How many taxis in New York? A classic interview question asked by the large consultancy firms. Any aspiring applicant is meant to scratch their head in an intelligent fashion, wait just long enough to show they have given the question careful consideration but not so long as to be considered thick, and then answer…”Given that there are 8.5 million people in New York…” Or “by looking at the license numbers on display in the taxis and taking a sample size of 40, assuming that the license numbers start at 1 you can estimate with a degree of accuracy that…” I have been walking down the road in Phnom Penh and trying my hands at a similar question- “how many tuktuks are there in Phnom Penh?”
Just as in New York, the streets are numbered making it easy to calculate the number of roads. When I walked down street number 184 this evening, I counted 30 tuktuks. Street number 184 is probably a little shorter than the average street but it is in a very touristy area with a lot of hotels. Assuming the tourist factor outweighs street length, then I can estimate that there are the 20 tuktuks per street. 2011 is the highest street number I’ve spotted on the map. Therefore we can estimate approximately 20,000* tuktuks. This, of course, does not include motordops or taxis. I’ve tried to sense check this on Google, but unfortunately the only answer I’ve found is that there are 13,500 taxis in New York and between 70,000 and 200,000 in Bangkok. If anyone has a better answer, please leave a comment below.
However the number of tuktuks is not as interesting as each individual tuktuk driver. Today we met Sothon, who has been driving a tuktuk for 5 years. He was brought up at a time when it would have been dangerous to be found studying English. He therefore only began studying it later in life and only had 3 months of lessons. Speaking to tourists means that he is now pretty proficient in the language and we were able to have a long conversation about languages, tuktuk manufacture and Cambodia. Working with so many tourists, Sothon has also learnt some French, Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai. Unlike most other drivers, Sothon has chosen to invest in an Indian tuktuk. This enables him to speed off into the countryside with his family when there is a holiday. He explained that some other drivers prefer solar-powered Chinese tuktuks as they are cheaper to run. The previous day I had met Sol who also had impressive English, learnt from tourists. He had been driving tuktuks for 2 years and clearly enjoyed meeting so many people from around the world. It’s been great having the chance to let some of the micro-entrepreneurs working in Phnom Penh, but I’m sorry that I won’t have a chance to speak to many more of the 39998 drivers also located in the city.
*Note: Thanks to comments and further tuktuk counting we revised down our original estimate, but would be really interested if anyone knows the exact answer or can do a better estimate! Please contact us under firstname.lastname@example.org