Pushed to the curb, Kathmandu’s rickshaw pullers are the last of a dying professionConfined to a small area inside Kathmandu Valley due to traffic congestion, these rickshaw pullers barely make enough to get by.
“The Valley has transformed in such a way that I can hardly remember the old Kathmandu,” said 55-year-old Tamang, as he weaved his rickshaw through a jam-packed section of the road in Bangemuda.
In the early years, these changes meant more commuters and it was good for Tamang’s business. They were earning a decent living, ferrying passengers around the Valley, but especially in the tourist hubs of Basantapur and Thamel. But as the city grew and began to get more congested, passengers began to die down for rickshaw pullers like Tamang.
Now, Tamang and others like him have been pushed to the curb, confined to a small area along the narrow alleys of Paropakar, Indra Chowk, Asan, Jamal, Khichapokhari and Thamel. For these daily wage workers, this has meant a significant dent in their earnings.
“On a good day, that is if I get passengers throughout the day or get to haul goods multiple times, I earn around Rs 1,500-2,000,” said Tamang, “But on ‘normal days’, Rs 500-700 is the most I earn.”
For Tamang, who is trying to earn a living in the third most expensive city in South Asia, this amount is barely enough to put food on the table.
There are around 500 registered rickshaw pullers in Kathmandu Valley. But less than half of them, mostly youngsters according to Tamang, have already left their profession as they’ve found other jobs that provide a better income.
“We make minimal earnings after a day of hard labour, so it is only wise for younger people to quit this profession and look for other options. One has to look after their family,” said Tamang.
But for rickshaw pullers of Tamang’s age, which constitute the majority of rickshaw pullers, the condition is even worse as they cannot even get menial jobs even if they wish to leave their profession. “People of my age don’t get hired for work easily and with age taking a toll on my body, every day is a struggle but I have to survive,” Tamang said, “I wish the concerned authorities would bring out policies that would benefit workers like us.”
Most veteran rickshaw pullers are of the view that the government should introduce e-rickshaws in Kathmandu, as in other cities like Itahari and Janakpur.
“For workers of my age, e-rickshaws would be a great option,” said Tamang, “We are willing to operate e-rickshaws if we can acquire them at subsidised rates or on a loan.”
However, provisions to introduce e-rickshaws in the inner parts of the Capital might not be happening any time soon. Kathmandu Metropolitan City, the authority that drafts plans and policies for vehicle operations including rickshaws, said that the idea of operating e-rickshaws has only just entered the discussion phase of discussion and a proper policy will take time.
City Spokesperson Ishwor Man Dangol said that the metropolis is currently focused on operating electric city buses and as a part of the plan, the Province 3 government, including Kathmandu Metropolitan City and Lalitpur Metropolitan City, on July 1, signed a memorandum of understanding with Sajha Yatayat Co-operative to buy new electric buses.
“At this time, our priority is to operate electric city buses and there are no immediate plans to replace cycle rickshaws with e-rickshaws,” said Dangol.
Dangol, however, said that, in view of Visit Nepal 2020, discussions are underway to introduce e-rickshaws along the heritage walk trails, including the Hanumandhoka Durbar Square-Swayambhu trail, and the Pashupatinath-Boudhanath trail among others, for elderly, disabled and other tourists who are unable to walk.
The plan, though, is a long-shot for Tamang and others in the rickshaw profession at a time when the authorities have been facing flak for accomplishing very little with regards to promotional campaigns for the tourism year that is just around the corner.
“It seems like they [the authorities] have failed to recognise our existence. We were among the first to provide transportation services but in this fast-changing city, we are the least prioritised,” said Tamang. “For years now, we have somehow survived and we will continue to sustain our livelihood through this profession for as long as we can.”