Half of Sri Lanka’s tuk-tuks not taxis; most drivers middle-aged: Research
ECONOMYNEXT – Only 47 percent of the over million registered three-wheeler are used for hiring. Most drivers are middle aged and for 12 percent of them, it is a secondary occupation, economic researchers have pointed out, fact-checking false claims of planners and interventionists.
About 75 percent of the three wheeler drivers have not passed the G CE O/L, Thisali de Silva and Nisha Arunatilake, from the Institute of Policy Studies, a Colombo-based think tank said in a research report.
Interventionists have blocked the import of three wheelers through credit restrictions, though tuk-tuks are oiling a tourism boom and providing transport in remote areas, in a feudal or socialist-planning mindset.
They have claimed that three wheelers are creating labour shortages, though youth unemployment in Sri Lanka is high. In 2018, 21.8 percent of males aged 15 – 24 were unemployed, and 6.9 percent between the ages of 25 to 29. Only 0.8 percent of those over 30 were unemployed.
"Imposing an age barrier on entering the three-wheeler market would deny youth the opportunity to earn an additional living," the report said.
"Further, the share of youth operating three-wheelers have decreased from 2013 to 2016."
De Silva and Arunatilake said according to the 2013/2014 economic census of Sri Lanka’s statistics office, 47 percent of the three wheelers were taxis.
"On this basis, it can be estimated that there are only around half a million tuk-tuk drivers providing a taxi service in the country – much less than commonly assumed," the researchers said.
"This indicates that around 6 percent of the national labour force are tuk-tuk taxi drivers.
"However, not all of them are full time three-wheeler operators. In fact, three wheeler operators are among the top ten secondary occupations in Sri Lanka."
Labour force data showed that for 12 percent of three wheeler drivers, it is their secondary occupation.
"This means that the number of those employed in the three wheeler market as full-timers is less than half of the 1 million figure that is often quoted," the researchers said.
Interventionists have proposed placing an age restriction of 35 years for three wheeler drivers, which was shot down by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
"Apart from the sheer number of three wheelers on the roads, another main concern of policymakers is that too many youth opt to drive three wheelers, without obtaining other types of vocational training," the report said.
"However, labour force survey data (2016 and 2013) show that the largest share of three-wheeler drivers is found among middle-aged (30-40 years) individuals," it said.
It said the three wheeler market is most attractive to those with low levels of education, without formal vocational or industrial training.
Middle-aged drivers seem to choose driving a three-wheeler after quitting formal jobs, due to low responsibility, not being confined to one space, and more free time for family.
"Some three-wheeler operators have tried other occupational avenues, such as working in factories and as helpers in shops, before becoming tuk-tuk drivers," the report said.
"But, those jobs were not attractive to them as they were low paying, high stress and/or had inflexible work hours."
Three wheeler drivers are some of the highest monthly income earners among low-skilled workers, taking home around 30,000 rupees on average.
Only shop managers, masons, and heavy vehicle drivers earned higher, the report said.
The youth who are driving three wheelers are attracted by better earnings and attractive working conditions such as flexible hours and less stress, the think tank said.
"This analysis also indicates that better wages and better working conditions can be helpful in attracting youth to industries experiencing labour shortages," it said.
"If safety and undisciplined driving is a concern, stricter regulation for providing three-wheeler licensing that require training in safe driving and road rules would result in reducing three-wheeler related accidents, traffic violations, and road safety concerns." (Colombo/Mar23/2019-SB)
Jehan Perera - Executive Director National Peace Council