Last September, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli announced a plan to replace Egypt’s notorious, unlicensed, unsafe tuk tuks with safe, licensed minivans that run on natural gas. The tuk tuks act as much-needed transport means for people in Egypt’s unplanned, overcrowded, underprivileged areas where streets and alleyways are difficult to navigate with traditional transport means. Cabinet spokesman Nader Saad said at the time that Dr Madbouli would hold meetings with tuk tuk manufacturers to discuss the possibility of shifting their production from tuk tuks to minivans.
On 22 September 2019 I wrote on the topic, under the title “Tuk tuk vs minivan: Sins of the government”. Since nothing has to date changed, I here refer to the most significant points in my article.
Tuk tuks were brought into Egypt in the first place to answer a need that emerged with the sprawl of slums outside the urban border of Cairo, Giza and other Egyptian cities and towns. In the absence of planning or official response to control the emerging slums, they grew to become an on-the-ground residential reality that could not be overlooked. Their randomly created narrow roads and alleys were inaccessible by standard means of transport, the exception being bicycles, motorcycles and charrettes. Tuk tuks saved the day for the elderly in particular and for slum dwellers in general, transporting them back and forth. Tuk tuks did not start off with the intention of breaking the law or defying the traffic code; they started operating within clusters—or stations—on the outskirts of these slums and at the tips of the main roads at which the slums are built. Tuk tuks would carry passengers in and out of the depth of the slums, expertly wriggling through the narrow alleyways.
The slovenly government attitude that allowed the slums to mushroom was applied to the tuk tuk phenomenon: successive governments time and again turned a blind eye to the tuk tuk, no official initiative was ever taken to subject it to any technical examination like all other vehicles. The government neither demanded that tuk tuks acquire licenses and carry license plates, nor did it require tuk tuks to be driven by licensed drivers. It never defined the roads over which they could be allowed to travel, nor restricted their operation to the slums they were meant to serve. With government sloppiness and absence of monitoring, it was not surprising that young untrained youth who held no driving licences would take to driving tuk tuks and, right on their heels, mere lads with no education took on that task. Predictably, they wreaked havoc with the streets they ventured into. Under government laxity and inaction, it was only natural that these lads should sneak with their tuk tuks out of the slums, and look to navigate roads served by regular means of transport. They started timidly, to test the waters then, with further official blind eye and inaction, boldly took to navigating side streets then main roads, bridges, and tunnels. And why should they not when no one ever stopped them and no official authority ever deterred them?
Our problem is in fact not the tuk tuks; these are used as safe, quiet, licensed means of transport in many countries in south and east Asia. The claim that getting rid of tuk tuks would rescue our roads from the havoc they create is nothing but a lame excuse for official sloppiness. If this government attitude extends to the minivans offered by the government as an auspicious alternative to the “uncivilised tuk tuks”, nothing will change: the unsafe chaos created by the tuk tuk will remain, merely shifting from the tuk tuk to the minivan. The only real difference will be that the minivan uses natural gas as a clean fuel.
The real calamity is that while the government heralds the minivan as a means of transport that is “civilised”, beyond reproach, and our saviour from the sins of the tuk tuk, it looks as though it does not realise, or possibly overlooks, the fact that minivans have been running the streets and main roads of Greater Cairo for the past three years. It also seems as though the government does not realise that the minivan is officially licensed as a private vehicle but, in absence of due supervision and control, has gone into the business of transporting passengers for a fee. To say nothing of the reckless driving the minivans have become notorious for; the drivers throw to the wind all traffic rules, thanks to the small size of the vehicle.
We carry this issue from 2019 to 2020, with no policies or procedures looming on the horizons to rectify matters as we were promised by the government and PM. The situation of tuk tuks is still the same, unlicensed and chaotic; and the minivans, licensed as private vehicles, continue with their business of transporting passengers. A reality on the ground is that both tuk tuks and minivans are wreaking havoc with our streets and jeopardising the safety of Egyptians. Ironically, even the production and trade of tuk tuks and their spare parts is still running as usual, and no clear measures or plans have been announced to urge or drive those businesses to shift from tuk tuks to minivans.
I look to the new year to bring about some reform in terms of implementing strict rules regarding the licensing of tuk tuks and their drivers. I also hope that minivans in the business of transporting passengers would be forced to acquire licences for public transport, instead of the private vehicle licences they carry. Furthermore, I aspire that the government would define the road networks over which tuk tuks and minivans are allowed to travel, as well as the red lines they must not cross. And of course, granted all that goes into force, I invite the government to apply strict monitoring and control to ensure an end to the chaos. Again, the sin is not in the tuk tuk or the minivan, it is in the laxity to uphold the law, and in absence of official control and accountability.
23 January 2020