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As Cyclos Dwindle, Tough Times for Drivers Who Remain

Oum Sok began working as a cyclo driver when he was 18. He says the city has become very expensive over the years, making it much harder to earn a living.
Oum Sok began working as a cyclo driver when he was 18. He says the city has become very expensive over the years, making it much harder to earn a living.
PHNOM PENH - Cambodia’s cyclo drivers are becoming a thing of the past. The once ubiquitous three-wheeled pedicabs are competing with more and more motorized vehicles. There are less than 500 cyclos left in the country, the remnants of a quieter time.

For cyclo drivers like Chou Cheoun, 57, the increased challenge of finding fares, living on the streets, sleeping in his pedicab, have not deterred him from a job he has been at for more than 20 years. The rainy season, which will be approaching soon, is the hardest, he told VOA Khmer.

He works from early in the morning, mostly around O’Russey Market, peddling shoppers to and fro, earning from $2.50 to $5 per day. He is able to send home about $80 to $100 per month. At night, he and a few cyclo driver friends must find a place to sleep. This they do on the street, or under the awnings of homes.

“I sleep on the road, or under the roofs of some people’s homes,” he said, standing by his green cyclo recently. “It is not that easy to do so. Sometimes, we are asked to leave, because house owners do not want us to stay near their houses. During the rainy season, I often can’t sleep, as I will get wet for the whole night.”

Rental of the cyclo costs him $0.50 per day. Lunch, usually taken and Kandal Market, where many other cyclo drivers eat, costs about $0.80 per day. Every day, it is harder, and there are less customers, he said.

Sin Sikum, standing nearby, said he has been peddling a cyclo for more than 25 years. The 53-year-old said he has no choice but to continue, despite the difficulty earning a living. His daily earnings have dropped in recent years from $10 to $5. An increase in the number of motorcycle taxis and tuk-tuks has taken its toll, he said.

“Right now, not many people like before prefer riding cyclo,” he said. “People think riding a cyclo is slow and a bit more dangerous.”

There are now only about 447 cyclo drivers left in the country, according to the Cyclo Conversation and Career Association. About half of them operate in Prey Veng province. The rest are mostly found in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Twenty years ago, there were an estimated 5,000.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked the Ministry of Tourism to work on preserving the remaining cyclos to serve the tourism industry.

The Cyclo Conversation and Career Association is now cooperating with Ministry of Tourism in order to preserve the remaining cyclos, trying to find more customers, especially foreigner tourists, for the drivers, said Im Sambath, head of the association. The association has just signed contracts with eight different tourism companies. They are also working to find a place for cyclo drivers to sleep each night.

“The ministry asked us to find available pagodas, but none of the pagodas seem to have a place for them,” he said.