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Go tough with tuk tuk!

Minister of Transport Nimal Siripala de Silva recently confirmed that a national policy is being formulated to regulate the three wheelers in the country. With more than 1.2 million three-wheelers in regular service around the country, this was a long overdue measure.

The Minister also added that series of driving regulations for three wheelers will be introduced to ensure the safety of both the passengers and road users. This is also a laudable decision since up to end November last year, 325 three-wheelers met with fatal accidents causing 348 deaths.


According to the All Island Three-wheeler Drivers’ and Owners’ Association President, Sudhil Jayaruk, the attempts to regulate the three-wheeler industry has a long history. The regulations regarding three-wheelers were proposed back in 1999. He adds that during the past six years, several transport authorities have suggested and made plans to make it mandatory for all hiring three- wheelers to fix mileage meters, but none of these plans has been successful.

A Motor Traffic Act with all necessary regulations for three wheelers was drafted as far back as 1998, but it was never implemented. In 2013, the Western Provincial Council gazetted its Motor Traffic Act which consisted enough regulations to control three-wheelers but none of these has been implemented.

When it came to regulating three-wheelers, the Governments-in-power during the past had not taken the initiative to go ahead with the implementation even when the related trade associations were in favour of it.

Adverse effect

Three-wheelers are considered as an appropriate mode of transport for the developing countries. Although many see the three-wheeler as the ideal escape vehicle on congested city roads, studies done by some traffic analysts have revealed that there is the serious adverse impact on lane discipline by this mode of transport.

Results of these studies emphasise the disorder caused by three-wheelers on streamline flow of vehicular traffic in congested towns and resulting unsafe situations. It also shows that it is not only bad driving practices by three-wheeler drivers, but incompatibility of the three-wheeler itself with other vehicles creates dangerous and hazardous conditions in the city traffic.


On the other hand, other traffic analysts suggest that three-wheelers should be the preferred personal transportation mode and be encouraged in urban areas provided they run on LPG/CNG or four stroke petrol engines equipped with catalytic converters. They believe that three wheelers can play an important role as para-transit modes in most cities and therefore treat them as public transport vehicles which can easily get passengers from point to point in a hurry.

They also point out that greater use of three wheelers reduces the need for big parking places. A three wheeler just needs one parking place in the city and if it does 10 trips a day, it reduces the need for nine parking places. According to them, a three-wheeler is preferable to a car for a number of reasons. First, as compared with a car, three-wheeler can carry the same number of people on average and takes one-third of the parking area and one-half of the space on the roadway. Second, since its weight is one-third of that of a car, it is responsible for less deterioration to the road, requires less tire/rubber use, and takes one-third the national resources to produce. Therefore, three wheeler usage should be encouraged as much as possible in urban areas.


Whether we like it or not, three wheelers have already become a key part of Sri Lanka's public transport network. They have become important in city sector for short hauls and in urban and rural areas they transport a significant number of people to places where other forms of public transportation, such as buses or trains do not run. More importantly, they provide employment opportunities for thousands of drivers, and livelihood opportunities to even more people.

The role and importance of three-wheelers as important modes of transport in many of the Asian cities was highlighted during an event organised before the Better Air Quality workshop held in Bangkok sometime back. The discussions brought out the following recommendations:

I. Three-wheelers must be recognised as important modes of urban transport, now and in the foreseeable future.

2. In order to improve the overall system efficiency, steps need to be taken to (a) improve their operational efficiency through rationalized traffic engineering and management with particular reference to road and intersection designs, (b) revise classification of roads and vehicles for better access to mobility, (b) improve their energy efficiency and reduce pollutant emissions through progressive technological improvements, (c) improve the driver quality and efficiency through proper selection and training.

3. Three wheelers need to be promoted as the transport mode providing the “last mile connectivity” in the urban transport system. (Last mile connectivity is a term used in transportation planning to describe the movement of people and goods from a transportation hub to a final destination in the home.)

The workshop also recommended that the three wheelers are ideal as intermediate public transport (IPT), a feeder system for public transport in large cities. A successful public transport system with high ridership requires a good network of three wheelers.


As the Minister Nimal Siripala revealed, one of the major problems the new regulation for three-wheelers should aim to address is the commuter and public safety. Therefore, the regulation mechanism should ensure that the commuters and public are protected from undisciplined and unscrupulous drivers and that their safety is assured.

There are a number of other issues also which need attention:

(1) Electronic fare meters should be made mandatory for all three-wheelers about one and half years ago. Yet, we still come across vehicles that either do not have meters or have defunct meters that do not work.

(2) Another point requiring attention is to find out why school leavers see the three-wheeler industry as a unique sub-culture to gain employment. They choose the easy option of buying a three-wheeler on credit. Some do have even the license.

(As accidents involving three wheelers have reached an all-time high, the three wheeler community itself has been shocked to the core. In fact, they were the first to demand that three wheeler licenses should be issued only to those above 35. This proposal has been taken into consideration for the new National Policy.)

(3) While there isn’t any conclusive research on how many three-wheelers had been used in criminal activities, it is estimated about 10 percent of the drivers are drug peddlers. This prompted the Dangerous Drugs Control Board to submit a proposal to the President to bring in a law limiting the issuance of three-wheeler licenses only to persons over matured age.

(4) Three-wheeler parks near road intersections cause negative effects for the road users and on the traffic flow. If a park is really necessary near intersections and if sufficient widths of the roads are available, the parking area should be at least 100 meters away from the intersection along the minor road. Municipal councils and permit issuing institutions should develop reasonable guidelines and regulations when issuing permits for locating three-wheeler parks.

(5) Most important of all, we need to discipline the three-wheeler drivers. Today they are considered as a menace to safe road traffic. There are many factors that contribute to reckless driving of three-wheelers: (a) driving without licence and insurance, (b) either not aware or show callous regard to road and traffic discipline, (c) overloading the passengers, (d) dangerously speeding and reckless driving, (e) disregard zebra crossings (j) parking at unauthorised places, (k) involvement in the transportation of illicit drugs and liquor and become facilitator for causing crimes by others. Deterrent punishments should be meted out to violators by both Police and Courts.

(6) Finally, it should be made mandatory for all three wheeler owners/drivers to be registered in an Authority recommended by Ministry of Private Transport Services. A Code of Conduct should also be prepared with the collaboration with the Three-Wheeler Associations. The Authority must be empowered to take necessary action against the violators of the Code.

For the goal of economic development, improvements in the transport sector are important and to make effective improvements, studying the transport sector is necessary. By approaching the regulation of three-wheelers from the perspective of the drivers and the public and by making a distinction between self-regulation and state regulation, an analytical study of three-wheelers will contribute to public debates on informal public transport. 


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