Tr­ishaws keep rolling on Myan­mar’s clogged streets

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

Sur­rounded by a trove of tools and spare parts, tr­ishaw maker Aye Zaw works on his lat­est model of the pedal-pow­ered three-wheeler, ready­ing it for the clogged roads of Myan­mar's big­gest city. Un­de­terred by the rapid trans­for­ma­tion of Yan­gon's streets from se­date thor­ough­fares to car-choked ar­ter­ies in just a few years, the 46-year-old rev­els in de­fy­ing the chang­ing times with his tra­di­tional form of trans­port.

"I love the work very much," the crafts­man tells AFP from a work­shop burst­ing with wheel rims, springs, pip­ing and tools. "I am al­ways finding ways to make tr­ishaws bet­ter and bet­ter."

He joined the fam­ily busi­ness aged 16, learn­ing the trade from his fa­ther, and now works with his younger brother, Htay Zaw, to make around seven tr­ishaws ev­ery month. The cheap­est model costs 430,000 ky­ats ($315) but cus­tomers who pay a lit­tle more can opt for a flashier ver­sion with steel trim­mings. The broth­ers' rep­u­ta­tion has even spread out­side of Myan­mar, with one cre­ation snapped up by an Amer­i­can tourist and an­other by an Is­raeli em­bassy of­fi­cial leav­ing the coun­try.

But Yan­gon's streets are un­recog­nis­able from a few years ago. Myan­mar has seen an ex­plo­sion in ve­hi­cle num­bers since a mil­i­tary-backed gov­ern­ment launched re­forms in 2011 that opened the coun­try to the out­side world af­ter decades of iso­la­tion.

Car im­port rules were re­laxed and traf­fic now moves in­fu­ri­at­ingly slowly. Myan­mar has tried to im­prove the con­ges­tion by over­haul­ing the bus sys­tem, build­ing fly­overs, up­grad­ing a cir­cu­lar rail­way line, and most re­cently, in­tro­duc­ing wa­ter taxis.

But the streets re­main jammed. Sixty-year-old Aung Ba is one of the city's 25,000 li­censed tr­ishaw driv­ers and has been ped­alling Yan­gon's streets for 30 years, earn­ing about 10,000 kyat ($7.5) each day.

The busier roads are more dan­ger­ous, but Aung Ba says there is still a place for the three-wheel­ers. "It wouldn't be good to drive a car. But rid­ing a tr­ishaw, I can find my way through as I want," he says sit­ting be­side his ve­hi­cle in the city's north­ern Mayan­gon Town­ship.

Aye Zaw is also con­fi­dent the iconic ve­hi­cle will not dis­ap­pear from Yan­gon's streets just yet and would be happy for his son to take over the busi­ness. "I don't want to force my son into mak­ing or not mak­ing tr­ishaws," he says. "But if he loves the trade then of course he should do it."

Photo: EPA

Short-time fame - A tr­ishaw driver rides his ve­hi­cle as he ar­rives to at­tend a meet­ing with Myan­mar op­po­si­tion leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yan­gon, Myan­mar, 26 De­cem­ber 2015. Suu Kyi met with tr­ishaw driv­ers who helped her Na­tional League for Democ­racy...

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