Ban on tuk-tuks goes deep into people’s pockets
In the past decade, three-wheel vehicles, commonly known as bajaj, have risen to prominence as a common mode of public transport around the country. More than a decade after their initial debut in some parts of the country, three-wheeled vehicles are now often seen in the middle of Addis Ababa, with some even considering them a nuisance. Nonetheless, for those who rely on them, they provide a convenient and speedy mode of transportation. And for many people who own them or get paid to drive them, it’s their only way to make money.
Bajajs are indispensable for those who live on the outskirts of cities, not only because they are readily available and very inexpensive, but also because they can enter and exit tight quarters with relative ease. They are also the only mode of transportation to get to taxi stands.
Bajaj driver Teshale Wonde, who primarily served the Haile Garment neighborhood, has been trying his best to make ends meet with the money he brings in on a daily basis.
Teshale says he and his wife, who just had a baby a month ago, have been able to keep up with the increased cost of living caused by economic and political issues over the past few years. He’s been putting in extra time at work so that he can provide for his wife and newborn.
In the wake of the recent ban on three-wheeled vehicles, Teshale has been unable to provide for himself or his family. Now, all he wants is for the ban to be lifted so he can return to work and make some money. But as the days pass, his spirit is slowly breaking.
“I just wanted to be able to work and provide for my family. The reason I started this job was because I thought I could work for myself instead of relying on anyone, and I believed that if I worked hard enough, I would be able to grow. Now, I am stuck at home without a job and mouths to feed, and I don’t know what I should do,” Teshale said, worried what the next day would bring.
Even while working, he says, it was tough to make ends meet, but at least he had the daily income he regularly enjoyed. “It is so hard to survive in the city as it is. To survive without any source of income is unthinkable.”
Teshale used to earn between 400 and 500 birr per day as a bajaj driver, with the exact amount fluctuating with the number of passengers he transported. He earns a little bit more on contract trips.
His income is enough for his wife and baby to have a place to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear. Teshale says that he is thankful for his work despite the fact that there were instances when he had to pay rent a few days late because he didn’t always have enough money.
Teshale had thought that the ban would be short-lived when it was implemented. But it was harder and more unlikely to find any optimism as time went on. He realized he needed to start job hunting after a few days passed with no change.
“I started looking for jobs anywhere I could find them because we were running out of money, but everywhere I went, I was asked to provide qualifications I didn’t have,” he added.
Teshale says that he hasn’t been able to find another job to support his family because there are too many people looking for work. Even the jobs he was qualified for were filled or didn’t have any openings. He is currently unemployed and living off of loans from family and friends while trying to make ends meet.
He claims that the other bajaj drivers are all scrambling and struggling to find any kind of steady work that will allow them to pay the rent and feed their families. He stated that many of them, like himself, are at a loss as to what to do or how long they can continue living on the money they have left.
In addition to the hardship the ban has caused for those who relied on bajajs for a living, many former customers have noticed the vast chasm left in their everyday lives where bajaj services once stood.
“Quite a few of my clients were either elderly or expecting mothers who couldn’t make long treks on foot. As most taxis and rides don’t travel that deep into the community, they’d often call me to take them to their front doors. Either they’ll have to stay at home or shell out more cash to get out of the house,” Teshale elaborated.
The only way out for Teshale is for the ban to be lifted. “I will accept any new regulations, if necessary. I just want to be able to work and provide for my family, nothing more,” he concluded.