Three wheeled motorcycle taxis fly through the streets of the Philippines. Meet some of the men who drive them.
Kanto, which translates to the word “corner” in English, is used by tricycle drivers in this area to indicate a certain corner where many passengers get off to transfer to their next means of transportation. I hear this word the very moment I step out of the gate of my home every day. Every morning when I leave for work and every night when I walk home, tricycle drivers continuously tout me.
In this specific location where we live in Metro Manila, there are an extraordinary number of tricycles that crowd the streets every day, blocking people’s way, creating traffic jams, and the kind of inevitable irritation that has to be dealt with daily. I had never lived in an area that has as many tricycles as there are here.
I occasionally complain about how tricycle drivers here are so undisciplined — most of the time stopping in front of us, blocking our way and stopping us in our tracks just to tout us for a ride. I have already learned how to deal with the “kanto, kanto” chant, at times just ignoring it or shaking my head no. But there are times when I can’t help getting really annoyed by too insistent drivers.
To satisfy my curiosity about why there seems to have overabundance of tricycles in this area, I headed to the tricycle terminal where we take our tricycle ride every morning and approached Mang Eduard to ask some questions.
The tricycle driver was a bit skeptical when I asked him if I could pose some questions, but after I began he just answered and never even asked why I was interviewing him.
“On a normal day, how many trips can you make?” I asked.
“30, around that number,” he answered.
What time do you start and end?
“4 a.m. in the morning until 10 p.m.,” he replied.
Considering the short distance, I thought 30 was a small number for 18 hours of work.
“Do you always have to queue to get passengers?” I continued asking.
“Of course,” he answered.
Tricycle drivers have an association called the Tricycle Operators and Drivers’ Association (TODA). There are always a few letters before TODA like SHOPTODA, RATODA, MILTODA etc. pertaining to the specific route the tricycles ply. Tricycle drivers have to queue to get their passengers. The queue is always long but fast-moving, especially during rush hours.
“So to be a member in the TODA, do you have to pay?” I asked.
“Yeah, we have to pay ₱25 per day.”
While there are membership perks for tricycle drivers, like safety seminars and other workshops, they have to pay if they want to operate for the day. They have to compete with other drivers for passengers too: the more TODA members, the longer the queue, the less chance for more trips and more passengers.
“There are a lot of tricycles in this area. Why is that so?” I asked.
Another driver got interested in our conversation and he shared his thoughts too.
“There are really a lot of tricycles here. Even tricycles from other districts reach this area. Some are even colorum tricycles,” he said.
“How do you know it is colorum?” I inquired further.
“They don’t have body numbers,” they both answered.
“And these tricycles are not allowed to ply your route?” I asked.
“No, we don’t allow them because it will be our loss,” Mang Eduard answered.
Colorum tricycles are those that operate without a franchise and drivers are fined when caught. ₱3,000 is the fine and, once paid, drivers go back to driving their colorum tricycles again. I saw more than 10 TODAs so far today.
“Have you ever gotten sick because of tricycle driving?” I finally asked.
“Yeah. I had to stop because I was sick. The doctors had to remove water from my lungs. But after a year, I went back to driving again,” he answered.
There is a huge health risk in driving and riding tricycles. Like the jeepney, the cabin is open and tricycle drivers and passengers inhale the smoke belched by the other traffic they are tailing.
More on Vagabond Journey: The Filipino Jeepney And The Men Who Drive Them
It was Mang Eduard’s turn to load passengers so I took a few more photos of them, thanked him and said goodbye.
The tricycle is another ubiquitous means of transport in the Philippines. It’s a motorcycle with a removable sidecar attached to it. Tricycles are widely used in the country because it is a cheap and practical means of transport that can be used by large numbers of people, especially in small towns and cities. These vehicles are ideal for short distances. Unlike jeepneys, which are big, bus-like vehicles, tricycles are not allowed to operate on very busy city streets and major highways. Where there are no taxis and jeepneys, there are tricycles that can drop you off at the front door of where you are going or get you to places that are more remote and unreachable by larger vehicles.
The current fare for a tricycle ride is ₱8, around 20 cents US. Tricycle drivers wait until they are full with passengers. If a passenger doesn’t want to wait for the trike to be full or wants to be brought to a specific location other than what’s on the driver’s route, an additional fare should be paid depending on the distance.
In some provinces, such as Ilocos Norte and Palawan, tricycles are also used for tourism. Drivers undergo workshops for accreditation by the Department of Tourism, and standard rates are established for tours. Tricycle drivers don’t only drive tourists around but they get to serve as tour guides as well earn extra income from budget–conscious tourists, as their prices are usually less costly than conventional tours.
Riding a tricycle is seldom comfortable. The minimum capacity of a tricycle is four passengers. Depending on the design, it can load more. The design dictates its capacity and the comfort that passengers experience while riding it. The space is limited and passengers have to bend and duck to put themselves into the sidecar.
Designs vary in different provinces. A typical tricycle has a sidecar with a bench for two people facing forward then a space for two passengers to side-saddle behind the driver. In El Nido in Palawan, the tricycles have this design and are bigger, more spacious, and more comfortable. In the city where I grew up though, the sidecar has two benches facing forward and a space for two behind the driver. The leg room is very limited and getting into the side car is much more difficult. In Cagayan, they have tricycles with longer sidecars which can carry up to 6 people, but passengers can’t ride side-saddle behind the driver.
Most tricycles have spaces that won’t allow passengers to stretch their legs and while riding side-saddle behind the driver can be more comfortable, it can be more dangerous too. When riding the tricycle side-saddle, tall people should be careful not to hurt their head when tricycles pass over road humps. On narrow streets, it is more dangerous considering the legs will only be a few meters away from other passing vehicles. Though tricycles are built for the size of Filipinos, we still feel its discomfort in terms of their lack of space. One can understand foreigners living in the Philippines when they complain that they cannot fit inside the sidecar.
Filipinos though are too accustomed to riding tricycles to continue gripping about the discomfort. For the many ways that we are benefited by tricycles, it is more useful than it is uncomfortable for us. No matter which province we are from, no matter what designs they have, tricycles are a treasure.
More on Vagabond Journey: People of the Philippines series
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