Anyone for a tuk-tuk? Joburg will soon resemble an Indian city, with these zippy three-wheelers softening the city’s often coarse edges, offering citizens a playful public transport alternative to getting around.
I recently shared a tuk-tuk with my neighbour, each paying R10 for our one kilometre ride. She takes one several times a week, lifting her to and from Milpark Hospital where she has dialysis treatment.
“It’s fun, I enjoy it,” she says. She has her favourite drivers, and books in advance.
It was a comfortable ride, with plenty of room for the two of us on the bench behind the driver. Her large bag fitted easily behind us, and we were home in five minutes.
The tuk-tuk we took was an e-tuktuk. Owner Cornish Dikgale says his target market is students and tourists, SABC workers and folk from old age homes. His tuk-tuks operate largely in Melville, Westdene and Auckland Park. He is based in Melville but his tuk-tuks travel as far as Cresta and Parkhurst. These longer trips cost R20.
He has 10 vehicles on the road but is about to receive another shipment from India. With these he plans to expand to Fordsburg, Newtown, Sandton and Soweto. He employs 12 people.
Riaz Ebrahim has taken the gap down south in Lenasia, with tuk-a-lift. He has four tuk tuks out there, and sees his operation as a “feeder to taxis”. He charges R15 for a 4km trip, and R20 beyond that. He’s happy that three people squeeze into a tuk-tuk – it’s still R15 for the trip.
He has no problems with taxis. “There is enough scope for everyone. We are not on their routes.”
Dikgale says: “My template is to create a solid base, from which I will soon expand.” He is not worried about competition, saying he is “six years ahead”.
But he does have competition, in the form of tuk-tukSA, which is based in neighbouring Parkview. Twenty-six-year-old owner Dean Liversage has 20 tuk-tuks, and plans to have 100 on the road by the end of the year. Liversage is licensed to operate in Braamfontein, Rosebank, Westcliff, Parktown North, Randburg, and Bryanston. He plans to expand to Pretoria and towns in North West. “Every week I have new tuk-tuks on the road,” he says.
Tuk-tukSA has a steeper fare model – a ride within a 5km radius costs R25, with a meter kicking in after that, but if three people take a tuk-tuk, the rate is still R25.
Besides students, Liversage’s tuk-tuks are taking grannies shopping in Rosebank, and picking up kids after school and dropping them at home.
He has created 22 jobs, with drivers working an 8-hour shift. Whereas Dikgale and Ebrahim have salaried drivers, Liversage’s model is one where drivers rent a tuk-tuk at R200 a day, then take the fares from passengers, allowing them to earn between R400 and R1 000 a day. Liversage puts aside R50 of the R200, on behalf of the drivers, helping them to save.
Like Dikgale, Liversage has no conflict with minibus taxis. In fact he drops domestic workers on their route, supplying taxi drivers with customers, for which a smile is exchanged. The tuk-tuks don’t operate on taxi routes, instead they complement them.
Neil McWilliams and his Shesha tuk tuks have yet another model. His vehicles operate largely within a 5km radius of Sandton, filling the gap the Gautrain buses leave. Whereas the buses drop off and pick up from designated stops, Shesha will pick you up from home and take you to the Gautrain station. His model is advertising driven, with Old Mutual his branding partner, having taken a year’s sponsorship.
Thirty-two-year-old McWilliams’s initiative has created 25 jobs, and he aims to create more than 100 in the future.
His drivers earn a basic salary, but also rent their tuk-tuks, and keep their fares. His fare structure caters for the upmarket nature of his location: a 2km ride will cost R25, 5km costs R35, and over 10km costs R55.
“This is something that the area needed,” he says. He has plans to expand to Centurion and Hatfield.
Liversage says he and McWilliams have a good business relationship, with a future plan to possibly share a call centre. It’s essential, says McWilliams, that drivers are properly screened, and that a public liability disc is displayed on every vehicle. “If one tuk-tuk goes wrong, it affects us all.”
I like it. I like it that these young entrepreneurs are rewiring Jozi’s transport options. I like it that we can take a Rea Vaya bus, a Gautrain, a minibus taxi, a metered taxi (although who would, at the price they charge), and now a tuk-tuk. And anyway, if it takes more cars off the roads, Joburg will be even more of a cool place to live.