The Cyclo Center Phnom Penh, an NGO founded to promote the social welfare of cyclopousse drivers, discontinued most of its programs this week, including technical training, health services and English lessons, but will continue to be involved in tourist cyclo trips, said Pal Holly, the Center’s tour program coordinator.
Board members decided during an April 5 meeting to end programs at the center, which started in 1999, because of the decreasing number of cyclo drivers.
A survey conducted by the center last year showed that the number of cyclo drivers dropped from 2,500 in 2005 to 1,500 in 2009.
“The number of cyclo drivers has dropped because some of the drivers stopped to do other careers such as mechanical repair or to become motorbike taxis,” she said yesterday.
The distinctive cyclo tours, recognized by the long line of green-shirted drivers, should help the slow the decline of the cyclo’s popularity in the country, Ms Pal Holly said.
“In terms of cyclo passengers, the Cambodian people who like taking cyclos are elderly women and housewives who go shopping. But young people are increasingly not using cyclos,” Ms Holly said.
The center was forced to end its social programs because of dwindling foreign donations as well as the drop in driver numbers, she added.
Driver Chou Meak, 33, said yesterday he chose not to continue working with the center because though it paid $3 per hour to drive around tourists, he had to give more half that amount to rent the cyclo.
“I stopped using the center about three months ago because it was not helpful,” he said. “It is better to earn money from my own passengers rather than foreign passengers from the center.”
He added that he typically earns about 7,000 riel, or $1.75, every day.
Ta Khorm, 58, said he had been a cyclo driver for 18 years and that he was seeing fewer customers than in the past. He added that he has to pay 3,000 riel to rent his cyclo everyday and on average, he makes between 5,000 and 6,000 riel in profit daily.
“Every day, there are not a lot of passengers who enjoy taking the cyclo,” Mr Khorm said. “Driving the cyclo is a difficult life, but I cannot do another job because I don’t know much.”
(Additional reporting by Christi Hang)