Fifteen thousand riel a day isn’t much. But Ngoun Horn, a Phnom Penh cyclo driver, says it was enough to feed his wife and four children back home in Svay Rieng province.
But he has watched his daily income plummet over the past year from 15,000 riel to between 3,000 and 5,000 riel a day.
“It costs me 2,000 riel a day just to hire my cyclo,” says the 38-year-old, who sleeps in the streets on his cyclo. “I no longer have enough to feed the family.”
The story is the same the city over, according to the Cambodia Development Review’s Survey of Vulnerable Workers, released this week by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute.
Since the clashes last July, many cyclo drivers have seen their net income fall by an average 43 percent, the survey of 20 drivers concluded. Last July, a cyclo driver earned on average 12,250 riel per day. By May 1998 that had fallen to just 6,975, the survey found.
An increase in food prices and the devaluation of the riel mean these earnings are worth even less. And there is no sign that the situation is improving in 1998.
The survey attributes the ‘catastrophic’ fall in the income of cyclo drivers in the past year to a combination of factors.
A drop in the number of tourists and foreign residents in Phnom Penh is one. “The tourists don’t come any more,” says Sen Poy, 30, whose pitch is opposite the Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana.
But cyclo drivers interviewed said the majority of their customers were not tourists but average Cambodians, who have suffered since last July’s fighting disrupted the economy.
“When the customers have less money, the cyclo drivers earn less,” Ngoun Horn said.
The survey found women who used to hire cyclos will now walk home from market if their journey is less than a kilometer.
An increased number of motorcycle-taxis in the past 12 months is another problem, according to the survey.
Additionally, a drought in many parts of the country has driven men to the capital to seek work, increasing competition among drivers, said 28-year-old driver Van Thuy of Kompong Cham province.