Cambodia's first fleet of metered tuk-tuks is taking on the capital’s traditional business model for cheap motorised conveyance, where fare prices are usually settled by negotiations and customers often feel they were overcharged.
Launched in March, EZ Go is the first company in Phnom Penh to operate a commercial fleet of three-wheeled tuk-tuks, as opposed to the ubiquitous moto-remorque, and the first to install meters in all its fleet vehicles.
Meters in the vehicles determine the cost of a ride according to standardised distance-based rates, avoiding the need to negotiate fares and preventing drivers from gouging customers – a common complaint by tourists.
“I think the price of our rides is very low for customers, and it is a standardised price so we can’t cheat our customers,” EZ Go owner Top Nimol said. “We also don’t charge any additional fees for traffic jams because our fares are based on distance and not time.”
EZ Go owns all of its tuk-tuks and offers its drivers the choice to either work for a salary or rent the vehicles for $7 a day. Nimol also grants bonus incentives for his salaried workers once they reach a certain target of passenger pickups.
“Many of the drivers here can earn more than $200 per month,” he said. “Those who reach certain targets and perform well on the job can earn nearly $300 per month.”
Fares are set at 3,000 riel for the first kilometre and then 360 riel for every additional 300 metres, making the company’s prices some of the most attractive in the city compared to regular taxis and other tuk-tuks.
While only a handful of EZ Go vehicles are on the road, the tiny company’s competitive and no-hassle fares are already upsetting the status quo, exerting pricing pressure on the thousands of moto-remorques – also called tuk-tuks – that serve the capital.
Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA), Cambodia’s largest tuk-tuk association, says he is both worried and intrigued by the metered tuk-tuk concept.
“We are studying the possibility of equipping meters in our tuk-tuks in order to compete with these new market entrants,” he said. “But we have encountered many challenges, because it has been hard to find drivers willing to try it.”
Pao worries that the increased popularity and more attractive prices of metered tuk-tuks could impact the business of moto-drawn carriages, whose drivers rely on bargaining to establish ride fares.
“As traffic in Phnom Penh gets increasingly worse, I think the prices charged by those metered tuk-tuks is very low,” he said. “Our operating costs are too high due to the traffic congestion for us to offer similar fares.”
The distinct design and colour of EZ Go tuk-tuks make them easily differentiated from the 6,000 tuk-tuks represented by IDEA. The company’s fleet is composed of yellow, Bajaj three-wheelers from India assembled and modified in Cambodia.
Built to run on LPG fuel, the vehicles are more fuel efficient than standard petrol- or diesel-engine moto-remorques, allowing their drivers to realise significant savings at the pump over time.
But their popularity among customers could owe to their nimbleness and comfort, suggested motor enthusiast Hout Seriepanha, deputy manager of a Japan Motor motorbike shop.
“The Bajaj tuk-tuk model is assembled into a single piece rather than being a detachable carriage pulled by a motorbike,” he said. “This makes it easier for it to turn and is safer for both the passenger and driver, but also more comfortable.”
Unlike standard Khmer-style tuk-tuks, the Indian models also have rear-wheel brakes and suspension, adding to the overall comfort of the vehicle, he said.
However, he projected a slow adoption of the three-wheeled tuk-tuk model given its greater upfront cost and the lower passenger capacity of the vehicles, which seat two to three passengers comfortably, whereas a moto-remorque can seat six and squeeze in more if needed.