Introduced in Phnom Penh under French colonialism, the cyclo, or three-wheeled bicycle-propelled rickshaw, has been slowly disappearing from the streets of Phnom Penh.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for efforts to preserve the iconic vehicle.
“I call for the conservation of the cyclo because it is so interesting for tourists,” the Prime Minister said at a groundbreaking ceremony yesterday morning.
This was good news for Ben Thoeun, 34, who gives tourists cyclo tours of the Royal Palace and National Museum.
“The cyclo can help poor people earn a daily living,” he said.
Another cyclo driver, Boeun Be, 32, said that few Cambodian still use cyclos because they prefer motorbikes and tuk-tuks, and, consequently, many drivers have abandoned their vehicles in search of other work.
“The cyclo is not popular and people don’t value it or its drivers’ job, so the cyclo will disappear in the future,” he predicted.
Many of the cyclo drivers still operating trace their continued existence to the two-year-old Cyclo Conservation and Careers Association. “I can earn an average of $10 or more per day when visitors who want to take cyclos contact the association and ride with me,” said Be.
Im Sambath, president of CCCA, said he was pleased by the Prime Minister’s call for cyclo preservation.
“Visitors like taking cyclos because it is a strange form of transportation that they have never seen in their own countries,” he said. “By taking cyclos, they help poor Cambodians.”
According to surveys by Sambath’s organisation, the total number of cyclos in Cambodia dropped from 1,500 in 2008 to 700 today.
Many cyclo drivers are growing old and retiring, Sambath said, while young people tend to choose other work, in garment factories, for example. But, he added, some sons are picking up cyclo driving from their fathers.
CCCA faces problems finding land for a headquarters large and central enough to house its members, who tend to be poor and from the provinces, Sambath said.
He hoped that the Prime Minister’s statement would help put weight behind a request for land that CCCA had sent the Municipality last year.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JUSTINE DRENNAN