Hong Kong's century-old tramways have become part of the cityscape after surviving a threat from the mass transit railway in the 1980s. The system began as the city's first public transport system, in 1904, when the population was growing and only rickshaws and sedan chairs were available for commuters. On the day of the launch in July that year, the director of public works' wife drove the tram, ringing the bell to announce the start of operations. The 30km system, running from Kennedy Town to Causeway Bay and later extended to Shau Kei Wan, used to run parallel to the city's original shoreline. But continuous reclamation pushed them into the urban jungle of buildings and roads. Even so, they remain a handy point of reference for commuters and other travellers. The trip across the island takes about 90 minutes. A few trams have had air conditioning installed. The first fleet of 26 trams was built in Britain, shipped in pieces and assembled in Hong Kong. Ten cars were designed for first class passengers, with an enclosed central compartment. The rest were for third class passengers, and the compartments were open-sided. The class distinction was abolished in 1972. Now, charging HK$2 per trip, the tram is a popular form of transport - especially among the elderly, who pay half-price. The sound of the driver's bell has become the vehicle's signature. Some locals simply call the trams 'Ding Ding'. In the early days, the tram service was often abused by free riders, and delayed by coolies who hauled their carts along the track. Legislation was enacted in 1911 to stop the illegal use of tram tracks. The tram system faced a threat in the late 1970s with the arrival of the MTR Island line. Questions were asked about whether the tram service should be discontinued. In response, the tram company conducted a survey in 1984 on the trams' future, and found the majority of residents wanted to keep them. It was decided the service would remain, which prompted the MTR Corporation to shelve its plan for an extension from Sheung Wan to Kennedy Town until recently. The year 2004 marked the trams' 100th anniversary, which was celebrated with the launch of a 'millennium' car with a more modern design. A transport fans' group said it welcomed any improvement in tram services, but wanted no change to the vehicles' traditional style. Dennis Law, chairman of the Universal Transport Fans Association, said Hong Kong residents were fond and proud of the trams' current image. 'The fleet of trams has a long history. Hongkongers may not accept their looks being modernised,' he said. 'But we welcome upgrades in service.' His group is concerned about a proposed tram spur line running on reclaimed land from the Star Ferry pier to the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. 'We'll see if the spur line plan can go ahead under the new company's management,' Mr Law said.