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Grab cleans up the tuk-tuk's image in Chiang Mai

New service to offer passengers a low-emission option of getting around town

Grab, the Singaporean startup that has helped to upend Southeast Asia's taxi industries, is now adopting one of the region's most traditional passenger-ferrying vehicles, the tuk-tuk, but with a clean twist.

BANGKOK -- A ride-hailing startup that has played a big part in upending the taxi industry throughout Southeast Asia has now adopted one of the region's most iconic passenger-ferrying vehicles, the tuk-tuk, in an ironic effort to help reduce air pollution.

While tuk-tuks are known for the trails of exhaust they leave behind, GrabTukTuk Electric will provide battery-powered three-wheelers, first in Chiang Mai, the northern Thai city that increasingly finds itself covered in a layer of haze.

One of the electric tuk-tuks is expected to keep more than 4 tons of global warming emissions out of the sky every year.

Grab, the Singaporean decacorn, has signed memorandums with Chiang Mai Province and other municipalities to put electric tuk-tuks on the road in an attempt to trim the use of private cars by 35% over the next five years.

Besides the haze, Thailand's second-largest city suffers from chronic traffic jams.

Three-wheel taxis, which go by a variety of names, are popular "last mile" options in many Southeast Asian cities. But this is the first time Grab has added the cute little vehicles to its fleet.

For Chiang Mai's part, the province will promote ride-sharing services as part of its smart community program, Vice Gov. Wirun Panthewee said.

The Thai government has designated Bangkok and six provinces, including Chiang Mai, as model smart communities.

Tuk-tuks take their name from the onomatopoeia Thais use to describe the sound of the three-wheelers' two-cycle engines.

The electric tuk-tuks will be available via the Grab app.

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