Taxi Drivers Moan: Empty City, Empty Seats

Phnom Penh motorcycle taxi and cyclo drivers have little to celebrate this week as countless potential clients head to the provinces to commemorate the Khmer New Year, merchants said Tuesday.

Cyclo driver Pok Pon, 53, has risen each day this week at 5 am in search of a fare. He had planned to work just two days this week to earn money for his family in Kompong Speu province. But the streets, he said, are quiet. Despite logging longer hours than usual, the father of four has made less this week than before the new year. “I can’t go home without money,” Pok Pon said. “My wife and my child are waiting for money.”

Chon Cheam, 49, a cyclo driver from Prey Veng, said few people choose his cyclo over a motorcycle taxi. After a hard day of work, he said he makes about 5,000 riel ($1.25), while earnings came closer to 8,000 riel ($2) to 10,000 riel ($2.50) before the new year.

Money is so tight this year that Chon Chea has decided not to return to his homeland with his family. Instead he said he will send his wife with 35,000 riel ($8.90) in his place.

Cyclo drivers are not the only laborers suffering from the New Year’s exodus. Motorcycle drivers and market vendors also have seen sales drop.

Ken Sok Ly, 32, a motorcycle driver from Kandal province, said his losses are the result of few clients and high gasoline prices. On an average day, Ken Sok Ly can make between 15,000 riel ($3.80) to 18,000 riel ($4.60), but on the first day of the new year, he made 9,000 riel ($2.30).

The high cost of gasoline makes it difficult to earn a living. “The gasoline cost me 5,000 riel already this morning. I make so little profit,” Ken Sok Ly said.

Phnom Penh food vendor Oun Srey Neang, 19, said her best earnings were made before the New Year’s celebrations began.

“I just opened my shop in case someone needed to buy something,” she said.

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