'Ban cars from Stockholm and have Sweden fund cycle taxis'
Published on: 13 Jun 2016 06:59 CET
That’s exactly what Edinburgh native Neil Fraser is hoping to achieve with his new pedicabs company, Hej Hej. The Scot thinks he has found the solution to both pollution and traffic gridlock in the Swedish capital. And his ambitions are big.
“In the future I’d say that cycle taxis should take over. Make the whole city sustainable, ban cars from the city centre, and have the state fund cycle taxis instead,” he says.
“It’s totally essential. We have to do something about climate change, pollution coming from cities. Cycle taxis can get around quicker than cars and cabs, and it’s just crazy that in a modern day city, which Stockholm presents itself as, that you still have gridlock in the city centre.”
Fraser relocated to Sweden five years ago with his Swedish partner. Though he initially found employment in teaching, the Scot had previous experience of working in both the tourism sector and with environmental NGOs. His passion for the environment never left him, and one day, he had a eureka moment.
“I was sitting, bored out of my mind in an office in Slussen (a busy transport hub near Stockholm's ferry port), ironically enough on an employment course where they were trying to help me find a new career,” he explains. “I saw these poor people lugging their crates of beer and suitcases to the port, and I thought there should be a better system to get them back to their boats.”
“Then it hit me: cycle taxis. I knew about tourism, and Stockholm is getting more and more tourists every year, so it seemed like a good time to tap into the market.”
Hej Hej Stockholm director Neil Fraser. Photo: Neil Fraser
The name ‘Hej Hej’ (Swedish for hello) was devised as a local take on the term ‘tuk-tuk’, which is used to describe three-wheeled motorized taxis popular among tourists in countries like Thailand. Fraser quickly realized that his own three-wheelers would not only be well-placed to take advantage of the density of tourists in Stockholm, but that they could also appeal to a local Swedish emphasis on sustainable living.
“A lot of companies in Sweden are taking sustainability quite seriously,” he observes. “By advertising on the bikes we offer them a chance to show that they walk the walk by getting their message out in a healthy, environmental way.”
With both his idea locked in and a niche found, the entrepreneur was off to a good start, but the process of launching the company wasn’t always straightforward. Surprisingly, he found some of the steps to be more difficult than they were back in his native Scotland.
“If I was to compare it to Scotland I’d say it’s slightly easier to open a business in Scotland. There they fall over themselves to help you with money and advice. I found it harder here to do that,” he says.
“In Scotland you get very specific advice. With tourism we got given a mentor who knew everything about tourism. She helped us with all the connections. We really had our hands held through the process of setting up a business.”
“Here in Sweden it wasn’t as specific. A lot of it relies on you being able to network and knowing your own industry, the people within it.”
A Hej Hej taxi out for a spin in Stockholm. Photo: Neil Fraser
Support may not have been as specific as the environmentalist would have liked, but Stockholm’s well-developed cycle infrastructure on the other hand seemed tailor-made for a company like his from day one.
“Compared to Edinburgh it’s flat as a pancake here. It has cycle lanes, it has a culture of cycling, fit and healthy people,” he notes. “It’s just not everyone has cottoned on to the potential of this yet. We’re the wee guys, we only have four cabs and have just started, but we have big ambitions to help Stockholm become more sustainable.”
As anyone who has traversed Stockholm’s many cycle lanes will attest, the high flow of traffic on two wheels means riders can be ruthless. Despite that, Fraser says the city’s cyclists have reacted positively to his venture.
“The one concern was how the many cyclists in Stockholm would react to a slightly bigger machine suddenly blocking their way,” he admits. “But we’ve had nothing but positive comments.”
“People saying ‘good for you guys, you have as much right to be in the cycle lanes as we do’. At the nighttime when we take them round the bars Stockholmers think it’s a great idea too. That’s really helped.”
The pedicabs are a shade bigger than an average bike. Photo: Neil Fraser
With the locals apparently on side, Fraser has already won a major battle. To fulfill his ultimate goal however, he will need to convince a far tougher group: politicians.
“I’d love to see the Stockholm municipality recognizing the cabs as part of the transport network and as a viable option for people travelling between meetings,” he says.
“I’d love for it to be an established feature of the transport network. We fill the gap between taxi and bus. I think there’s a real value in that. Real potential.”