If you visited Lisbon you know its miradouros: terraces offering a panoramic view of different areas of town and the Tagus estuary. The most memorable in my opinion is the Miradouro Senhora do Monte, in Graça. When the sun slowly sets in the Ocean, the crystalline blue sky turns in a fast changing rich palette of orange and peach. It covers Lisbon with a silky hue, changing its colours, its silhouettes and moving its shadows at every blink of an eye.
If you’ve been there you know what I’m talking about. A natural wonder, to enjoy leaning on the fence, a lukewarm Sagres and the sound of a guitar slightly out of tune coming from the other side of the terrace.
Of course assuming you’ve been there few years ago. Now the guitar player has bought a tuner and a portable amp, necessary to overcome the chattering of the dozens of tourists elbowing their way to the best position and waving their smartphone to the sky to get the best shot. A woman in a straw hat barks orders to her husband, anxiously fumbling with an oversized reflex to save her well rehearsed clumsy pose to posterity. Finally she seems satisfied of the way she ruined an otherwise beautiful view and, without even a glimpse to the panorama, they jump back to their tuk-tuk buzzing away.
The miradouro is in fact full of those tuk-tuks. Some of them are electric but many are still gas fuelled, waiting for their patrons humming, until the moment when the sunset loses its cover photo appeal and all of them leave with a loud roar and a cloud of smoke, taking the lazy tourists to the next item to tick off their lists.
The Eighth Plague of Lisbon
Fortunately I have taken my iconic Lisbon photos almost ten years ago. Now you wouldn’t have a chance of a clear shot without a smartphone pointed to the sky or a tuk-tuk struggling on some steep Alfama alley. Even in a cramped place like the Feira da Ladra your contemplation of the displayed bric-à-brac might be disrupted by a tuk-tuk pushing through the crowd, dragging its load of tourists with eyes vaguely veiled with shame.
There’s no doubt tourism is a good source of money and everything good that might come with some wealth, but too much tourism might suffocate the city, collapsing its infrastructures and coming in the way of its citizens daily life.
Lisbon is one of the few city where I really feel “like a local”: I lived and worked there for a while and I go there twice a year staying for week long periods, thanks to a generous friend who host me for free and doesn’t even mind that I finish his coffee all the time. Or so I guess.
For this reason I can’t help noticing how life, in terms of daily routine, is getting increasingly difficult. Taking the 28 to work is impossible: it’s faster to walk, ordering a pingado in a café in town requires some queuing and booking a table at your favourite restaurants is an arduous task if that happens to be mentioned on the Lonely Planet. All of this is worsened by the Eighth Plague of Lisbon: the tuk-tuk.
An uncontrolled Swarm. Do we really need tuk-tuks?
With a quick online search I come across ten different companies providing this service. One of them claims that they can take you “where your tour bus can’t”. So I wonder, if you need a tour bus and then another motorized vehicle to reach some place I’m not sure I see much motivation. Why create congestion and pollution if you can’t be bother to have a little walk?.
I’m sorry for the people organising these enterprises, as I’m sure they put a lot of enthusiasm in that and they might have genuinely good intentions, but they’re really only benefiting themselves, creating a damage to the very city they are supposed to lovingly show to tourists, which is suffocating in their tuk-tuks.
Lisboners surely don’t lack creativity and ingenuity, they proved that many times including their world class hostels that changed the hospitality game not long ago (check out the Hostelworld Hoscars). So I’m sure they can find a more sustainable way to promote tourism in their town.
The problem is also being tackled by the Mayor of Lisbon who has introduced some limitations to regulate the tuk-tuk traffic which quickly spiralled out of control. Starting from November 2015 they are limited between 9am and 9pm, and they can only ride on main roads, a measure that should avoid congestion in the oldest bairros, where the tuk-tuks were swarming the narrow winding alleys. From 2017 only electric vehicles will be permitted and over 100 dedicated parking places will be created. Only on the first month 40 fines have been raised, let’s see what happens as the high season starts.
And then, when the tuk-tuks will be regulated and nicely pulled within rank, will the Segway tours take over as the most annoying tourist attraction in Lisbon?