or tri shaws as some refer to it as a mode of convenience but now with fares going beyond the purse strings of many, people are walking instead of hopping into a wheeler.

Three-wheeler fares

Three-wheeler fares are not metered anymore and different fares are charged for the same distance and people now choose to walk instead. Unregulated prices in the taxi industry have inconvenienced the user as well as the industry.

When Ceylon Today inquired about the issue from Lalith Dharmasekara, President of the All Ceylon Three-Wheeler Drivers Union, he admitted that the taxi industry was at present unregulated.  He said three-wheeler drivers were standing in queues to buy fuel for hours if not for days, therefore, there are drivers who ask for increased fares than what is seen on the meter.

“There are several taxi companies in the country; they run the taxi business according to their administrations. There are over 700,000 three-wheelers plying throughout the country but what is astounding is that there is no single body to regulate three-wheelers thus they become a law unto themselves.

 Three-wheelers do have meters fixed on their three-wheelers, where some drivers ask for Rs 100 for the first kilometre and Rs 80 for the second.  Some drivers however insist on Rs 100 for the first and Rs90 for the second, he said.

However, at the moment, some of the drivers who have meters ask for higher fares than the meter reading from customers. They do not switch on the meter and request an amount according to their discretion putting the customer into untold difficulty, Dharmasekera said.

“Nevertheless the fare hike as requested by three-wheeler drivers was understandable because they have to wait in queues for hours if not days to obtain their quota of fuel. It is unfair to reduce fares. For example, if the trip would actually cost Rs 180,  drivers may ask for
Rs 250 because of the prevailing situation. Therefore, even if there is a meter they cannot use it to price a trip,  because of the fuel crisis”, he said. 

Dharmasekera said the majority of meter taxis were only operating in the Colombo District. Everywhere else, three-wheeler drivers call the shots and decide on fares depending on the ‘looks’ of the customer and not on regular fares , he said.

“There is no relief for passengers. There were amendments to regulate three-wheelers especially in the Western Province in 2002. However, to date nothing has been activated. We tried to activate these proposals on several occasions but the effort was futile. The Western Provincial Council should activate the system”, he said. He charged that if all three-wheelers are to be regulated, it should be carried out by the National Transportation Commission (NTC).The law should be amended to regulate the
three-wheeler system that will be affordable to the customer and will benefit three-wheeler drivers as well, he said.

“When the law is enacted only the NTC can propose a price rate for three-wheeler rides just like the bus service in the country. As a responsible union the only thing we can do is to activate the ‘meter’ system. However, at the moment this too is dysfunctional”, he said.

Budget taxis

The budget taxi system was first launched in Sri Lanka, he claimed. He said his union launched it in 2008.

“The Uber taxi company wasn’t even in existence, when our country was using the budget taxi system. It is also a serious issue that it is impossible to differentiate three-wheelers for public passenger transport and three-wheelers for private use. Some drivers decline a trip judging on the distance. That is wrong. Sometimes the rates are different from three-wheeler to three-wheeler, he complained.

He charged that businessmen, politicians and officials would never work in favour of fellow citizens if it’s unprofitable for their political parties. “It is easy for them to make profits from the private sector. That is why they are not regulating the three-wheeler industry in the country,” he said.

State intervention paramount

According to these statements it is clear that State intervention was paramount, if the three-wheeler industry is to survive. Otherwise, the public will opt to walk short distances and take public transport instead of hopping into a three-wheeler, putting the lives of many three-wheeler drivers at stake as this is their only source of income. This could result in thousands of three-wheeler drivers losing their main source of income.

Taking into consideration the user and three-wheeler drivers, unregulated taxi rates issue should be solved immediately. Innocent people on both sides of the divide are already facing immense difficulties with the prevalent crisis. People are lined up in queues to buy most of the essentials. People should be given the right to pay a reasonable fare and conveniently get to their destination while the driver also makes a reasonable profit! 

By Aloka Kasturiarachchi