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Ah, the tuk tuk. Sri Lanka is obsessed with tracking these puttering machines: long before Uber rolled into India and made ‘ridesharing’ an actual part of the vocabulary here. In fact, back when YAMU debuted, it was pitched not as a restaurant review site, but an app – an app that would let locate and dial three-wheelers in your vicinity.

Fast-forward a bit, and you arrive at half a handful of apps pitched at hackathons: Traxy-Taxi, an experimental tuk-tuk tracking app with an inordinately funky name: FareShareSL, a backend for tuk-tuk companies that can push notifications to customers. Now there’s a new kid approaching this particular block – TukTuk, by Erbenlab.

Ironically, for most people, finding a tuk in Colombo is simple: either call the taxi company of your choice. They’re usually quite professional – the one I call the most knows my name, sends me an auto-generated thank-you SMS, and even gives me ‘credits’ to use on the next ride. If that doesn’t work, call taxi company #2 – or take a short walk and hang around a bus halt. Chances are quite high someone will roll up even at the middle of the night. We’d use an app if it had a couple of major companies onboard, but that’s not where the real need lies.

The real problem is on the outskirts, where finding transport is an inordinately difficult task. That’s exactly where this type of application – and infrastructure – would be a boon. Even a handful of tukmen with GPS tracking are still a boon when, say, your house is three kilometers from the main road and you need to get to Colombo without sweating and ending up looking like a pig.

And despite the belief that only Colombo has the smartphones, you see a surprising number of Android devices everywhere – we’re at an age where a legit, budget smartphone costs only 10,000 rupees, and Rs 2,000 more will buy you a perfectly usable fake Galaxy S4 (along with the street cred that entails).

People, despite being stupid about big issues like politics and climate change, are actually very smart when it comes to immediate gains (ie: open this app and you’ll see three-wheelers in your vicinity). Even if ye local resident isn’t the customer, there’s still money to be had from the urbanites heading off to explore Galle or Unawatuna or wherever it is that people actually take off to.

It’s odd that developers – and entrepreneurs – just don’t seem to be catching on to the possibilities. All the major metered taxi companies are centered squarely around Colombo, despite the obvious benefits of setting up operations near the airport or around a popular beach destination.

All the apps are largely delivered to a Colombo audience by Colombo people. Sascon Holding’s ‘Rideshare Colombo’ is example of this ‘Colombo, Colombo’ thinking – there’s too many smart minds only focused on a city that’s only 37.31 square kilometers and already has fairly workable means of public transport. If, say, you could help someone stranded in Arugambay get to Potuvil, or to enable a tuk driver in Anuradhapura to make a lot of trips (and money) with tourists, wouldn’t that make a lot more sense?

I would pay for that app (and that’s a rare thing: I’ve only ever paid for Moonreader and Poweramp). But yes, I would pay for this. Especially if I’m on the rear end of nowhere and Online Cabs can’t reach me here. Somebody please shut up and take my money.

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