Taxing time for Kg Ayer water taxis

National 3 minutes, 57 seconds


THE migration of Kampong Ayer residents to land has taken a toll on water taxi operators’ income.

Despite it not being a lucrative line of work, the traditional profession of boat operating at the centuries-old water village continued among its villagers – both old and young.

However, most operators of these tiny and rather fragile wooden motorboats do not reap in handsome profits in a day.

Ran Dollah, 78, said he has worked as a water taxi operator since the early 1950s.

In those days, he said, it was easy for water taxi operators like himself to earn more than $100 in a day, in wooden boats powered by oars.

“Today, I get only about $20 to $30 profit at the end of each day,” Ran told The Brunei Times.

The pensioner from Kg Bakut Siraja Muda added that water taxi operators had to spend a minimum of $15 per day on fuel and motor oil for their boats.

Ran cited the movement of many villagers from Kg Ayer to land as one of the main reasons for the large decrease in profits over the years.

It was previously reported that Kg Ayer’s population was estimated at 40,000 in the 1980s but according to the 2012 national census, it had decreased to 13,162.

“Houses on the water always suffer from the risk of fires, so it’s no surprise they move,” he said.

He also said his passengers were mostly local villagers who had to get between land and their houses on water.

Although there were big groups of tourists who wanted to take water taxi rides, these groups normally opted to hire bigger boats with roofs, Ran pointed out.

“Some days, if we’re lucky, we might get a small group of tourists who are willing to ride in our smaller boats, and then we can get about $60 that day,” he said.

When asked, Ran said he is forced to stop work when it is raining or too hot, and to return home to wait it out.

“But it’s good work – enough for me to get by – plus the $250 pension amount I receive in a month,” Ran said, smiling cheerfully.

Similarly, Fauzi Abdul Aziz of Kg Saba said he only earned between $20-$30 a day.

The 17-year-old shared that this was his first job since finishing school, and that he took it up to help his family financially (both parents have jobs on land), as the eldest of three siblings.

Fauzi said the main reason for the small amount of money he earned in a day was probably “because of so many other boats around”.

A Marine Department official last year said there were more than 100 water taxis operating at Kampong Ayer, but only 40 were licensed.

Fauzi further said he was not the only “young” water taxi operator around, saying that there was one 15-year-old operator also working at the moment.

Meanwhile, 43-year-old Mazlan Duraman of Kg Tamoi Tengah shared that he had been a water taxi operator since he was just 15.

“In the 1980s, I could get up to $100 per day. In the 1990s, it was less – more people started moving to land – and I could get about $70 or $80 in a day.

“Today, it is difficult to earn even just $50 in a day,” Mazlan said.

He also said that despite the many tourists walking around the capital, ferrying any around who wanted to take boat rides were quite rare.

“I only get tourist as passengers maybe once a week – it really depends on luck, and maybe then is when I can earn just a little bit more,” he admitted.

Mazlan also pointed out that his boat could only fit six people at a time, and this meant he could only take small groups at a time.

He said competition with other water taxi operators remains stiff, saying that there were “more or less the same number of boats as there was in the past”.

However, Mazlan said diligence to the job was required, if one wanted to earn more, aided by rezeki (blessings).

The father of seven said he starts a typical day at 4.45 am – transporting villagers who had to work on land – and ends it at about 5pm.

“Even if it’s raining, I do my best to cater to people who need my services. I wait under the bridges and come out into the rain if I see potential passengers waiting at the jetty.

“We water taxi operators do not have an easy life; we are people who find it difficult to encounter rezeki,” Mazlan said, with a small smile.

He said his daily earnings were just enough to sustain him and his family, and that he would continue doing the work, as long as he is physically capable.

The Brunei Times