The push for passengers

By Liao Fangzhou Source:Global Times Published: 2013-7-14 18:08:01

Trams were a popular travel choice for Shanghai residents in the early 20th century. Photo: CFP

Trams were a popular travel choice for Shanghai residents in the early 20th century. Photo: CFP

One hundred and fifty years ago, it was hard work getting around the streets of Shanghai and even harder for the workers who pushed, pulled and carried their passengers along in sedan chairs (jiaozi) and dulunche, long wheelbarrow-like carts that could accommodate as many as eight people for a bumpy uncomfortable ride from home to work and back again. Government officials, businessmen, and the wealthy used sedan chairs; factory workers and families used dulunche.

Rickshaws, trams, taxis, and buses arrived on the roads here between 1873 and 1922. These four styles of public transportation shared two things in common: they had foreign connections, and they were each seriously affected by the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45). While the only rickshaws and trams operating in the city now are in period films, taxis and buses remain a crucial element in Shanghai's public transport system.

In 1873 a French businessman named Menard introduced rickshaws to Shanghai from Japan where the rickshaw business had been lucrative. Menard petitioned the municipal council of the former French concession (which then consulted the municipal council of the former International concession) for the right to run "hand-drawn vehicles" for 10 years. Both councils permitted the business in their concessions but turned down his request to patent the form of transport.

Instead, Menard was granted 12 licenses to run 300 rickshaws and registered the first rickshaw company in the city on March 24, 1874. Another nine rickshaw companies, all owned by Westerners, opened in Shanghai that year. At the end of the year, the city had about 1,000 rickshaws operating.

People in those days called them dongyangche ("East-foreign-vehicles"). While the word rickshaw derived from the Japanese jinrikisha (man-power-vehicle), its Chinese counterpart, renliche, was rarely used.

A Chinese takeover

These companies rented their rickshaws to Chinese contractors who then sublet them to the runners. From the early 1920s, the contractors gradually bought the rickshaws from their foreign owners and by the end of the decade they had taken over most of Shanghai's rickshaw businesses. By the late 1930s, the business, from owners to middlemen to runners, was purely Chinese.

From 1879 on, only one passenger at a time was allowed to ride on a rickshaw. Authorities felt it was "indecent" for a man and a woman to share a rickshaw and that carrying two passengers at once was too hard for a runner.

Later to make a clear distinction between public rickshaws and private rickshaws, the Shanghai Municipal Council introduced a law in 1913 that all public rickshaws be painted yellow. After that rickshaws came to be called huangbaoche (yellow-painted vehicle).

When rickshaws were first introduced, they were bumpy and noisy with rattily iron-rimmed wheels and they were not popular. But the old wheels were gradually replaced with rubber tires, backrests were added to the carts and upholstered cushions took the place of the hard seats. The quieter and more comfortable vehicles began attracting more customers.

Rickshaws became the city's most popular conveyance. In the concessions alone in 1900, there were 4,647 rickshaws for hire and in 1907, 8,204. By 1939, there were more than 23,000 rickshaws registered throughout the city - one rickshaw for every 150 people. While 9,990 of them were registered in the concessions, south Shanghai had the most rickshaws (6,014) of the Chinese administrative areas.

The popularity of rickshaws declined through the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. Thousands of rickshaws were destroyed during the war and business slumped after the Japanese took over the concessions in 1941. People were turning to the new arrival on the streets, the three-wheeled trishaws.

In January 1946, the Kuomintang government ordered that all rickshaws in the country be abandoned before May 1, 1949. In October, 1946, the Shanghai Municipal Council began converting 10 percent of the city's rickshaws into trishaws. The number of rickshaws in Shanghai dropped to 12,670 by the end of 1947 and in 1948 there were just 6,226. When the Communist Party of China took over Shanghai in 1949, there were 3,659 left. The rickshaw ended its contribution to the city in 1956 when the last two models became exhibits at the Shanghai History Museum.

A British service

More than two decades after Russia opened the world's first tram service in 1880, the British-owned Shanghai Electric Construction Co was given permission to run a tram service in the former International concession in 1905. Workers began laying tracks in April, 1906, installing overhead wires and building terminals and depots. In 1907, the company imported its first batch of four-wheeled single-deck trams from Loughborough, England.

On January 31, 1908 the company trialed the trams which began running from Avenue Road (now Beijing Road West). According to the North China Daily News, Shanghai's earliest English newspaper, 19 trams ran along Nanjing Road with expats on board inviting pedestrians to try out the new form of transport for free.

In March, the tram service was officially launched. Starting at 5:30 am, trams connected the British expats' favorite social center, the Shanghai Club (now in Guangdong Road, the Bund) with Jing'an Temple, a six-kilometer journey. It was not smooth running initially. There were accidents galore in the first month. There were no doors or gates on the trams and several passengers fell out. Others jumped off forgetting the tram was still moving. One poor soul saw that his tram had just passed his destination and jumped out only to be struck by a tram heading in the opposite direction.

Shanghai Electric Construction Co was not the only tram company in Shanghai. In the former French concession, Compagnie Française de Tramways et d'Eclairage Electriques de Shanghai began operating in May, 1908 with a route from Shiliupu to Shanzhong Road (now Changshu Road). In the Chinese administrative areas, the Chinese Electric Power Co started a tram service on August 11, 1913. Its first route was from Shiliupu to the Shanghai-Hangzhou Railway Station (now Nanchezhan Road). The four-kilometer ride took about 20 minutes.

Over the years, the companies added and extended routes. In 1925, the British system had seven routes and 216 trams, the French system had three routes and 60 trams, and the Chinese company operated 52 trams on four routes. In the 1930s, there were nearly 80 tram routes available.

Trams were popular from the beginning. In their first year, 5.37 million passengers used them and by 1912, 40.73 million passengers rode the tracks. Shanghai trams were handling nearly twice the number of passengers as similar services in UK and US cities of the period. However, the Japanese invasion saw the trams and their tracks decimated. By 1949 there were only 12 tram routes and 69 kilometers of track remaining.

In the 1960s, the city's trams were phased out, many being replaced with the current trolley buses. In December 1975, the city's last tram chugged from Hongkou Park to Wujiaochang.

Yellow cabs

Like the trams, Shanghai's taxis first appeared in 1908. In September that year, an American department store set up a car rental section with five Cadillacs. In August 1911, the earliest professional taxi company, the Oriental Automobile Company, began service. It featured yellow Renault cars which could carry a maximum of four passengers and they each had meters. Other companies set up shortly afterwards including the domestic Feilong and Yitai taxi companies. In 1913, the nine taxi companies in Shanghai operated 43 taxis.

In the 1920s and 30s, taxis were becoming popular with the middle class. Taxis carried them to important business and wedding ceremonies as well as cinemas and restaurants. In 1921, Shanghai had 34 taxi companies and in 1926 there were 51. In 1935, there were 107 companies with 1,003 taxis registered in the city.

In the 1930s, the largest company was the Johnson Garage Company, which was founded by Zhou Xiangsheng in 1923 with five cars. In 1936, the company had 270 cars, 22 booking offices and 362 drivers. The company offered a 24-hour service and accepted telephone bookings. In 1939, about 2,500 phone bookings were being made every day -receptionists were trained in shorthand. Taxis were expected to show up within two minutes of a booking being made.

Once again the Japanese invasion hit the business with many taxi companies shutting down after 1937. After the Japanese entered the city's foreign concessions in 1941, fuel shortages meant taxis could no longer operate.

After the war, the taxi companies resumed business but inflation limited their expansion. In the first few years after the founding of the People's Republic of China, there were 29 taxi companies operating 370 cars in the city.

The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) hit the business again - traveling in taxis was considered bourgeois. In the early 1970s, some taxi companies were shut down. After China's restoration of the lawful seat in the United Nations in 1971 and Shanghai became responsible for an increasing number of foreign visitors, the industry started to grow again. In 1982, there were 750 taxis and today the city has over 50,000 taxis on its roads.

On the buses

The first man to open a bus company in Shanghai was the Chinese businessman Dong Xingsheng. In August 1922, his company, the Chinese Motor Bus, opened the first bus service from Jing'an Temple to Zhaofeng Park (now Zhongshan Park). It began with just one bus but soon added another. The buses came from Germany and could carry 30 passengers. The company itself closed after two years - most of the early bus companies only lasted three or four years.

There was plenty of competition. The British-owned China General Omnibus started up in October 1924 with 20 secondhand buses from the UK and a route from Jing'an Temple to the Bund, extending this to the Waibaidu Bridge a month later.

By the end of 1929, the company owned 96 buses running over 11 routes. In April 1934, the company introduced the London trademark double-decker buses that ran between Zhaofeng Park and Hongkou Park. In 1941, the company was running 195 buses including 57 double-deckers. The Japanese took over the business and ran bus services in Yangpu and Hongkou districts, but by 1940, because of fuel shortages, only the Hongkou Park-Wujiaochang route remained.

The Shanghai Public Utilities Bureau set up a bus company committee in October, 1945 and then a tram company committee in November only to merge them into a public transportation committee in 1946. The city's buses resumed operation then, opening 10 routes. In July 1958, the Shanghai Public Transportation Company was established and in November that year the company launched the first all-night bus service in the city.

Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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