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Sunday, 13 August, 2000, 00:41 GMT 01:41 UK
Colombo taxi drivers rebel over uniforms
Colombo trishaw driver
Trishaw drivers say no to yellow jackets with adverts
By the BBC's Alastair Lawson in Colombo

Trishaw drivers in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, are planning a series of protests over the next week against proposals to make them wear a uniform and carry an identity card.

The drivers of the distinctive three-wheeled taxis complain that the uniform will be uncomfortable to wear in hot weather.

They particularly dislike the yellow colour of the proposed jackets and the fact that they will carry advertisements.

The jackets are too uncomfortable to wear in hot weather

Reneka Perara, Trishaw drivers' leader

The Sri Lankan authorities say it is important the new regulations are introduced as part of their effort to improve Colombo's image and to tackle crime.

Getaway vehicles

They say that the identity cards are needed because criminals sometimes use trishaws as getaway vehicles.

But Reneka Perara, the head of the city's three-wheeler drivers' association says that the initiative is bitterly opposed by his members.

Colombo is trying to keep its tidy reputation

"The jackets are too uncomfortable to wear in hot weather. Each driver is being issued with one jacket only. What do we do when it needs to be washed?" he said.

Mr Perara added: "We don't like being mobile advertisements because each jacket has an advertisement on it."

Most of Colombo's 20,000 trishaw drivers say they are being targeted by the police because a growing number of crimes in the city have involved trishaws being used as getaway vehicles.

Bright yellow

They say that they are not enthusiastic about being made to carry a drivers' identity card.

They say they take particular exception to the proposed requirement that they wear a bright yellow jacket.

But the mayor of Colombo, Omar Kamil, says that it is necessary for the drivers to wear the uniform because many of them look too scruffy.

"If we are going to discipline the drivers, we must start not necessarily with the driving.

Uniforms will bring them within the disciplines of what is expected of a good driver and certainly will look presentable

Omar Kamil, Mayor of Colombo

"We must also discipline the drivers in their attire," he said.

"Uniforms certainly will give them a new identity [and] will also bring them within the disciplines of what is expected of a good driver and certainly will look presentable."

Tidy reputation

Mr Kamil says that Colombo already has a reputation as the tidiest and best presented city in South Asia.

Already most areas in the centre of the city have waste collections three times a week.

Mr Kamil said that initiatives are currently underway to prosecute people who dump garbage, remove beggars from the streets and reduce the city's pollution levels.

"We are trying to bring in a new statute to impose a fine, a spot fine, on those who litter the streets.

"This enforcement is very necessary if we are going to continue our programme in keeping the city clean.

"I must say that the laws that are in our statute are obsolete. It needs changes," Mr Kamil said.

Colombo's trishaw drivers say that while many of these changes are commendable, the proposal for them to wear bright yellow jackets is so contentious that they plan to hold a series of strikes if it is implemented.

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See also:

18 Jul 00 | South Asia
Colombo bus drivers face crackdown
03 Mar 00 | South Asia
Battle to save ancient Sri Lanka
21 Feb 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka's only McDonald's robbed
26 Apr 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka's school success
29 Sep 98 | Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka: Country profile
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