The end of the road for Penang ‘beca’ riders?

Visit to Penang is not complete, if you did not explore the Georgetown’s heritage trail while riding on a ‘beca’. The novelty of traveling in this open-fronted three wheeled vehicle is inexplicable.

Listening to men past their prime, who tirelessly pedals through every nook and cranny of this historic town, while explaining the historical significance of each building is something needs to be appreciated.

Image by Nation Kingdom (CC)

The ‘beca’ as it’s known in Malay is not exclusive to Penang as you can find it in many other cities in Peninsular Malaysia and as well some Asian cities. The days of ‘beca’ being pulled by runners are long gone and now it has been replaced by the pedals.

‘Beca’ riders themselves are now a dying breed, where day by day, the numbers of them are becoming smaller with many falling prey to old age.

Thanks to the ever rising cost of living and the preference for modern mode of transport has dimmed the prospect of ‘beca’ riders earning a decent living.

All this explains the slow death experienced by the ‘beca’.

Citizen Journalist, Imran Hilmy recently went on a ride with Hassan, a ‘beca’ rider who has plying the Penang Road for the past 35 years. Hassan (right), who lives in the Tanjong area, confessed that he has been riding the same ‘beca’ for the past 35 years.

According to Hassan, the most painful experience in his 35 years of riding ‘beca’ were the days when he could not ride the ‘beca’.

While pedaling along the Upper Penang road, Hassan also recounts his hardship, when he told that he earns a meager RM30.00 to RM40.00 per day.

Most Penang ‘beca’ riders, who congregate along KOMTAR or Penang Road, only make a decent living during the holiday period. On a good day, they make RM15.00 – RM30.00 per hour but most of the time they settle for RM5.00 – RM 10.00 per ride along the heritage trail.

Of late, with the economic downturn, the tourist arrival in Penang has been all time low. The prospect of taking back RM30.00 a day for a ‘beca’ rider is something unthinkable.

When asked whether he received any assistance from the government, Hassan flatly said no.
Many ‘beca’ riders like Hassan slowly fading from the streets of Georgetown.

There were times, when they are touted as the icon of tourism but sadly now they have been fighting for survival.

In a matter of years, these ‘beca’s’ will become artifacts in museums and the riders will be long faded from the tourism scene. So, while they are still around pedaling hard, hop in and take a nostalgic ride down the lane before it reaches the end of the road.

Imran Hilmy

is born and raised in Penang Island and throughout of his younger days has a knack of lyrics and poem writings.Loves to read on history, politics and religions. He believes that he has a role in making this world a better place through his capacity as a Citizen Journalist in CJ.MY.