Problems on hold
As part of official efforts towards reform, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli instructed the government earlier this month to launch a programme to replace Egypt’s notorious tuk tuks with safe, licensed minivans that operate with natural gas. Cabinet spokesman Nader Saad said the PM would hold a meeting with tuk tuk manufacturers to discuss the possibility of shifting their production from tuk tuks to minivans.
At first glance, the government appears to be dressing up as a reformer. In truth, however, it is attempting to make up for years of political sins. The same old story: the government starts off by looking the other way instead of confronting situations that need bold decisions; these situations exacerbate into out-of-proportion insoluble problems, at which point the government comes up with radical ‘reform’ decisions without ever owning up to its responsibility for letting the situation get out of hand in the first place.
Complaint of tuk tuks is rampant in Egyptian towns where they run; tuk tuks are claimed to be ‘uncivilised’, unlicensed means of transport that wreak havoc with the streets. The small-sized three-wheel vehicles are more often than not driven by mere lads who hold no driving licence. Because of their non-legal status, tuk tuks come in handy in crime, given that they cannot be tracked by the police. Tuk tuk drivers have no qualms about disrupting traffic by invading main roads.
A few questions, however, beg answers. Who bears the blame for the gruesome tuk tuk chaos that erupted on our streets more than 10 years ago, with no attempts to rein it? Had it not been for the inaction of successive previous governments, today’s government would not have had to intervene so crucially, creating an illusion that our streets should be purged of the tuk tuk evil.
Let me first correct the erroneous information the government has thrust at us regarding the tuk tuk, to justify the delayed action to rectify official sins. Tuk tuks form a quiet, light, economic, and civilised means of transport commonly used in many countries to serve people from overcrowded localities. Their small size allows them to wriggle swiftly in narrow roads and alleyways unreachable by other means of transport. In countries of south and east Asia, tuk tuks are licensed and their drivers hold official driving licences. Traffic laws in these countries are strictly applied, and prohibit circulation of tuk tuks on main roads.
The problem in Egypt is thus not with the tuk tuk itself but with administrative elusion and governmental procrastination in taking necessary measures in due time. 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 slum residents, transporting them back and forth.
The problem could have been tackled once it emerged, by officially licensing tuk tuks and their drivers, and defining the roads over which they could travel. But this never materialised, and tuk tuks ended up culprit chaos creators and complicit in outlaw activity. But it was the government’s sin that created the intolerable situation in the first place.
Now the government happily announces that the streets are to be purged of the evil tuk tuk which is to be replaced by the minivan. As if the government has suddenly discovered a modern, civilised means of transport that is beyond reproach. Doesn’t the government realise that minivans have been running the streets and main roads of Greater Cairo for the past three years? Does it know 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? All this is under the eyes and nose of traffic authorities. To say nothing of the reckless driving the minivans have became notorious for; the drivers throwing to the wind all traffic rules, and swiftly changing lanes, thanks to the small size of the vehicle.
The government has promised incentives to encourage tuk tuk owners to hand in their vehicles for new minivans that would be licensed to transport passengers, and that the drivers would carry official licences. Great! But what will become of the fleet of minivans already on the road, carrying private licence plates and illegally transporting passengers? Will the government set specific zones for minivans to circulate in, and prohibit them on main roads? Will it strictly oversee the implementation of its plan or will chaos again reign? If the minivan is intended to replace the tuk tuk, it is important to control it and determine rules and regulations to govern its movement.
In order for the truth not to be lost, let me again say that if the government succeeds in substituting the minivan for the tuk tuk under the legal umbrella it had failed to provide for the tuk tuk, it would not mean the government has exhorted the evil tuk tuk out of the street. Rather, the government would have used the minivan to redeem itself of the sin it committed against the tuk tuk.
22 September 2019