Sun, 05 Sep 1999

Motorized pedicabs still chug out a living in Medan

By Junardi Harahap

MEDAN, North Sumatra (JP): Simply built and not much to look at, motorized pedicabs still fill an important role in the transportation needs of residents of Medan. Found on the main streets throughout the city, many of the vehicles do indeed date back more than 40 years. But their days may be numbered.

"These motorized pedicabs started operations in the 1950s. Thus, it could be said the model is behind the times," acknowledged driver Poniran, 42.

They are known for their loud roar audible from afar and billowing exhaust fumes. For all their deficiencies, they remain in demand because they are cheap. A driver charges Rp 1,500 for a short-distance ride covering about one kilometer, and two or three passengers can fit in the vehicle.

Poniran said that he was formerly a trader but became a driver because business was slack.

"Actually I don't like being a motorized pedicab driver, but economic pressures and household requirements have forced me to do the work," he said. "If there was alternative work, I would take that. It is stupid to be a motorized pedicab driver, but never mind if there is no other work."

Japarin, who hails from Padang in West Sumatra, agreed with his fellow driver.

"In fact, becoming a motorized pedicab driver is the most stupid work but what else can we do? There is no other job and we need money to buy food."

Most drivers rent the vehicles from the owners.

Daily rental is about Rp 7,000 and usually the vehicle must be returned to the owner at the end of the day. In some instances the vehicle is returned in a week's time. The rent is also paid on a weekly basis, said Hasan Basri, 52.

"I don't work on Sundays. I am happy with it," he said.

Daily earnings of motorized pedicab drivers depend on a number of factors, including a dose of luck.

"We earn between about Rp 25,000 and Rp 30,000 per day," Basri said.

Amir Pohan, 60, said his daily income varied. He said he could take home as little as Rp 10,000 on a slow day but Rp 30,000 when business was brisk. Amir said his income was usually enough only to get by, but foreign tourists always provide a windfall.

For long distances, the average fare is Rp 1,000/km.

"Yes, it is enough for food," Amir said. "Anyway, I must see to it that it is enough."

His wife helps supplement the family's income by selling rice cakes and fried delicacies from their home. Clearly, a pedicab driver's income is not enough to make ends meet.

The vehicle is actually a motorbike modified by the owner as a pedicab in order to make money. Maintenance of motorized pedicabs is fairly simple and can be done by drivers themselves. Spare parts are secondhand; drivers take care of small repairs with major ones handled by the vehicle owners.

"Small repairs cost on average Rp 2,000. If the cost is higher it will be the vehicle owners' responsibility," said Poniran.

The fuel for motorized pedicabs is a mixture of gasoline and motor oil, which is available at shops specializing in providing fuel for the vehicles. It costs Rp 1,500 a liter.

Sitompul, who sells such oil, said that before 1990, he could sell 500 liters a day, earning Rp 750,000. Since early this year his turnover has declined to 150 liters a day, yielding only Rp 225,000.

"The drop in sales is caused by the plan to remove motorized pedicabs from Medan. Many drivers have changed to other jobs and many of the vehicles have been sent to other areas to be used there," he said.