Mombasa, a Tuk-tuk Story

Mombasa, a Tuk-tuk Story

You always lock the bathroom and nothing ever happens. The day you forget is the day someone decides to enter while you are inside. It doesn’t matter the progress level you are at in there, the moment someone opens that door, rest assured you will rise up. You will then stretch your hand and with the strength of a thousand camels, block the door from opening further. A conversation so swift, so precise but so profound will ensue:

“Eeehh…!”

“Mmhhh…..”

And just like that, negotiations will be over. The door will close back allowing you to complete your business.

Mombasa has to negotiate with the rickshaws commonly known as tuk-tuks condition. It has them buzzing all over its streets. The County Government is reluctant on phasing out what started as an opportunity a smart business person explored in 2002. The need for convenient and cheaper mode for commuting had tuk-tuks initially being introduced in Malindi then later taking over Mombasa like the California Gold Rush of 1848. Kenyan’s have a peculiar habit of copying anything deemed a cash cow and Lord were tuk-tuks money making at one point in time. Uber is the new buzz in town. Somewhere in between a quail business flourished. They have since saturated Mombasa seeming to be out of control.

Mombasa, a Tuk-tuk Story

Those pushing the country government of Mombasa to remove tuk-tuks have a point. It will take less than a minute of your time observing how tuk-tuks move in the streets to understand it. Like bees on a hive, only that they look like destructive bees. Especially the small yellow and black Bajaj kind from India. Picking and dropping passengers anywhere they please. The unnecessary traffic snarl ups because of these little three wheeled devils is mind boggling. The noise and smoke from their two stroke 150cc diesel engines will surely capture your attention. Their legal passenger limit is three people. However, money doesn’t come easy in Mombasa, be ready to see up to six people riding in one. While observing, ask passersby about tuk-tuks and chances are high they will narrate stories of passengers being robbed of wallets and mobile phones after being drugged by the operators.

It goes without saying county administration is keen on the other side of the equation. They collect shillings 1,200 per tuk-tuk every month as parking fees raking them approximately shillings 10 million every month. Tuk-tuks have created direct jobs to over 10,000 people in the city with each unit making an average of shillings 2,000 a day. A quick calculation reveals that the industry turns over shillings 6 billion a year. Rickshaws maybe a nuisance but numbers tell otherwise.

In a city without a proper public transport system, the three wheelers do not just perfectly fit its narrow streets but also its economy that is rife of unemployment.

Mombasa, a Tuk-tuk Story

The industry is relatively at its infancy and it is the right time to prune its vices. It requires negotiations among different players in the industry to reach resolutions that will bring sanity into it leaving everyone content.

Hearing visitors talk of how they enjoy riding in tuk-tuks holding cut coconuts slowly sipping its sweet juice through a straw while enjoying sights and sounds of Mombasa, convinces you tuk-tuks do not need phasing out but supervision. Stakeholders need to arrive at a middle line where hoteliers will quit complaining of tourists getting stuck in traffic jams because of tuk-tuks but instead begin thinking of transporting guests in them as a service unique to Mombasa. In a hot and beautiful town, tuk-tuk rides organized by a hotel to explore sites sounds intriguing.

Mombasa, a Tuk-tuk Story

Rickshaws originated in Japan and Italy. India were to adopt them much later and just like Mombasa, they soon were a nuisance. But India saw past the bother and are now the world’s largest manufacturers of rickshaws. Annually, they currently produce over half a million for export and another 300,000 for its own consumption. This would not be the case if India’s solution was to ban them.

Clearly tuk-tuks are impacting households in Mombasa but we must not allow them to misbehave. Removing them from the streets is not a solution either. Controls need to be in place to turn the industry into one worthy of praise.

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