Retired soldier with a creative mission
Don't blame the trishaw driver
Cheap but unsafe mode of transport
Retired soldier with a creative mission
Defied the odds? Relate your success story
Do you run a business that is unusual or against all odds? Have you
succeeded in life as a small or medium-scale business battling against
multinationals and giant local conglomerates and still made it to the top?
The Sunday Times Business would like to hear from you to highlight your
success and the winning formula. Write/ contact the Business Editor, (e-mail
– firstname.lastname@example.org) or The Sunday
Times, 8, Hunupitiya Cross Road, Colombo 2. Telephone: 304179.
Mahinda Ranasinghe is a determined and energetic
man, full of ideas and a demonstrated dexterity with mechanical and electronic
A former soldier - he served in the army's field engineers' regiment
- he is an accomplished watch and clock repairer with 25 years of experience,
an English teacher and a qualified masseur.
He is a musician and says he is skilled in masonry and carpentry and
also able to repair electronic products. A tool cupboard in the small loft-like
room that serves as his workshop-cum-office and bedroom is filled with
an assortment of tools. When not teaching, he spends much of his time dreaming
Ranasinghe, a lean and fit 62-year-old with three grown-up children,
is looking for ways to manufacture and sell a new clip-on necktie that
he has designed and for which he holds a patent.
"My design is better than the existing clip-on ties," Ranasinghe said
in a recent interview at his home in Peliyagoda.
"It is more firmly held in place and is meant for people who don't know
how to tie the knot." According to him, very few people know how to really
tie the knot of a necktie.
He says he made a few sales but was forced to suspend sales because
of a lack of working capital. He is now seeking a partner who can support
the manufacture and marketing of the new design as well as his other ventures.
One of these is a multi-channel television antenna that he has designed
and says provides better reception than existing models in the market.
He can operate the antenna with a button set in the wall next to his
bed. This is one of many small but useful gadgets that he has put together
in his workshop, making use of his flare for designing and technical skills
that he says has been with him since childhood. "I may not be rich financially,"
he says. "But I'm rich in ideas."
Don't blame the trishaw driver
Taxi meters - drivers for it
M. B. M. Musammil, President of the Borella Alliet Place Eksath Three-wheeler
Park when contacated by the Sunday Times said: "We endorsed the idea when
the former transport minister suggested the idea because we don't have
to argue with the customers if we have a meter system"
His association has over 30 drivers who operate on a shift basis because
most of them are employed in government offices.
Priyantha Wijesekara, secretary of the Kandy Three-Wheelers' Association
and a four-time president, feels that introducing a taxi meter system is
good because the commuters will not be cheated. "A lot of people change
their fare according to the customer. If he (passenger) is not from the
area or looks a bit out of place some people charge about 20 to 30 rupees
extra. If they are well dressed and look affluent, they (drivers) increase
the fare. So if a meter system is introduced everybody will get a fair
The association has about 2,000 members and they are to discuss the
taxi meter issue at their next meeting, according to Wijesekara. "Most
of us endorse the idea but it has to be done the proper way. The government
will have to take the initiative and pass relevant laws and lay the groundwork.
We will not discuss this among ourselves and buy meters. It has to be a
uniform decision and must come from the government."
If this system is implemented, Wijesekara feels their hires will improve
because the commuters will trust them on the fare. "They will not be reluctant
to get in because they know that we will not charge exorbitantly. That
trust is important," he said, in a telephone interview.
By Naomi Gunasekara
How often have you got into a three-wheeler having negotiated the price
and been asked to pay more because the three-wheeler had to climb a hill
or take a somewhat deteriorated route? How often have drivers asked you
for more than what you normally pay because of city traffic? And how often
have you been fooled by a driver who agrees an amount and later asks for
more denying the fact that you agreed for a lower price?
The answer is: it happens all the time. And at one point or the other
most of us have been fooled by the tricks of these trishaw drivers or have
been forced to argue with them for whatever it is worth.
Despite these issues and the continuous allegations made against trishaw
drivers for indulging in crime, the three-wheeler industry keeps growing
because the three-wheeler serves as a multi-purpose vehicle.
From taking one's children to school, going to office, doing the marketing,
transporting goods and escaping the city traffic, the three-wheeler does
wonders and solves transportation problems for many (especially in areas
where bus services are minimal), so much so the former Deputy British High
Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Martin Hill, drove a trishaw with a DPL number
plate to office during his tenure of service in Sri Lanka.
With the media highlighting the diverse misdeeds carried out by trishaw
drivers, and the blame placed by the police on trishaws for causing most
of today's fatal accidents, industrial giant David Pieris Motor Company
(DPMC), the largest franchised automobile distributor in Sri Lanka for
two-wheelers, three-wheelers, cars, vans and tractors, feels that the three-wheeler
industry is treated with prejudice.
In this context, Jagath Kulatunga, General Manager Marketing of the
David Pieris Motor Company (DPMC), shared his views on the three-wheeler
industry in Sri Lanka, responding to the public discussions generated by
The Sunday Times Business pertaining to issues of transport and reducing
travel costs by reverting to the taxi meter system.
DPMC represents world-renowned companies like the Ford Motor Company
and Bajaj Auto and Escorts of India. Having sold just two trishaws in 1978
- the year trishaws were introduced to Sri Lanka - today the company sells
over 15,000 three-wheelers annually.
According to Kulatunga, Bajaj three-wheelers have been the most successful
self-employment project in Sri Lanka for the past twenty years for it provides
sustenance to over 500,000 people by way of direct and indirect employment.
"Once you leave out fuel costs and other expenses, a three-wheeler driver
earns over Rs. 500 per day. That is over 15,000 per month. Even a junior
executive in a company doesn't get as much," he said.
Addressing the transportation problems in remote areas and being the
sole means of transport in the night in areas where public transport is
rare, the three-wheeler used by both the middle-class (for purposes of
travel) and the small-scale entrepreneur (as a family vehicle cum business
companion), three-wheelers help the smooth flowing of the economy by solving
the transportation problems of both private and public sector employees.
Recognising the importance of three-wheelers as means of self-employment
and uplifting the standard of living of unemployed youth, 48 financial
institutions provide loan facilities to this industry while institutions
like Sarvodaya and SANASA too encourage people to buy three-wheelers under
various loan schemes.
According to Kulatunga, the misconception that three-wheelers cause the
most number of fatal accidents and road blocks and that three-wheeler drivers
engage in criminal activities must be changed because "all three-wheeler
drivers are no rapists" and "those who encourage illegal activities are
the big businessmen who employ their men as trishaw drivers."
Hence, to further develop the three-wheeler industry in Sri Lanka the
above misconceptions need to be dealt with in a rational manner to ensure
customer confidence. "Statistics show that three-wheeler accidents amount
to 5 percent of the total number of accidents while vans and jeeps cause
the most number of accidents (23 per cent). Three-wheelers take minimum
space so they also minimise traffic congestion," he said.
Although people are led to believe that three-wheeler drivers are dangerous
because they are involved in most of the crimes, Kulatunga feels that the
crime rate has increased because people see so much crime on TV and has
become immune to seeing crime. "People forget that this is a time where
fathers rape their own daughters and parents kill their own children. So
why the emphasis on the three-wheeler industry?"
"The Ministry of Health purchased over 40 three-wheelers last year because
it is a very convenient and low-cost mode of transport. The Transport Ministry
also got over 100. The Women's Affairs Ministry too gave about 25 three-wheelers
to female drivers. If trishaw-drivers are all criminals or rapists will
these women take to trishaw-driving?" queried Kulatunga who strongly believes
that three-wheeler drivers are thought of as criminals when the criminals
actually use stolen three-wheelers to commit their misdeeds.
According to Kulatunga, Sri Lanka imports a vast number of second-hand
diesel vehicles, which cause pollution and health hazards. "Between 1990
and 1997 we have imported over 690,000 such vehicles. They use a lot of
fuel and cause pollution but the three-wheelers being brand-new don't cause
such environmental problems. Besides they don't consume a lot of fuel.
We can cut down on fuel imports and save foreign currency if we limit the
number of unwanted vehicles coming to Colombo by operating a shuttle service.
Cars and vans do about six kilometers per litre whereas three-wheelers
do 22 kilometers."
According to Kulatunga, it is a fallacy to say that three-wheelers create
traffic congestion because it is the dual-purpose vehicles that carry one
or two people to Colombo and long vehicles like lorries and containers
that contribute towards congestion during peak hours. "Drivers are unaware
of road regulations. Most of them do not know what the amber light signifies
or other basic road rules. Although trishaws are blamed for causing roadblocks
it is cars and Pajeros that block the roads. From 7.30 the roads near leading
schools get blocked because vehicles are parked all over the road. People
who say that trishaws cause traffic congestion are blind to these issues."
"A meter system is good provided the meters are not tampered with. If there
is room for tampering it is the commuters who will suffer. They will not
trust the drivers and the whole industry will suffer in return," said Kulatunga
when asked if a meter system would help increase customer confidence in
"If a meter system is introduced the commuter must have a general idea
that taking a trishaw from a particular point to another will cost a particular
amount which will not vary. It should be like bus fares. When you get into
a Maharagama bus from Colombo you know exactly how much the journey will
cost. So if a meter system is introduced to three-wheelers, the prices
from one point to another should be uniform," he said.
According to Kulatunga, if tamper-proof meters are fixed and the drivers
go by the meter, then they will get a better income because the commuters
will trust them and use three-wheelers more often. "We all prefer to park
our vehicles in our office and take a trishaw when we have to go to Fort
because it is so difficult to travel in Fort in a car. So what the trishaw
drivers have to do is to ensure that they will stick to reasonable prices
because commuter confidence will bring them a better income."
If the meter system is to be adhered to, the government will have to take
steps to implement the programme islandwide and ensure that it is strictly
adhered to. "The rate will have to be decided by the government because
the rate has to be reasonable and uniform. A body must be appointed to
monitor the system and ensure that the commuter is not unfairly treated,"
Referring to the regulatory body he suggested, Kulatunga said it would
be better to involve the various trishaw drivers' associations in existence
throughout the island, the police and the Registrar of Motor Vehicles in
order to ensure that the system is strictly implemented.
With companies like DPMC endorsing the idea of reverting to a meter
system to ensure a better and reasonable service to the commuter one can
only hope that law enforcement authorities will consider the suggestion
and provide the commuters with some relief.
Cheap but unsafe mode of transport
Today the trishaw is the poor man's most convenient mode of transport.
It does the job of a car and a lorry. Yet whether it is also the cheapest
and the safest is an issue.
The price of a ride depends solely on the whims of the trishaw driver.
Seldom or never will two trishaw drivers quote the same price for the same
journey. Due to the lack of meters or a proper regulated pricing system
the commuter is at the mercy of the trishaw driver.
The introduction of meters would actually bring multiple benefits to
all. Whilst it will be a real boon to commuters it will also minimise to
a great extent the unprecedented number of road accidents caused by trishaws.
The dangerous driving at breakneck speed, wending in and out of traffic
lanes, driving on the sidewalk in their haste to overtake other vehicles
- all these evils would diminish, as metered fares would be determined
by mileage and time.
The safety of passengers would be assured and road traffic would be
more disciplined. In the good old days one could enjoy a carefree ride
in a yellow-topped taxi without undue stress on the purse. Let us hope
that the authorities will endeavor to give the poor man a more safer, cheaper
and conveniently reliable mode of transport in the future by introducing
meters to trishaws.
Monica de Alwis