Henry Bateman writes: There is a truism, which I can vouch for from direct observation, that tricycle drivers know the longest way between any two points. These 125cc motorcycles with their enclosed side cars carry their passengers from door to door within and to neighbouring barangays (suburbs).
Restricted from using the main thoroughfares, they wend their way through the back streets negotiating a plethora of speed humps along the way. With their human cargo on board, along with whatever goods and chattels are deemed necessary for the journey, they chug their way through the narrow streets that are old Manila.
Made before the motor car, these streets are just wide enough to allow two-way traffic. Should a vehicle be parked in any of these glorified lane ways, there is a politeness, born out of necessity, displayed by tricycle drivers as they pull over to allow an oncoming vehicle to have right of passage.
Although when the time comes to cross a main street, as it does in all tricycle rides, they are as aggressive as any other Manila driver. Demanding their right of way, impervious to their passengers’ folded into the side car with concerns for the bull bar bearing down upon them.
A tricycle can accommodate three Kanos (foreigners), the two smaller ones in the side car and the large one on the seat behind the driver, and up to a football team of Filipinos. They usually have a fold down carry rack at the back of the side car for extra passengers to stand on or to carry those purchases that won’t fit around the passenger’s feet or on their laps. When we bought a new washing machine we transported it to the house tied onto a tricycle’s carry rack. As we accelerated after each speed hump the concern that we were going to flip backwards was palpable.
Tricycle bayads (fares) are best negotiated up front and range from 20 to 50 pesos (AU$0.50 to $1.20) per trip depending upon the distance to be traveled and what the driver thinks he can get. Fortunately at popular pick up points like markets, supermarkets, suburban malls, train stations and bus terminals there are a surfeit of tricycles thus keeping bayads competitive.
That being said there are some routes, especially in the provinces, where tricycles tend to replace jeepneys as the main form of public transport, and then they charge on a per head basis. In this instance you will share your tricycle with strangers and you should expect to wait until there is a full load before heading off.
In the city of Mandaluyong there is a breed of red tricycle which has its passenger compartment behind the driver rather that at his side. These tricycles can accommodate up to six average adults with only a slight squeeze and they also charge on the per head basis. Although the impatient Kano can pay the fare of six, at around 45 pesos (AU$1.20) total, and have it all to them self.
A quieter version of the tricycle is the Pedi-cab. These are usually a BMX style of push bike with a passenger side car attachment. The laboured breathing of the driver as he stands up to peddle from a standing start with a couple of passengers on board is easily drowned out by the sounds of the street. Pedi-cabs are a short haul public transport option operating within the confines of a barangay.
They are not as wide spread as tricycles, which at last count numbered 9000 registered and anyone’s guess as to how many unregistered in metro Manila alone. Although, the Pedi-cab’s close cousin — the BMX bike with a goods side car attached — can be seen everywhere. These work horses can be seen delivering anything and everything. From, furniture or gas bottles to house holders to crates of cool drinks or blocks of ice to the omnipresent sari sari stores.
After jeepneys, tricycles are my preferred mode of transport they are just so much more entertaining than taxis. My favourite tricycle ride to date was just a couple of weeks ago. Halfway through the journey our noble steed stalled. Repeated kick-start attempts displayed a distinct reluctance for forward motion. Unfazed, our driver hopped off and requested we likewise vacate the side car. He then tipped the tricycle up so the front wheel was in the air, gave it a shake and thumped the petrol tank a couple of times. Once back on all three wheels it sprang into life again and we continued uneventfully to the conclusion of our journey.
There is always room for one more trip in a tricycle tank.
Henry Bateman is an Australian artist and freelance writer living in the Philippines. His writing has been published in the Expat Travel and Lifestyle Magazine, the Expat Newspaper and the Western Review. He blogs at The Expat, which is not updated as often as it should be.