Tuktuks – the three-wheelers – were common in the coastal resort city of Mombasa. But today, they are found in every town including Nairobi.
How did tuk-tuks find their way to the hinterland?
Tuktuks expose frugal innovation. They stand between the car and the motorbike.
Their attraction includes saving time. You do not need to wait for many passengers to fill up like in a bus and they are cheaper to buy and operate.
They make many trips which compensates for their “small sizes".
What of importation to the hinterland?
In Mombasa, it is a good means of transport in the tropical heat. Walking in Mombasa is not fun and tuk-tuks are naturally ventilated.
In Nairobi, they are a sign of hustling.
A good example is the affluent suburbs of Nairobi where tuk-tuks coexist with Porsches and Rolls Royces.
In affluent suburbs, the demand for workers from cleaners to cooks means there is a demand for transport and tuk-tuks fill the void.
The hustlers in outlying areas like Gathiga use tuk-tuks. Matatus from Nairobi city are full by the time they reach Westlands.
The short distance makes it too expensive to use matatus.
Tuktuks carry three to four passengers which probably makes them more “secure” compared with lonely boda bodas.
Tuktuks could be smoothening the transition seamlessly from walking to driving. The gap between the boda boda and the car was too big.
Remember how RAV4 filled the gap between big and small cars?
Some could argue tuk-tuks demonstrate our shift to higher living standards. They have flooded the market after bicycles were replaced by motorbikes.
Are tuk-tuks going to creatively destroy boda bodas – to quote Joseph Schumpeter.
Will tuk-tuks be destroyed by cars as we grow more affluent? Motorbikes are rare in developed countries; they are seen more like “toys".
The boda boda has enjoyed prominence for too long. It should get off the market and let tuk-tuk take charge before cars take over.
Improvement in the means of transport is a good proxy measure of economic growth. We should therefore celebrate the proliferation of tuk-tuks.
Soon we shall celebrate their replacement with electric cars.