'Freelance' riders: Every man for himself

Occasionally, you can spot freelance riders on the roads in Singapore's civic district. Some park themselves outside Raffles Hotel to wait for passengers.

One of them, who declined to be named, tells TNPS in Mandarin: "Trishaws are going to be scrapped soon."

He gestured at a Hippo tour bus on the road and says: "We're competing with so many others (who provide tourists alternative sightseeing transport) now."

The man, who looks to be in his 50s, says that on some days, he gets two or three jobs. And on other days, he gets zero customers.

"My customers are mostly Caucasian, sometimes Korean. No locals," he says.

He shares that in the past, trishaw riders were hired to fetch children to and fro school.

These days, he charges customers $18 to $20 a ride.

We saw three other freelance riders on the roads outside Raffles Hotel two weeks ago. Their trishaws had well-worn and weather-beaten seats.

We also found another freelance rider at Clarke Quay.

The 61-year-old man, who wants to be known only as Mr Tan, says that he has been riding a trishaw for more than 30 years.

He now rides part-time at his leisure.

"I've retired (from cycling full-time). My children are grown-up and working. I don't want to stay at home all day; I want to exercise and keep myself active," he says in Mandarin.

"(Trishaw riding) used to be very good, we could earn up to a $100 a day," he says.

Now, he earns up to $45 a day.

And on some days, he gets no customers at all. But he does not mind.

"My daughters tell me to take it easy," he says.

Mr Tan explains that trishaw riders like him used to have a licence from the Registry of Vehicles (now the Land Transport Authority), but they were not issued after a period of time.

He charges $30 for a 40-minute ride.

Mr Tan says he prefers to be a freelancer as he finds that being employed under a company was too much of a hassle.

"Everything had to be kept on record. And I could only get my pay once a week," he says.

He says that freelance trishaw riders tend to ply the streets along Raffles Hotel and Clark Quay, estimating that there are about only 10 of them around.

But here is an interesting nugget: The freelance trishaw riders are not friends with each other.

"We don't talk to each other. We don't cooperate," Mr Tan says.

  Do you need a licence?
  “Companies operating trishaw tours, such as Trishaw Uncle, are required to apply for a Travel Agent licence from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB),” says Ms Ong Ling Lee, Director of Travel Agents and Tourist Guides from the STB.

 She adds that all trishaw operators and individual riders would need to seek other necessary licensing from the Land Trasport Authority (LTA).
 A spokesman from the LTA says that it has stopped issuing new Trishaw Rider’s Vocational Licences to individual trishaw riders since September 2001.

She also says that there are currently about 31 existing individual riders who have a Trishaw Rider’s Vocational Licence – their licences are valid till these riders reach the age of 70.

Under the Trishaw Block Registration Scheme jointly administered by the STB and the LTA, trishaw operators, such as Trishaw Uncle,are required to first apply for a Travel Agent licence from STB , and then subsequently for a Trishaw Block Registration Certificate from LTA.

The Trishaw Block Registration Certificate will be issued by LTA, with STB‘s recommendation.