Broke and homeless, trishaw pedallers come to a dead halt

Trishaw pedallers find solace on the sidewalks of Pitt Street in George Town, Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: Penang’s trishaw pedallers have hit rock-bottom because of the three-month lockdown. With no one on the streets and no foreign tourists, their income has been zero.

Many of them are now forced to live in their trishaws, as they cannot afford to rent a house or room, while some cannot even afford to buy food, according to the Penang Trishaw Pedallers Association. They also need to fork out money for medicines.

Association president Abdul Latiff Mohd said there had been cash aid from the federal and state governments, but the money was not enough. Most of the 300-odd trishaw pedallers were very poor, and desperate.

Penang Trishaw Pedallers Association president Abdul Latiff Mohd.

“We would not mind working as street sweepers, janitors or any other odd-jobs in the meantime,” he said when met outside Kapitan Keling Mosque at Pitt Street here yesterday.

The Penang Island City Council gives all trishaw pedallers RM20 a week as an incentive payment, while the state government gave a RM500 one-off payment to 318 pedallers recently.

Latiff, 73, said most trishaw pedallers are senior citizens. All the trishaws on the streets of George Town are rented from a company which charges RM2 a day.

For Penang’s trishaw pedallers, no tourists mean no income.

In better times, most pedallers made a decent living, earning at least RM1,000 to RM1,300 a month, 75% of which came from foreign tourists. He said trishaw pedallers had a good run whenever a cruise ship landed at the pier, as foreigners paid in US dollars in fares and tips.

In contrast, he said, local residents almost never took trishaws despite it being Penang’s oldest mode of transport.

“Now we rely on the kindness of strangers. Spare some change or some food, we ask. Most of our members now live in their trishaws.”

Latiff said there are about 120 active trishaw pedallers. Most charge RM40 to RM60 an hour for a trip around the George Town World Heritage Site.

Pedaller Bakri Abdullah, 60, said: “Today, finding one or two ringgit is difficult. I am willing to do anything, sweep the streets, drains.”

Another pedaller, Mohd Ibrahim Mohd, 67, said he used to get RM20 to RM60 a day when times were better.

Latiff said his group was open to a suggestion by a businessman that they would be better off working as temporary cleaners with the city council. “At least we’d get to do some work and earn some money until the situation improves.”

Businessman Mohamed Rizwan Abdul Ghafoor Khan, who has from time to time helped the trishaw pedallers at Pitt Street, said he hoped the city council would engage trishaw pedallers as cleaners.

“Nearly 75% of their customers are foreigners, how are they to survive until year-end without any help? I think the Penang government should consider getting them a job at the council. I see they are willing,” he said.

Fake or not? Check our quick fake news buster here.