sexta-feira, 1 de abril de 2016
Tuk-Tuks, Three-Wheeled Outsiders, Make Themselves at Home in Lisbon
Tuk-Tuks, Three-Wheeled Outsiders, Make Themselves at Home in Lisbon
By RAPHAEL MINDEROCT. 26, 2015
LISBON — Residents of this port city of faded beauty and ornately tiled facades have welcomed a surge of tourists in recent years who have helped turn around its economic slide.
But the foreign visitors, they will tell you, have also come with their share of trade-offs. Rapid redevelopment, spurred by tax breaks granted to foreign property buyers, has driven up rents and widened disparities. Streets are more crowded, the traffic worse.
And then, there is the tuk-tuk.
In just a couple of years, about 300 of the motorized, three-wheel vehicles have swarmed Lisbon’s narrow cobblestone streets, offering tourists an alternate way of navigating this hilly city, famous, too, for its network of trams and funiculars.
While visitors have flocked to the tuk-tuk, those who live in this city of about 550,000 have begun to fume about pollution, noisier streets and a verging “quality of living problem,” according to Miguel Gaspar, a Portuguese transportation consultant.
“The growth of the tuk-tuks has been such that they’re even being sold to tourists as something typical of Lisbon, which really isn’t true,” he said. “They’re now like pigeons, just everywhere.”
While the tuk-tuk is no longer common in Europe, the three-wheel vehicle originated in Italy, designed by the same engineer who developed the Vespa motor scooter, as a cheap way to rebuild city transportation after the devastation of World War II.
Since then, they have become popular in the crowded cities of Asia and Africa, where they are prized for their compact size and high maneuverability.
In Lisbon, a city heavy with history, the tuk-tuk made rapid inroads for the same qualities, which allow them to negotiate the old city’s many tight corners and steep slopes and to park almost anywhere, which they do.
But what tourists want and residents need are not always the same thing. Last month, Lisbon’s mayor, Fernando Medina, announced restrictions on tuk-tuks, which will limit the hours in which they can operate and the places they can park.
The new rules will even put some streets out of bounds for tuk-tuks, as well as require the vehicles to run on electric engines by 2017.
Lisbon’s new restrictions also apply to other so-called tourism entertainment vehicles, including the yellow go-karts that have been another hit with visitors, but that may present even more of a nuisance.
In an interview, Mr. Medina said his goal was to “regulate but not end” the thriving tuk-tuk business.
“Running a city is about managing conflicts and finding the right balance between a good tourism service and the rights of the people who work and live in this city,” he said, “and now the tuk-tuks are changing that balance.”
Other popular European destinations are facing similar challenges. In Barcelona, Spain’s tourism hub, the new left-wing mayor imposed a freeze on new hotel projects shortly after being elected in May.
In Lisbon, as one might expect, no one is more put out by the tuk-tuk craze than the city’s taxi drivers. In June, police officers detained one such driver who got into a street brawl with a tuk-tuk driver and threatened him with a hammer.
“Tuk-tuks are terrible news and completely unfair competition,” said Rui Tavares, a taxi driver, who said he had spent 850 euros, or about $940, on his taxi driver certification.
“It’s taken effort, time and money for me to become a taxi driver while these guys can start driving people around from Day 1, without any professional qualification,” he said.
For the taxi drivers, the tuk-tuk invasion has come on top of the disruption already presented by the ride-booking service Uber, which has faced the same kinds of legal challenges here as in several other European countries. Uber is now appealing a Portuguese court ruling that sided with taxi drivers against its licensing deals.
Tuk-tuk drivers say the regulatory clampdown aimed at them is further evidence of an overpowering taxi lobby that has led the crusade against Uber.
But they also see the curbs as counterproductive, at a time when tourism has spearheaded the recovery of the Portuguese economy, which required an international bailout during the debt crisis.
“There’s now a ridiculous transport war in Lisbon,” said José Gomes, 28, who started driving a tuk-tuk after losing his job last year at a clothing store. “We’re told Portugal needs more tourism to create jobs, but then everybody wants to stop something that is clearly popular with foreigners.”
Tuk-tuks like this one in Lisbon are rarely seen elsewhere in Europe. The city’s taxi drivers are not fond of them. Credit Patricia de Melo Moreira for The New York Times
Indeed, for tourists, the tuk-tuk experience is all about enjoying the ride through a scenic city, rather than necessarily seeking the quickest and cheapest way to get from Point A to Point B.
In that regard, some tuk-tuk drivers pride themselves on playing tour guide, as well as driver. The basic tour of historic Lisbon includes a stopover at the Sé Cathedral, as well as other landmarks, like the São Jorge Castle.
“We start with a route in mind, but it’s then about building some kind of relationship and intimacy with the clients and adapting to whatever they want to do, however fast or slow,” said Miguel Cardoso, a painter who has been driving a tuk-tuk for the past three months.
“If somebody wants to spend almost the whole hour just watching the Tagus, that’s fine by me,” he said, referring to the river on whose outlet to the Atlantic Ocean the city sits.
Jörg Heinermann, who heads the Portuguese subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, the German carmaker, argued that, even in their short time here, tuk-tuks “have become almost as symbolic of Lisbon as its trams.”
Whenever he has foreign visitors, Mr. Heinermann said, he tries to include a tuk-tuk tour in their Lisbon schedule. “It’s just great to be taken around by a Portuguese who explains his own city in his own individual way,” he said.
“Some show you the homes of writers and other famous people, others just want to drive around the smallest streets possible, while others show you where to buy your Port wine or listen to fado,” Portugal’s traditional music, he said.
Even as the transportation battle has heated up, some have decided to climb aboard the tuk-tuk bandwagon rather than fight it, like José Alves, a taxi company owner who expanded into the tuk-tuk business three months ago.
Mr. Alves, who now owns six tuk-tuks with his company Colourtrip, alongside his six taxis, described the tuk-tuk as the perfect vehicle in which to discover the city.
“A taxi takes you to a specific place, but the tuk-tuk is the right choice if you just want to wander around,” he said. “Lisbon has so many hills and narrow streets that it’s really a made-for-measure place for a tuk-tuk.”
Still, even Mr. Alves backed the idea that tuk-tuks should be subject to restrictions comparable to those that apply to Lisbon’s 3,500 taxis.
“The way this market is developing,” he said, “we could have 3,000 tuk-tuks next year, so of course rules must be set.”