Indian auto rickshaws on London streets soon
MADE-in-India auto rickshaws, better known in the west as tuk-tuks, could soon be plying on the streets of London if an application by a company to run a fleet in the West End is successful. Tuc Tuc Ltd, the brainchild of entrepreneur Dominic Ponniah, has been running a fleet of auto rickshaws in the seaside town of Brighton since July 2006. The fleet, imported from Pune, runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). Now the company is all set to introduce the vehicle in London. Transport for London, the organisation responsible for transport matters, is considering an application for a fleet of autorickshaws to operate in the West End. The company has applied for a permit to run three and six-seater taxis from a base in London Bridge. The company has applied to run a London service between 8 am and 4 am daily. The fares are yet to be decided. The autorickshaws would not be allowed to pick up passengers in the street, but only permitted to transport people who had booked in advance. The autorickshaws imported by the company from India have a stronger chassis, cushioned headrests, reinforced exits and seat belts to improve safety. They also have TV screens showing news and adverts. Each autorickshaw allowed to operate in Brighton was tested to satisfy the requirements of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency. The service has been welcomed by most people in the town, but invited some criticism after a few accidents. The service was opposed by local taxi drivers who saw a threat due to cheaper fares offered by the threewheelers. The service was also opposed on the grounds of safety. Now black cab drivers in London have objected to introducing the service in the capital. A spokesperson for the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association said: “There have been a number of accidents calling tuk-tuks’ safety in question. They upend very easily and don’t offer protection in a crash. We’ve already called for licensing of the cycle rickshaws that block up the roads, especially around Soho. Tuk-tuks are also going to make it harder for cars and they don’t contribute to London’s transport, they’re a novelty item.” Transport for London is expected to consult local councils and the Metropolitan Police before granting permission. Ponniah’s company has plans to expand its service across the rest of Britain and Europe in 2008-09. The company says that the service provides tourists, shoppers and visitors with a safe, economical and environmentally friendly means of getting around the city. The super-low emission vehicles have been specially imported from India and run on CNG, making it a virtually zero-emission mode of transport. The vehicles are also very compact, helping to ease congestion and addressing the demand for new and innovative forms of public transport, the company claims. In Brighton, the autorickshaws have become a tourist attraction, each individually painted with one of 12 distinctive designs. Drivers sport a custom-made uniform, designed by Brighton celebrity tailor, Gresham Blake. Ponniah had said while launching the service in Brighton: “We want to encourage everyone to go green. The new TucTuc service supports local government transport and sustainability strategies to make Brighton & Hove a vibrant and healthy, people-friendly city in which to travel. “We’re convinced that the service will provide a fun-factor to getting around the city, which will appeal to locals and visitors alike.”