Tuk-tuks pick up new customers in African cities
OMNIPRESENT on the chaotic streets of Mumbai, Jakarta and Bangkok, Asia's three-wheeled "tuk-tuk" has now come to Africa - and with a two-fold bonus: providing much-needed jobs and slashing accidents.
Cheap to run and safer than the traditional motorcycle taxi, the auto-rickshaw is an increasingly common sight trundling along traffic-choked streets of the continent's capitals.
Known in Tanzania and Ethiopia as "bajaj", in Egypt as "toktok", in Nigeria as "keke-marwa" and in Sudan as "raksha", the tuk-tuk has now hit Liberia, where delighted locals have christened their own version the "kekeh".
Motorcycle taxis, known locally as "two-tires", were the go-to means of public transport in Liberia's capital Monrovia until lawmakers outlawed them in 2013 amid concerns over reckless riding and the high toll of accidents.
The ban paved the way for the kekeh, imported from India and China by numerous operators.
India produces around 800,000 motorised rickshaws a year, more than a third of which end up in foreign cities.
India's TVS King - which has a presence in 30 African countries - has a 200cc engine which runs on petrol, or the more environmentally-friendly compressed natural gas.
Huasha, based in the southern Chinese city of Jiangmen, is producing its own version which looks more like the front end of a motorbike towing a two-wheel passenger trailer.
Kekehs have reportedly generated 5,000 jobs for Monrovians, many of whom were made unemployed by the motorcycle-taxi ban.
A new kekeh will cost the aspiring driver US$3,500 (S$5,000) or the vehicle can be hired at a daily rate of around US$25.
Operators say the three-wheelers are tightly regulated when it comes to following the highway code and the number of passengers they can carry, meaning accidents have been cut drastically.
Not only do the tuk-tuks move at slower speeds than the motorbike taxis, their sheet-metal frames also offer more protection.
At just 25 US cents a journey, the kekeh is also seen as a more accessible means of transport than the traditional taxi, which is out of reach for thousands of Monrovians who might otherwise have to walk long distances to work.