Struggling trishaw riders become homeless after losing income

No customer: A trishaw rider resting on a pillow in his trishaw parked along Penang Road in George Town. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

WITHOUT foreign tourists, trishaw riders in Penang are facing the brunt of the Covid-19 economic fallout.

Many of them, who are mostly senior citizens, have turned the three-wheeled vehicles into homes as they could not afford to pay room rentals.

Some of them even shower and do their laundry at public toilets.

Samsudin Ahmad, 65, has been “staying” in his trishaw for the past three to four months as he could not afford to pay for his rented room in Perak Road.

“When the pandemic first hit us last year, I could still survive with my little savings.

“After many months of not getting any income, I have no choice but to move out.

“I only have a few sets of clothes and I will wash them at the public toilet before drying them on my trishaw or outside the toilet.

“As I am old with illnesses, I have to use the money given by the Penang government to buy medicine.

“There is no extra for me to rent a room anymore, ” he said when met at Penang Road recently.

Another rider Ang Chee Guan, 64, and his friends have been putting up at the upper Penang Road for the past one year.

“Many of us have no extra to spend on accommodation. We have to sleep in our trishaw or on cardboards along the walkway.

“Since I am alone, I can sleep on my trishaw and shower at the toilets in public markets.

“When it rains, we will shelter along five-foot ways to keep ourselves dry.

“For the past one year, I have nearly zero income since there is no cruise arrival.

“I was chased out by my landlord for not paying rental for several months.

“Thankfully, we have kind people who will donate food to us almost every day.

“My friend gave me a pillow, so I can still sleep soundly on my trishaw, ” he said, adding that he has been riding trishaw for a living for five years.

According to Penang Trishaw Riders Association president Abdul Latiff Mohd, 74, there are only 80 active trishaw riders left in Penang.

“We used to have more riders but due to the bad times, some of them had no choice but to look for new jobs.

“Some of the riders are from other states such as Perak and Johor and they either sleep in their trishaws or get help from their friends.

“I know about 20 to 25 riders are sleeping on the streets or in their vehicles since the movement control order was implemented in March last year, ” he said.

In George Town, most trishaw riders are operating at the Esplanade, Penang Road, Komtar and the heritage enclave in Armenian Street.

In January, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow announced a one-off special financial assistance of RM200 to each of the 288 trishaw riders in Penang.

State tourism and creative economy committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin said various cash assistance had been given out to the trishaw riders to alleviate their financial burden.

“In the past, trishaw served as a mode of transport for locals to travel from one place to another.

“With changing times, the demand has declined as people now use motorised vehicles or public transport.

“However, the state government believes that trishaw is still part of Penang’s heritage and should be preserved.

“I understand that many riders are sleeping in trishaw parked by the roadside which is very dangerous.

“We are in the midst of planning a designated area for them, ” he said.

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