even been mentioned in history books, making them an icon on the island state.
Few realise, however, that it is a dying trade and that the trishaw pedallers live in abject poverty.
Many sleep on the streets and are dependent on handouts from nongovernmental organisations, as well as the government.
“I crave for a proper place to stay. I can’t remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep,” Ah Seng said, when approached in Komtar recently.
“What else can I do other than this? At this age, no one will hire me, so I have to continue pedalling this trishaw.”
Ah Seng pays RM20 to the trishaw owner daily and gets about 10 rides per day.
“On a good day I may get 20 rides,” he said, adding that the money was used to pay the trishaw rental, buy food and some necessities and pay for the occasional repairs needed for the trishaw.
Another trishaw pedaller, Tan Wei Hock, 66, said he charged RM5 for each ride of about a kilometre.
Tan stations himself at Lebuh Acheh and plies the route from there to Lebuh Camarvon, Gat Lebuh Armenian and Lebuh Victoria.
“Sometimes I ask for RM10, but it appears that the locals tell foreigners not to pay us more than RM5,” he said, adding that most of their passengers were tourists.
“There are days when we are not able to get a single passenger,” said Tan, who, like Ah Seng, also lived on the streets.
Tan said they got the occasional free food from NGOs, but on days when business was good, he liked to spend his hard-earned money at nearby food stalls.
Another trishaw pedaller, Ang Fat, 64, said he moved from Malacca to try his luck here.
“It is really disappointing. I cannot seem to get enough customers consistently,” he said.
Ang Fat said one of the problems was in the large number of cars on the island compared to Malacca, and also the four-wheeled bicycles which were becoming increasingly popular within the inner city.
“I heard that the local authorities plan to ban those bicycles. I hope they do it soon because they are bad for our business.”
Some of the trishaw pedallers sleep in their trishaws, which are cov with plastic sheets at Jalan Penang, in Penang. Almost all the tris pedallers are homeless.