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Tuk-tuks takeover in Paris

2013-08-30 10:47

TUK-TUK TAKEOVER: Imported rickshas - tul-tuks - are all the rave in Paris and the fast-growing means of transport is becoming a nightmare for traffic police. Image: AFP

kalahari.com

NATHALIE ALONSO

Colourful tuk-tuks are nothing new in Cape Town, but now the Asian three-wheeled rickshas are all the rave in Paris, much to the dismay of traffic police.

PARIS, France - The humble tuk-tuk, a fixture in Asian cities from Bangkok to Bangalore, is rapidly becoming a common sight in the touristy parts of Paris. Le Traffic Police are not amused.

The three-wheeled, scooter-engine driven, rickshas, as well as human-powered pedicabs, first appeared in the French capital in 2011, and their numbers have since risen to around 50, lining up at key landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde.

CHEAP ALTERNATIVES

Like their Asian cousins, many are bright-painted; others sport the iconic yellow with black-and-white trim of the New York cab. The growth in numbers has been fuelled in part by the recent downturn in the French economy and the need to find work.

The price of an imported tuk-tuk from Thailand can be as much as the equivalent of R124 000 but buyers hope to make good their investment.

While tuk-tuks may be a cheap alternative to a taxi in Asia in central Paris tourists are happy to pay an average equivalent of R260 a ride, way more than regular cabs can charge. One driver says: "Unemployment is everywhere. We have found something that the tourists like."

The downside, he said, was that "the police hassle you" - checking a laundry-list of items including registration, medical clearance, insurance, brake lights and turn signals, as well as maintenance.

The driver, who said he always dreamed of being his own boss, earns between R1200 and R1500 a day - from which he might have to fork out anything from R480 to R1800 if he is unlucky enough to be fined.

"Why shouldn't I take advantage of the Golden Triangle like others do?" asked the former hotel maitre d', referring to an especially upscale section of the Champs-Elysees.

Benjamin Maarek, manager of Allo Tuk Tuk, said: "We want to be put on the same footing as the double-decker tourist buses that blight the landscape, the river boats, the little trains. The right to the location is the right to work."

For the police, the latest addition to the city's already congested traffic is just another headache. One said: "These tuk-tuks are breaking the law because they haven't been booked."

Under French law, only registered taxis are allowed to pick up passengers on the street, but the head of Paris' traffic police, Major Bernard Baulard, admits the law is "not easy to enforce" because two and three-wheelers are not specifically covered. Anyone with a regular driving licence can buy and drive a tuk-tuk.

Pedicabs have also flourished, numbering up to 200. They charge R70 to R205 a ride.

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