Meager wages are just one of many challenges for trishaw drivers
Trishaw driver pedals toward an insecure future
Trishaw drivers contend with job insecurity, social scorn and physical danger from larger vehicles (Photo by Eduard Daling)
A good day for Brandon Cersino, 40, is a rainy one. A bad day is when the weather is fair and people enjoy walking around, especially for short distances. Brandon drives a trishaw for a living. “It is getting difficult to get more passengers now because there are already more than 1,000 trishaw drivers here. I sometimes hope it rains every day so people really have to take a ride,” he says. Trishaw, also known as tricycle or “pot-pot” (derived from the sound of its horn), is a mechanical evolution from a typical bicycle. A small “carriage” or a cab is attached to its side and a wheel is added to keep its balance. Its original purpose was for family use or leisure rides. But as economic realities take its toll on the Filipino family, trishaw driving becomes an instant source of “livelihood,” particularly for the poor, uneducated and unskilled. Now, trishaws are seen in almost all street corners in the country. Brandon, who is still single, says his work may be back-breaking but he enjoys it, adding the "job" suits him well because of his strong and solid body. “It’s better than having no job at all. Besides, this also turns into my daily exercise,” he says, grinning with pride. He says he doesn’t mind what people say of him as long as he is earning honest money and helping his siblings on their school expenses. Like Brandon, most of the drivers in Carigara town are only renting their trishaws. A new trishaw costs 12,000-15, 000 pesos (US$279-US$349), depending on its design and features. Because he cannot afford one, Brandon opts for an installment basis. After paying the owner 35 pesos a day, Brandon uses the extra money to buy food and other household items. “I have to drive from five o' clock in the morning until late in the evening so I could at least have a net income of 150 pesos,” he says, also understanding that despite his long and hard day’s work still his income is “insufficient” for a household of seven. The government’s poverty threshold estimate in 2009 was 7,017 pesos for a family of five per month. Regular fare for trishaw remains the same despite price increases in almost all goods and services in the country. A passenger pays a minimum of 5 pesos per ride or double depending on the distance and other agreements. Brandon says driving is not only hard but hazardous as well. “I cannot even afford voluntary SSS (Social Security System) contributions. And it seems that no organization is helping us,” Brandon laments. On a regular basis, trishaw drivers like Brandon receive scorn from other motorists, because they create traffic jams whenever they take passengers along busy streets or roads commonly used by larger, fast-moving vehicles. “They look at us as ‘distractions’ on the roads. I hope the government gives us a lane of our own,” he says. Carigara has more than 10 trishaw builders, a sign that the business is indeed thriving. From time to time, Brandon’s daily income suffers as trishaw drivers in neighboring towns try to ply their trade in his area. But what “threatens” Brando most is the question of whether he is willing to marry and raise a family soon, considering that he is already growing old. “I still don’t think about it. I’m afraid my future children would go hungry with this little income. Or maybe soon – when I win the lotto (lottery),” he says.