The Not So Silent Protest Against PickMe


“Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protestors,” has become a regular news alert now. Every other day, you’ll find there’s some union or group of students protesting against something. But it’s not every day that you’ll see a group of tuk drivers protesting in front of the PickMe office in Nugegoda. Yet, that’s exactly what happened on Monday morning.

As commuters drove past the building with the PickMe logo, they saw it was surrounded by a group of men. Some of them holding placards. All of them screaming, furious with PickMe, and drove tuks. Yet, according to corporate communication team at PickMe, they were not PickMe drivers. Rather, they were independent tuk drivers. They had gathered in front of the PickMe office to protest its introduction of Budget and Buddy options.

What are these Budget and Buddy options?

You likely might have seen these options already. But in case you’re lost, PickMe recently added two new cheaper options for you to get from Point A to Point B. Available from 9 AM to 4 PM, these are the Budget and Buddy options. The Budget option gives you a tuk for Rs. 25 per km. Whereas the Buddy option gives you a nano cab for Rs. 35 per km.

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The PickMe Budget and Buddy options (Image credits: PickMe)

In our experience, we’ve found that these are indeed cheaper albeit not significantly. Yet, that’s assuming you can find a Budget tuk or Buddy nano. We’ve found these are at times quite rare to find. Nonetheless, when you do, it’s true that they are cheaper than your regular tuks or nano options.

As it’s based on a percentage, the further you travel, the greater these savings are in total. But what about from the driver’s perspective? Speaking to ReadMe, PickMe shared with us that it offers an incentive for drivers that utilize these options. These are based on the number of hires they get.

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On top of their normal earnings, PickMe also offers incentives. But it’s entirely optional for the drivers to take Budget and Buddy hires (Image credits: YAMU)

Elaborating on this, the PickMe corporate communication team said, “The drivers that know this system can earn a lot.” They also added that the drivers have to first manually enable these options. As such, it’s entirely optional for them. So if they don’t like the Budget and Buddy schemes, they can simply ignore it and take hires at the rates they do so normally.

Is PickMe’s pricing unfair?

That’s a tough question to answer. For starters, unlike with telecom services, there’s no definitive minimum price set for a tuk and nano cab ride. The closest we have is the price set by the unions, which is Rs. 60 for the 1st kilometre and Rs. 42 – 45 from the 2nd kilometre onwards. But even this isn’t agreed upon by all the unions. More importantly, these rates are not legally binding.

At the time of writing, there’s no standard minimum price for a taxi ride in Sri Lanka (Image credits: Shanna Baker/Getty Images)

Nonetheless, one can’t deny PickMe’s rates are significantly cheaper. All trips in a PickMe tuk start at Rs. 60 for the 1st kilometre. The difference being that on a normal PickMe tuk, you pay Rs. 35 from the 2nd kilometre onwards. Whereas if you take the Budget option, you pay Rs. 25 from the 2nd kilometre onwards. So if you get a budget PickMe tuk, you’re paying almost half price compared to a normal tuk you take off the road.

Therefore, one could argue that the independent tuk drivers do have a valid point. Yet, one could also argue that the independent tuk drivers are not free from fault either. It’s not uncommon to hear the frustrating words, “meter kadila” (meter broken) midway through a trip. Even with the rates published by the unions, some tuk drivers would tamper with the meters to set even higher rates.

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It’s not surprising for these meters to mysteriously break (Image credits: Zafigo)

This problem only gets worse when you remember that tuks with meters are only a thing in Colombo. Anywhere else, such a thing would be rarer than unicorn. Thus, beyond the city limits, tuk drivers freely charge whatever they wish.  Usually, that translates into exorbitant prices. This is a prevalent issue in areas popular with tourists where tuk drivers might charge over a Rs. 1000 for a short trip.

It is due to these issues, that as customers many of us turn to ride-hailing apps like PickMe in the first place. Yes, these apps are significantly cheaper. But more importantly, they’re better at giving you peace of mind. In other words, a driver that drops you at your destination without complications. Of course, there are exceptions, but these are rare rather than the rule.

So how can we set a fair price for both drivers and passengers?

By now, it’s clear to everyone that ride hailing apps will be how we get around for the foreseeable future. They will be the link between drivers and customers who wish to travel. And this should be at a fair price. It should be a price that customers can afford. While also covering the costs of the drivers and allowing them to make a profit.

To set a fair minimum price requires discussion. But according to PickMe, the protesting drivers don’t wish to have discussions with them (Image credits: 10 pictures in pohang)

Yet, at the moment, there’s no legally mandated minimum price set for any of these trips. Naturally, that means it’s for the market decide what will be that minimum fair price. Yet, for such decisions to be made requires discussion. However, speaking to ReadMe, PickMe’s corporate communication team shared that the protestors do not wish to meet with PickMe for any discussions at the time of writing.  

We’re not sure why the protesting drivers would be against a discussion to resolve the dispute. Nonetheless, that leaves the decision of the price to be decided by the market. But right now, neither drivers nor customers of any ride hailing apps in Sri Lanka are protesting their prices. In other words, by default, everyone agrees the price is fair.

So is the price set by the ride-hailing apps going to be the new standard? Likely yes, unless the government decides to step in and stir things up.

*At the request of the representative from the PickMe corporate communications team that spoke with us, the article was updated to remove their name.


  1. LOL are you a company funded writer ? why you talking about tuks only ? May be you dont know the real Issue is with cars not tuks.

  2. Uber is squeezing the drivers (ever increasing supply) to run at unsustainable low rates . Pickme is just keeping up with the competition.

    A legally mandated lower limits are needed to safeguard the drivers

    A legally mandated upper limit is needed to protect the riders.

    Surge pricing is as bad as the random taxi driver charging high from both tourists or locals in times of need.

    The operators maybe private, but the taxi app market will boil down to a few big players with deep pockets (while still being the key facilitator for last mile transport for many).

    Regulation vital.

  3. A market to exploit and make money in Sri Lanka currently is this sector of Taxi booking via app. We are able to see the growth of this industry lately as to how many new players have come in and also how the big giants such as Pick me and Uber have been dominating . What I see is that currently as consumers with the higher cost of living we tend to book these cheaper taxis than using a three wheel which runs on a normal meter. This is has thus been the opportunity for these companies to promote this and make all of us use these taxis via sending promos and free rides.

    On the other hand the plight of a three wheel driver who has to pay a daily fee + a monthly commission to the company , his expenses being fuel cost+ leasing fee + then comes finally his family . Could we just open the eyes and see how long does it take for him to reach his family , if he either misses one of those I’ve mentioned can he feed his family? I don’t think so.

    Hence I’d recommend a solution for this , that is the government(transport Ministry) can fix a common three wheel rate of Rs.35 or 40 Per Km and then say all other taxi companies should be above this rate . An over ride operation and decision by the transport ministry could open ways for these three wheel drivers to get more hires whilst the organisations who run taxi companies will have to start at a higher rate.

    This could also eventually make the general public to use just random three wheeler and hence it could even pave ways of reducing small cars in the city whilst the people can use three wheeler for short distance since it can be a cheap transport.


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