Nostalgia drives tuk tuk popularity in Britain

Camilla, the
Duchess of Cornwall looks inside
an auto-rickshaw.
Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall looks inside an auto-rickshaw.


FROM being used as an ambulance to setting a land speed record, the tuk tuk is taking over Britain.

The vehicle, which is widely used in Asia, has seen its popularity rise across the UK this year as a mode of transport and as taxis. It is even being transformed into ice-cream parlours and used for food deliveries.

Experts say the success is driven by Britons being inspired by their holidays in India and Bollywood films.

Salman Khan famously jumped into one after tuk tuks were blown up in a scene in Thailand in his 2011 blockbuster Ready.

In May, Matt Everard set a new land speed record in the three-wheeler after clocking a speed of 74.3 mph at Elvington Airfield near York, after buying one from the eBay website.

Rajinder Dudrah, professor of cultural studies and creative industries at Birmingham City University, told Eastern Eye: “There is something about nostalgia and retro in 2019.

“It is a quirky vehicle. Those people from south Asia would have been on one. They are open and romantic, transport the idea of free movement and public travel.

“They are also cheap to run – the maintenance is low compared to a black taxi.”

He added: “They can be decorated with religious icons, your favourite Bollywood stars, tinsel. It is retro and takes us back to south Asia.

Tuk tuks are commonplace in south Asia, such as in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

“Some have been converted to icecream parlours and selling things, they are very versatile vehicles.

“And the move to electrify means tuk tuks will be more economical to run and great for the environment.”

The auto rickshaws are being sold online for around £5,000 plus VAT from retailers, with models like the Bajaj RE 4S Compact costing £250 to hire per day.

And they are being used to serve ice-cream at weddings and festivals, and as an ambulance in developing countries in a project called TukAid, developed by two students at the University of Liverpool.

Kiaya Pandya, a mechanical engineering student involved in the project, said: “Our project aims to use converted tuk-tuks as ambulances for use as rapid response vehicles in a variety of situations and applications.

“They can be used in emergency situations to evacuate casualties from a building collapse, weave around traffic and rubble, or to ferry a pregnant woman from a rural area to hospital.”

Tuk tuks have also sprung up in central London as taxis for revellers.

In 2018, tours on the four-seater vehicle were introduced in Cardiff in Wales and Aberdeen in Scotland. Meanwhile, a proposal was submitted in May to the City of Lincoln Council to
bring a hop on and hop off tuk tuk taxi service to the Midlands city.

Nikita Sud, an associate professor at the department of international development
at the University of Oxford, told Eastern Eye: “The world is increasingly connected.

“Images of tuk tuks in Asian films, or holidays in south or south-east Asia may be influencing an openness to the vehicle in the UK.

“We also have to factor in the experimental nature of markets. As traditional automobile markets reach saturation point, new modes of transport will be tested.

“In the case of battery-operated tuk tuks, the environmental agenda may be an influence.”

Jaffer Kapasi OBE, from the East Midlands Chamber, said: “They are as good as cabs and it helps tourism. They are environmentally friendly due to low emissions and will result in less
congestion on the road.

“The opposition from black cab drivers is it is not suitable as it tips easily and is dangerous to users.

“The Top Gear [BBC motoring show] verdict was that it was the most versatile car in the world.”