Rickshaws reach end of road as historical appeal loses its pull

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 December, 2001, 12:00am

Hong Kong's rickshaws - once a symbol of colonial privilege - seem destined to disappear from the streets after the owner of the remaining few still in service put them up for sale.

The last three elderly rickshaw pullers who used to tout for dwindling business among tourists near the Star Ferry terminal in Central have not been seen for several weeks.

A spokesman for the Transport Department said there were still four valid licences for rickshaw drivers but they would expire between February and July and it had not received any renewal applications.

Historian Professor Ho Pui-yin, of Chinese University, expressed sadness at the demise of the rickshaws but said it was a price to be paid for progress.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said it did not have any plans to buy the rickshaws because it already had two permanently on display at the Museum of History in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Six red rickshaws, all about 20 years old, are now parked near the ferry terminal with for-sale notices attached.

The Sunday Morning Post called and was told the rickshaws - owned by a Mr Chan who lives on the mainland and could not be contacted - were available for $13,000 each.

The rickshaw was a Japanese invention - jinricksha meaning human-powered vehicle - and quickly spread all over Asia.

They were almost never owned by the pullers but were rented from owners of rickshaw fleets. Tycoon Ngan Shing-kwan started out in the rickshaw business on the mainland and founded the China Motor Bus Company when he moved to Hong Kong in the early 1930s.

Rickshaws became an important mode of public transport in Hong Kong in the 1920s and 30s, attracting more than 10,000 people to join the trade during its boom days.

Professor Ho said that although trams started running in 1904, passengers preferred rickshaws for their convenience.

But the boom days began to fade during the Japanese occupation. After the war, the colonial government began a road-building programme and gradually the allure of the rickshaw faded.

'With the rapid pace of urbanisation and modernisation, the room for old transport modes such as rickshaws become very limited,' Professor Ho said.

'It is sad to see the rickshaws disappear, however it is inevitable that some old things will become extinct with urban development.'

But she believed tourists would not be too disappointed because they could still see rickshaws displayed in the museum.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong Tourism Board said although some people might miss the rickshaws they were no longer popular among tourists.

'Rickshaws have been a dying phenomenon and are no longer a major tourist attraction,' the spokesman said.

'In terms of the visual impact of rickshaws, we do use them occasionally in photos but not to the degree that we publicise them as a [transport] service.'


**Please note that late Ngan Shing-kwan was not a rickshaw puller. He
was a founder of a rickshaw company.