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Tuk-tuk firm says taxi drivers are behind drive to shut it down
The company behind Brighton and Hove's 12 tuktuks this week launches its campaign to keep the three-wheelers running.
The Save Our Tuctuc petition has already attracted more than 100 names and scores of messages of encouragement.
Those supporting the arrival of the motorised rickshaws say the tuk-tuks have boosted the city's international standing and tie in with Brighton and Hove's reputation as a creative place to live and visit.
A public inqiry is being held on October 3 to see if the tuktuks have broken the terms of their licence.
Dominic Ponniah, the firm's founder, believes a minority of taxi drivers are behind the complaints.
He said: "We are a small independent company pioneering the first service of its kind anywhere in the world and feel extremely disappointed that a handful of individuals in the taxi trade have complained about a service less than onemonth- old.
"We hope the fantastic people of Brighton and Hove will support the tuk-tuks by signing our online petition today."
A flurry of messages to www.saveourtuctuc.co.uk are backing the fleet.
One supporter said: "The tuk-tuk service is fun, environmentally sound and in keeping with the nature of Brighton. It is a business and should sink or swim like any other."
Another backer added: "I love the tuk-tuks - please don't go.
"The tuk-tuks are so much fun and bring in visitors to Brighton. It would be too awful if they were bullied off the road."
Councillor Gill Mitchell, chairwoman of Brighton and Hove City Council's environment committee, wants the tuktuks to stay. However, she stressed that if the company had broken the terms of its contract, a public inquiry was inevitable.
She said: "I think I would be sad to see them go if they are forced off the road; they provide a fun and alternative method of transport for the city.
"But every form of public transport has to be safe and follow regulations."
Stella Pentecost, from Hanover, Brighton, who took a tuk-tuk to her wedding ceremony in July, hopes many others will be able to tie the knot tuk-tuk style.
She said: "Brighton is very good at doing things in a unique way. People come to shop in Brighton because it is not yet a clone city and the tuk-tuks are a unique transport method.
"It would be very sad to see them go. They should be allowed to operate as a taxi service rather than just a bus system."
While many in Brighton have embraced this new form of transport, others have not been so keen on the tuk-tuks' arrival.
The loudest voice in the antituk- tuk campaign has come from taxi drivers, who say the rickshaws are taking their profits and are unsafe.
Letter writers to The Argus have also raised concerns about the safety of the vehicles - a view echoed by Taxiwise, the nationwide campaign for the safer use of taxis.
Its spokeswoman Celeste Clarke told this newspaper the tuk-tuks offered virtually no protection in the event of an accident and although the company running the service has insisted the vehicles are safe, this has failed to convince the city's taxi-driving fraternity.
The Taxi Trade Forum has been consulting lawyers to challenge the firm.
The public inquiry will look into allegations TucTuc Limited has breached the terms of its licence by not sticking to the timetable set out in it.
Cabbies are also worried tuk-tuks have been picking up passengers in places other than the designated stops.
Damian Norman, who was voted taxi driver of the year in March, said he had not seen a drop in earnings but admitted drivers in Brighton and Hove were far from happy with the new arrivals.
He said: "We hear a lot of stuff in our taxis but we didn't hear anything until a week before the tuk-tuks started. It felt like they were being brought in through the back door.
"The public inquiry will give us an opportunity to ask questions about safety and whether the drivers are being properly checked."