THIS WEEK IN HISTORY
Vol. 10, No. 21
October 12-25, 2001
AROUND 100 drivers of three-wheeled motorbikes, known as tuk tuks, protested a decision earlier this year by the Phnom Penh municipality that outlaws their vehicles and with it, their livelihoods.
Tuk tuk driver Lon Narim said he was angry at the municipality's ban. He said he had sold his farmland in Svay Poul village in Pearang district, Prey Veng, to buy his vehicle.
"The Phnom Penh municipality instituted the ban after we bought the motorbikes. I have no house to live in," Narim said. "Now I want the municipality and importer to buy our bikes back."
However, neither the importer nor the governor of Phnom Penh, Chea Sophara, are interested. Sophara has put his own prestige at stake over the issue.
"I absolutely will not allow them to run in the city. I will consider it a personal disgrace. Those tuk tuks should be run in Afghanistan and India, not in my city," he told the Post.
One importer, who brings the bikes here from China and who insisted on anonymity, said she imported 30 bikes last year. If the municipality stuck by its decision, she would not order any more.
As for her now disgruntled customers: "I will not buy their bikes back because they are old now," she said.
The drivers, many of whom are demobilized soldiers from the provinces, said they came to the capital to find work. They said they did not want to drive moto-taxis due to the growing number of robberies. They maintain that tuk tuks are safe from the robbers who target moto-taxis.
Sok Seng, who represented the group, said he was robbed while working as a moto-taxi driver four years ago. He was mystified by the municipality's insistence that they quit Phnom Penh, and insisted tuk tuk transport was safer for both drivers and passengers.
Another driver, Bouth Vichet, said the municipality's decision meant he would incur a large loss. He said he had bought his bike with a US$500 loan from Acleda bank - a leading micro-finance institution in Cambodia - using his house to secure the loan. Now he still owes the bank money and has no means to repay it.
He said working as a tuk tuk driver in the countryside promised a poor living, since he could charge only 300 riels per trip. "[But] in the city I can make 10,000 riels a day for my family after I have paid for five litres of gasoline," he said.
"I would like to appeal to Prime Minister Hun Sen to help poor people like us," said Vichet. "If the Phnom Penh municipality does not respond to our demand, we will have to keep protesting."