Tuk-tuks, those three-wheeled vehicles that have been roaming the Egyptian streets for years now, especially the popular neighbourhoods of the already-jammed capital—Cairo, are starting to prevail without much to limit their inevitable presence. From the most crowded and vital main streets, to the smallest darkest and most remote alleys, Tuk-tuks can now be found nearly everywhere across the country. You can easily spot a Tuk-tuk breaking a red light, making its way through pedestrians, or randomly parked in the middle of a street these days. But are tuk-tuks really all bad? Or are they merely the natural consequence of poorly implemented laws and a segment of jobless citizens who needed a source of income?
Abdallah, a 29-year-old tuk-tuk driver from Shubra El-Kheima, said he started driving tuk-tuks in 2012 after a long search for work but in vain. “I am saving up to pay a down-payment for my own tuk-tuk one day. It is a slow process but I see it happening.”
Abdallah said he first thought of driving a tuk-tuk when he found himself unemployed with a family to support. “I needed a source of income to support my small family of my wife and a child. As he grows, his financial needs grow as well,” Abdallah estimated his monthly income from driving a tuk-tuk to be EGP 2,500 per month. “It is a small income, but it is better than nothing,” he said.
Tuk-tuks in Egypt are a double-edged sword
Tuk-tuks first entered the Egyptian market in 1995 through the Suez Port, and prevailed greatly during the years that followed. Citizens who could afford tuk-tuks would purchase them, and lower-income citizens would work as tuk-tuk drivers in an attempt to find an alternative source of income for their families. But even with the issuance of the decision to prohibit importing tuk-tuks by the former Minister of Industry, importing continued into the black market, significantly increasing during the period of unstable security that followed the January 2011 revolution, where a large number of tuk-tuks was smuggled illegally. While some tuk-tuks were locally assembled in order not to break the law over the past years, a large number of whole tuk-tuks was still brought into the country.
Although the prices of tuk-tuks are relatively low compared to other vehicles that could be used to transport citizens, tuk-tuk prices have gone through several waves of changes –as was the case with all other vehicles in the market with the ongoing economic changes. Their prices hiked greatly following the decision made by the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to liberalize the exchange rate in November 2016. After the flotation of the Egyptian pound, the prices of Tuk-tuks reached approximately EGP 30,000, creating a lower demand on them amidst the decline in the consumers’ purchasing power. However, GB Auto, the Egyptian automotive assembler and manufacturer and the only party manufacturing Tuk-tuks in Egypt, has recently stated that it expects the demand on cars to generally pick up by the end of 2017. “Consumer demand for two and three-wheel vehicles, including bikes, tuk-tuks and tri-cycle motorbikes has rebounded in June and July to the level pre-flotation,” Ghabour said.
Quickly, with their spreading, tuk-tuks became a double edged sword. While they are now a practical way to transport citizens into remote and squatter areas, serving a large segment of residents of these areas who are unable to afford other daily commutes, and providing income for a large number of families, they have also become a tool used for committing crimes. Over the past years, several robbery, kidnapping, and sexual harassment crimes were reported to be committed by tuk-tuk drivers. However, there were no statistics carried out to scan the number of crimes committed by them.
Hassan El Mahdy, Professor of transportation engineering in the Faculty of Engineering at Ain Shams University, and the Transportations committee advisor in the parliament, said that the situation of tuk-tuks must be legalized, but with limitations and certain considerations in mind. “In my opinion, tuk-tuks need to be legally licensed and registered but only outside large cities, that is in suburbs, remote villages, and squatter areas where streets and allies are too small to accommodate large vehicles such as buses and taxis,” he said.
“The lack of official data on tuk-tuk drivers across the country can open doors for crimes and lots of crises, so I believe legalizing tuk-tuks may result in a lower rate of crimes committed by tuk-tuk drivers, especially that in many cases, the drivers of these tuk-tuks are children who get into lots of trouble with their behaviors and inexperienced illegal ways of driving the tuk-tuks,” El Mahdy added.
The only way to deal with the crisis of tuk-tuks is through regulations put forward by the state and implemented with strictness, according to El Mahdy. There must be legislative structures that are specifically made for tuk-tuks and controlling their presence. The Ministry of Interior should be responsible for making sure these laws are properly implemented through prohibiting the presence of tuk-tuks on main streets and highways, El Mahdy noted.
Lack of official statistics on tuk-tuks makes them harder to monitor and control
There are no accurate official data or statistics available about the number of tuk-tuks working in Egypt as a result of the absence of official licensing. However, there was a study issued by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) in 2016. The study showed that there are only 85,000 licensed tuk-tuks out of nearly one million and 850,000, and that all tuk-tuks in Cairo and Alexandria are unlicensed. The study also showed that the governorate of Daqahleya has the highest number of licensed tuk-tuks, estimated to be 20,582, and Beni Suef has the lowest number of licensed tuk-tuks nearing 25,000.
Egypt has a total of eight million and 200,000 vehicles, including 31% of them being tuk-tuks and motorcycles.
Hamdy Arafa, the local management expert, said that the official statistics showed by CAPMAS’s study suggest that the state loses approximately EGP 925m to the parallel economy due to the non-licensing of motorcycles and tuk-tuks.
Effat Abdel Aaty, head of the cars division, said in an earlier statement that a non-official study was carried out and showed that there are nearly four to five million tuk-tuks in Egypt.
“Tuk-tuks have become a nuisance for everyone in Egypt; we had a million tuk-tuks on the national level six or seven years ago,” said Vice President of the general division for motorcycles, Gharib Ahmed, in a statement. According to Ahmed, the number of tuk-tuks increased at a rate of 150,000 to 200,000 tuk-tuks every year. He added that the life span of a tuk-tuk is only five years, which means that in less than five years, these tuk-tuks will be of no use and turned into scrap metal.
Are there governmental regulations on the horizon to deal with the unstoppable prevalence of tuk-tuks?
On the efforts made by the government so far to combat the negative aspects of tuk-tuks, Hassan El Mahdy said that some governorates have decided to accept the reality that tuk-tuks are actually a persistent issue, and as a result, in some governorates, laws specifically made to prohibit or control the presence of tuk-tuks -especially in crowded areas and main streets- were developed. “While this is one way to deal with the issue since tuk-tuks have already spread, I believe tuk-tuks should be banned entirely except in isolated areas with no transportations for citizens,” he told Daily News Egypt.
The governorate of Alexandria has already started the procedures to license tuk-tuks since 15 January 2017 and issued smart cards for fuel use. On the other hand, the governor of Beni Suef has approved the legal requirements put forward by the traffic administration of Beni Suef for tuk-tuks, where specific dimensions, speed and safety requirements were demanded for the vehicle in order to be licensed.
The parliament has recently discussed the crisis of tuk-tuks in Egypt and integrating it into the traffic system as well as developing legislations for them. The undersecretary of the transportations and communications committee said in a statement that each city or district must have a unit specialised in licensing tuk-tuks. Afterwards, the drivers of these vehicles must be obliged to drive tuk-tuks down specific lanes. In addition, children must be banned completely from driving tuk-tuks.
Other members of the transportations committee suggested easing the procedures to licence tuk-tuks in order to encourage tuk-tuk owners to license them, including a simple procedure to reduce fees and taxes on the vehicle, as well as specify the age of the driver to be 18 instead of 21.
While tuk-tuks might be a good solution for citizens looking for cheap accessible transportations and a source of income for poorer families, when will their issues be seriously addressed? And how long will they continue to be a familiar vehicle in the busy Egyptian streets, cramming between pedestrians and resulting in crimes before they are legally licensed and controlled?