One of the first things you notice when you arrive in Sri Lanka are the tuk-tuks. These colourful three-wheelers (sometimes known elsewhere as rickshaws) are ubiquitous throughout the island – in fact the government estimates that there are over 1.5 million of them.
They are a great transport option for zipping through Colombo traffic or short rides between beautiful beaches. Don’t be fooled by their diminutive stature – they can fit all manner of luggage and it’s not rare to see them with surfboards or furniture strapped to the roof.
At first glance, most tuk-tuks look pretty similar, but upon closer inspection they are all carefully personalised by their proud owners. Some have booming sound systems, others custom paint jobs and plenty are covered in stickers. In some parts of the country they are plastered with strange and sometimes profound quotes like “Life is Nice with Wife” or “Hospital ceiling is boring to watch drive slowly”.
What almost all of them have in common though is that they are run on fossil fuels. They are powered by diesel or two-stroke engines that are loud and smelly, belching fumes as they careen across the country. While you eventually become accustomed to the noise and exhaust, you have to wonder about the long-term environmental effects on such a small island.
There is potential change on the horizon though with a raft of new measures introduced in the 2018 budget proposal. Among them are an increase on import taxes on diesel tuk-tuks and a subsided loan scheme to incentivise existing drivers to upgrade to electric tuk-tuks. This will allow potential owners to purchase electric tuk-tuks for just 10% of the upfront cost.
Change might take a while with Minister Mangala Samarweera aiming for Sri Lanka to be completely transport green by 2045, but there seems to be speedy adoption of electric cars here and hopefully tuk-tuks will follow suit. This seems like a real win-win for the country – they should be cheaper to run, better for the environment and more comfortable for passengers. We can’t wait to try one!