By Maram Alabbasi-National Yemen
“I will never go on tuk-tuks,” said Asma’a Rassam “tuk-tuks are open, not safe and certainly not comfortable,” she continued.
A Tuktuk is new yellow vehicle that has begun to spread throughout the Capital, Sana’a. A local company specializing in tuk-tuks has launched in Yemen, and hundreds of motorcycles equipped with small vehicles known as “tuk-tuk” offer a new cheap service to transport passengers. These vehicles are completely new to Yemen. In March, tuk-tuks started to appear as a cheap means of transportation, though some taxi drivers claim the opposite to be true. “tuk-tuks are not that cheap. If I would take you to a place for 50 Riyals, a tuk-tuk will do the same for 40 Riyals.” The difference in prices is not that significant. Moreover, tuk-tuks are said to be unsafe and slow. Taxi drivers explain that tuk-tuks are slow, not cheap, unsafe, and small, three passengers beside the driver is the maximum number in a tuk-tuk.
The General Secretariat of Sana’a announced their concerns regarding motorcycles earlier in 2013. In an Interior Ministry report published in January 2013, it is said that “the motorcycles were used last year in the killing of 40 officers and members of the military and security forces, including an Iraqi general who works as a consultant at the Ministry of Defense, in terrorist operations.” The report pointed out that motorcycles were used in 66 murders 2012. The ministry said that more than 95% of murder crimes and attempts murders by motorcycles drivers were terrorism by nature.
Sana’a topped the list for assassinations in 2012 with 18 crimes, followed by Lahj with 15 crimes, then Hadramout and Taiz with 10 crimes each, as well as six crimes in Aldalea and 7 crimes in Aden, Albaidaa, Abyan, and Dhamar.
The Interior Ministry considered that “the adoption of terrorist elements to implement their operations by motorcycles indicates the presence of a shift in the methods of terrorist elements in the implementation of the monstrous crimes targeting employees of the armed and security forces.”
At least 134 people have been killed in traffic accidents involving motorcycles in a number of governates in Yemen during the first quarter of this year, while 1014 have been injured in those incidents.
In December 2012, Yemeni authorities announced unprecedented measures to control the spread of motorcycles after assassinations of politicians as well as military and security leaders in addition to Al-Qaida utilizing motorcycles because they are fast and easy to ride and escape with. Motorcycles are difficult to follow for security agencies.
Tuk-tuks are seen by the capital secretariat as a safer means of transportation than motorcycles due to felonies committed involving motorcycles.
Another goal of importing tuk-tuks to Sana’a is tourism-related. “The tuktuk’s main purpose is taking tourists on tours,” said Ammar Alfeshani, Director of Human Resources in Al-Ghazal Company.
Safety standards are also being taken into account. For its part, Al-Ghazal Company said that they provide drivers with training courses on traffic rules, safety, and customer service. Besides that, the driver should be able to ride motorcycles when applying to the position of a tuktuk driver.
Women’s reactions to tuk-tuk differ. “I would like to go on a tour to the Old city in Sana’a by tuk-tuk,” said Mona Saleh, “it is an interesting vehicle.” When asked about the customers of tuk-tuks, Alfeshani reported that “women tend to try it; you will be surprised that women who ask for tuktuk are more than men.”
On the other hand, Asma’a Rassam said that “ tuk-tuk is not safe,” and that she “will never try it.” Rassam explained that “it is not only a matter of safety but in general tuk-tuk is a sign of poverty and that it [poverty] may last for decades. Isn’t it a sign of the increase of poverty rates in Yemen? Since we started to import cheap means of living.” Tuk-tuks are used for transporting passengers in many cities of Asia and Africa, but they are not consistent with the safety rules in the European Union. The Tuk-tuk is used in the third world countries only.
The gasoline is the most important reason behind predicted cheap prices. A tuk-tuk consumes less than a taxi. A tuktuk consumes 10 liters on a daily basis and can last for more than two days. “What I consume for 6 hours is the same a tuk-tuk consumes for two days or more,” said a taxi driver. Its small size is another reason for importing tuk-tuks to the Capital. “In a traffic jam, I would rather go on a tuk-tuk. It is smaller and you can pass easily with it, not easier than motors but it is safer to some extent” said Ahmad Saeed. More characteristics of tuk-tuks are that they are designed locally and are very simple.
Others argue that it is not safe at all, and that it could easily be hit by a car. “It is like a motorcycle but with three wheels, and slower than motors and cars,” said Sami Al-baidani.
Mohammed Mohammed, a tuk-tuk driver, says “I have just started one month ago and I find it great, we have to pay 1800 Riyals per day for the company and the rest of what we gain is ours.” Tuktuk drivers are free to return the vehicle to the company or keep it if they have a safe place.
The driver could also be a tour guide for tourists coming to enjoy watching scenery. The company provides jobs to hundreds of unemployed people.
The company offers more than 1000 job vacancies, especially for those who ride motorcycles. At the beginning, the tuk-tuk was surprising to many people. Now the public has started to get used to them.
Its own tourism utility, besides it being economic and useful in traffic jams, is what makes most of the residents in Sana’a willing try it and consider it as a regular means of transportation.
“They all love it when they first ride it, everybody enjoys how flexible and cheap the tuktuk is,” said Mohammed.
But the claim is still ongoing, “Isn’t it a sign of the increase of poverty rates in Yemen?”