Tuk tuk start up hits red tape speed bump

By Aimee Shaw

Tuk Tuk NZ founder Jeremy Marr, (r) Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Thai Ambassador Maris Sangiampongsa (l)
Tuk Tuk NZ founder Jeremy Marr, (r) Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Thai Ambassador Maris Sangiampongsa (l)

They are the go-to get-around across Asia, but two brothers hoping to get electric tuk tuks onto Wellington roads are facing speed bumps ahead of the summer tourism boom.

Tuk tuks, three-wheeled motorised vehicles commonly used as taxis, fill the streets of India and Thailand. However, Tuk Tuk NZ co-founder Jeremy Marr believes they will give visitors to New Zealand more travel options.

Wellington-based Tuk Tuk NZ has been gearing up to transport cruise ship passengers around the city for more than six months, but the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has been holding operations back.

Marr said after initially being told NZTA approval would take 10 to 14 days, he and co-founder Glen Varcoe have now been waiting six months.

"We've been trying with the NZTA for about six months now - they've been putting up a few road blocks for us," Marr said.

"To be honest with you I think they were hoping that it would be too much of a hassle and I would end up going away and it would save their headaches of having to deal with it."

Tuk Tuk NZ is offering a cleaner alternative to the traditional tuk tuk, hoping to operate emission-free scenic tours of the capital.

With a fleet of just four vehicles, Marr said his original plan had taken a major set back.

"The plan had been to have a much bigger fleet by now - of at least a dozen vehicles or more," he said.

Marr said the situation with NZTA approval was "frustrating".

The company had hired drivers and was geared up to start operations in February, however, it has since faced numerous set backs, including meeting safety requirements.

Despite receiving support by Tourism New Zealand and Tourism Wellington, the process of approving the tuk tuks for commercial use had not to been sped up.

Two of Tuk Tuk NZ's electric tuk tuk - 'The Prez' and 'Lotus'.
Two of Tuk Tuk NZ's electric tuk tuk - 'The Prez' and 'Lotus'.

"We were ready in February, we had everything lined up with Tourism New Zealand, with the tour and everything, and then NZTA decided they didn't like the vehicles so we've sort of being working through their processes," he said.

Due to the tuk tuks being commercial passenger vehicles, it was hard for them to be classified by NZTA, Marr said.

"It's because there has never been a vehicle like this in New Zealand operating as a commercial passenger vehicle, so it doesn't fit any categories or classifications," he said. "We've done some modifications - just some strengthening stuff - so they are kind of in a position now where they should be happy as we're ticked all of the boxes."

NZTA national delivery manager Robyn Elson said Mar's application "was not a straightforward case".

The plan had been to have a much bigger fleet by now - of at least a dozen vehicles or more.

"Given the condition of the vehicles when they were originally presented and the absence of supporting technical information, the only outcome possible in the 10 day timeframe would have been to decline the application," Elson said in a statement to the Herald.

"Rather than decline the exemption application, NZTA has worked extensively with Mr Marr to get to a position where it will be possible to grant exemptions which will allow his tuk tuks to operate. To get to this point we needed Mr Marr to provide additional technical information for the tuk tuks, and the vehicles have also had to have some modifications to meet New Zealand safety requirements.

Tuk Tuk NZ's original coffee cart tuk tuk.
Tuk Tuk NZ's original coffee cart tuk tuk.

"Now that these modifications have been completed and the technical information provided, we're in the process of finalising the exemptions with a view to granting them as soon as possible."

Marr is hoping business can kick-off next month with cruise ship season.

"Our aim is really to get going a week before the first ship comes in so that we've got the tours sorted, our drivers know what they're doing and we can get in to the summer."

When I was driving it around the city for the first few months, everyone was staring at it and asking me questions.

Marr and brother Varcoe were looking for a food truck when he came across a juice cart in the form an electric tuk tuk. Marr later travelled to Melbourne to look at the tuk tuks - he ended up buying a truck version which he decked out as a coffee cart.

After enthused public reaction, Mar decided to purchase four more vehicles.

"When I was driving it around the city for the first few months, everyone was staring at it and asking me questions. So I looked in to the transport side of it, had a few meetings and ended up buying four transport ones - three six-seaters and one three-seaters."

The electric tuk tuks can reach up to 50km/h. Photo / Facebook
The electric tuk tuks can reach up to 50km/h. Photo / Facebook

Each tuk tuk is imported from Thailand, costing $32,000 including shipping.

Auckland-based tuk tuk company Kiwi Connect founded by Graeme Rivett, Marr's friend, is facing similar approval issues.

There are close to 500 similar tuk tuks operating in 39 countries worldwide.

- NZ Herald

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