Pedicab drivers can’t keep up with fast-paced world


Adila Firani

Kadam waits for passengers on a Sunday in Indramayu, West Java, Indonesia.

It was a fine Sunday morning in June and the thoroughfares in Indramayu, a city in West Java, about four hours drive from Jakarta, were still quiet. A middle-aged pedicab driver was sitting in a pedicab with the brightest and the most attractive colours. 

His name is Kadam. He was born in 1954, but still looks strong and healthy.

“I’ve been watching this city day in and day out, since the day when the mango trees in the public square were still fruitful. The square has turned into a deserted space,” he said.

His teenage dream was to open a small shop in the market for his mother.

Kadam had many odd jobs before he decided to purchase a three-wheeled pedicab in the early 1980s, hoping to earn a more stable income for his family. 

It has been decades since he first earned $1 as his first wage as a pedicab driver. In its heyday, Kadam managed to earn around $68 per day. At the time, people took pedicabs as soon as they got off public transportation like public minivans or buses to get to their final destination. 

But it soon changed when motorcycle-pedicab, known locally as bentor, came. Bentor can travel faster than a traditional pedicab and people get busier. Only few people take traditional pedicabs these days, some of whom probably do it for sentimental reasons.

It’s even harder when the app-based motorcycle taxi became popular across the country. App-based motorcycle taxis appear more appealing and practical even when compared to public minivans as passengers don’t need to go to a bus stop. They can just order a motorcycle taxi from an app, and the driver will pick them up wherever they are.

Kadam has seen his income shrinking day by day. Back in the day, Kadam could set aside $4 for his wife to spend each day, but these days, he considers himself lucky when earning 50 cents a day.

He may also face another danger.  

In 2021, the National Police Traffic Corps announced that there were 103,645 cases of traffic accidents that year, significantly higher than last year. Of the total figure, 73% involved motorcycles while 12% involved other vehicles, including pedicabs. 

“I often get hit by motorbikes. One time a driver turned on the right signal light but turned left instead. I hit the brake, but the person behind me hit me. I fell down and got injured,” Kadam said, recalling how he got injured from an accident two weeks earlier.

As he talked about the risks of being a pedicab driver, his face showed no regrets. Pedicab has been a part of himself, he said.

On slow days, Kadam might only get one passenger. But he never loses his spirit and always smiles.

Pedicab drivers like Kadam also suffer from stigma.  

“I was once called a fraudster disguised as a pedicab driver and I was taken to the village office,” he recalled.

Another pedicab driver and a friend of Kadam’s, Dur, agreed to the notion that pedicab drivers could easily fall victim to negative stigma attached to poverty.    

“Someone accused me of wanting to steal someone’s belongings although I was just waiting for a passenger and happened to be looking at the stuff,” Dur said, suggesting that every pedicab driver must have had similar experience at least once.

Kadam shook it off, saying, “It’s okay. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.” 

He also waxed poetic about the experience, saying that every job has risks and challenges. 

“We can always switch jobs, as long as the job is righteous and doesn’t harm others and yourself.”

The sky was turning dark and street lamps were shining brightly. Kadam was all set to return home.