Shouting, waving, and fetching their customers under the scattered drops of rain Sunday, Phnom Penh’s taxi drivers were busily transporting passengers home in time for their Pchum Ben celebration today.
At Phsar Thmei’s cab stand, taxis headed for Kompong Thom, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Kompong Cham and Battambang all stood ready to head to the provinces. The exodus began Friday as garment workers headed to provincial homes for the annual festival in which devout Buddhists honor the dead.
As they worked frantically collecting customers, some taxi drivers said they were not making much money this festival.
“Compared to last year, this year’s festival is not good. This time last year, around 20 cars a day left Phnom Penh for Battambang, but this year there’s only four or five cars,” said Meas Phala, whose route takes him from Phnom Penh to Battambang.
Part of the problem is urban poverty, Meas Phala said.
“The number of passengers dropped down because they do not have money for transportation. So some garment workers send money to their relatives by a friend,” he said.
Drivers also are losing money from flooding, Meas Phala said.
“Many people suffer from flooding, so they do not have money to travel into the city,” he said.
Meas Phala said his fee last year for a trip to Battambang was about $10.25 to sit in the front seat, and about $5.13 to sit in the flatbed of the Nissan pick-up truck. This year, the fee is about $7.74 for the front seat and about $3.86 for the back.
Cabbies were trying to raise their fares Sunday for late holiday travelers, said Hun Phea, who drives between Phnom Pen and Siem Reap.
“These are the only days we make better money. During the festival, we increase the price from about $6.41 to $7.74 per person,” Hun Phea said.
For passenger Sok Hen, a garment worker on her way to Kompong Cham, the price may be high, but it cannot compare to her homesickness.
“I am happy to return home. My family is looking forward to seeing me,” she said. “I have been at work here for four months. I am very homesick.”