Trishaw



A trishaw (also known as a cycle-rickshaw or pedicab)1 is a bicycle with a sidecar, powered entirely by the cyclist.2 The trishaw was a popular mode of public transportation in the immediate years following the end of the Japanese Occupation (1942 to 1945) in Singapore, but started to suffer a decline in popularity from the mid-1950s onwards.3 By the late 1970s, trishaw riders were regarded as a dying breed with most of them primarily involved in the tourism trade.4

Background
The trishaw evolved from the rickshaw (known in Japanese as jinrikisha, or “man-powered carriage”), which is pulled by a man.5 Trishaws first surfaced in Singapore in April 1914 as “pedal rickshaws”, which had chairs bolted to tricycle frames. The initial batch of 15 trishaws, with unknown origins, were said to be crudely constructed, and did not last long on the streets of Singapore. An American company’s request to import 500 trishaws later that year was rejected by the British colonial authorities due to considerations for road safety.6

Trishaws were reintroduced to Singapore during the Japanese Occupation. According to a Syonan Times article published on 8 August 1942, the first batch of 10 trishaws (referred to as ricksha-cycles” in the report) started plying the streets on 7 August 1943 with an official fare rate of 15 cents per mile. The Syonan Tricycle Co. rented out each trishaw at 80 cents per day.7

Description
Trishaws in Singapore during the postwar era were made of locally available materials and parts, which mainly consisted of wood and standard bicycle frames. While initially appearing in various shapes and sizes, the dimensions of the trishaw were later standardised by the Municipal Commission, first in 1946 and then again in 1948.8 By the 1950s, the average cost of a brand new trishaw was between $500 and $600, although prices varied among the different bicycle manufacturers.9

Variant names10
The trishaw is known by various names in different places:
China: san lun che (三轮车), literally translated as “three-wheeled vehicle”.
Vietnam: cyclo.
Macau: triciclo.
The Philippines: padjak, which is Tagalog for “kick” or “push”; its expanded meaning often being “kick on out of here”.
Indonesia/Malaysia: beca, becak, lanca.
Myanmar: sai kaa, an aberration of the English “sidecar”.
Japan: rintaku.
Thailand: samlor, meaning “three wheels”.11

Trishaw riders
Many of the early trishaw riders were Chinese male immigrants belonging to the Henghua, Hokchia and Hokkien (in particular those from Hui Ann district) dialect groups that originated from Fujian province, China. Members of these dialect groups were relatively late immigrants to Singapore, with many arriving from the late 19thcentury onwards. Many of these men worked in the then relatively new rickshaw industry, as most of the traditional occupations and trades had already been taken up by earlier immigrants.12 When rickshaws were abolished by the colonial authorities in 1947, many of these early rickshaw pullers then became trishaw riders.13 Other trishaw riders were ex-coolies who had grown too old or weak to continue in their initial profession, which entailed carrying heavy loads at the docks.14 As a reflection of the multiracial nature of Singapore society, most trishaw riders were fluent in more than one language and dialect, and many spoke a little English.15

The average income of trishaw riders in the 1950s and 1960s varied depending on the number of hours worked and fares collected, which ranged from as low as $3 to $20 a day. The rates of hire for trishaws were fixed by the Municipal Commission in 1948. Trishaw riders could charge $0.20 for every half mile or part thereof travelled. Alternatively, they could charge $1.50 for every hour or $0.40 for every additional quarter hour of travel.16 There were mainly two shifts for trishaw riders who rented their vehicles: one from 5 am to 2 pm and the other for the rest of the day. This shift system usually applied to a rented trishaw, which was only available from 3 am to 3 pm the next day. For others who could afford their own trishaw, the working hours were more flexible.17

The harsh life of a trishaw rider has been depicted in P. Ramlee’s 1955 film, Penarek Becha (Malay for “The Trishaw Man”).18 In the film, a rich man’s daughter falls in love with a poor trishaw rider (played by Ramlee), much to the disapproval of her father. The film portrays the social prejudices faced by trishaw riders because they were considered to be from a lower socio-economic class.19

Developments within the trishaw industry
Growth
Increasing numbers of trishaws in the 1940s signalled the growing importance of trishaws for local transportation, especially in the years immediately following the end of the Japanese Occupation. Furthermore, trishaws ensured the survival of “informal sector businesses” such as hawkers, street pedlars and petty traders by ferrying goods for them.20 Trishaws also played a crucial role in sustaining socially illicit activities like gambling and prostitution by ferrying patrons into the back alleys of shophouses where such activities took place.21

Postwar regulation
When the British returned to Malaya after the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, their first priority was to restore social order. To this end, colonial authorities sought to control petty trading and clean up the streets. Regulations were reintroduced to control the proliferation of street hawkers and trishaw riders as their numbers had swelled during the Japanese Occupation. The result was a struggle between the emerging trade unions and the colonial government.22

The first postwar attempt by the authorities to regulate the trishaw industry took place in December 1946 when mandatory registration and licensing of trishaw riders were established.23 A deadline of 1 June 1947 was set for trishaw riders to register themselves. All prospective and current riders also had to take a licensing test by 31 August 1947 and those who passed were required to wear an arm badge. The Singapore Rickshaw and Trishaw Workers’ Union (SRTWU) called for the new law to be repealed on the grounds that the licensing fee of $5 was too high and that the wearing of arm badges was degrading for its members.24 The SRTWU’s request was turned down by the Municipal Commission; as a sign of defiance, by 31 August, only 1,000 of the estimated 18,000 trishaw riders in Singapore had registered with the authorities.25 The SRTWU subsequently threatened a one-day strike by 10,000 trishaw riders on 1 September.26 However, the strike did not happen in the end, as a compromise was reached with the authorities whereby the union would conduct the licensing tests and the arm badges were to be replaced with badges.27

This small victory by the SRTWU proved to be only a temporary reprieve from further hurdles put in place by the government to decrease the number of trishaws, beginning with the announcement of the trishaw-restriction law in June 1948 which disallowed new trishaws to be registered.28 The situation was worsened by the rising number of cars, including taxis, in Singapore.29 

In 1949, the authorities declared that the maximum number of trishaw riders was 9,000 and the limit for trishaws was 7,900. The official quotas for trishaws and trishaw riders were reduced to 4,820 and 5,175 respectively by 1954. These reductions were usually justified by the authorities on the grounds that trishaws were either too slow or taking up too much parking space.30

Decline

Due to the introduction of multiple government regulations, the trishaw industry started to shrink from the mid-1950s onwards. The rapid modernisation of Singapore after independence in 1965 hastened the decline. Technological developments and the increasing affordability of cars made the trishaw a comparatively dangerous means of travel. The trishaw also faced competition from newer forms of motorised public transport such as buses. However, the introduction of the taxi was the most direct threat to the trishaw industry, as taxis provided a faster and more efficient form of personalised public transport. The illegal pirate taxis in the 1950s provided an attractive alternative to the trishaw as a mode of mass transport in terms of their cost.31

The decline of the local bicycle industry also contributed to the decline of the trishaw industry, since the production of bicycles affected the manufacture of trishaws. By the early 1970s, the local bicycle industry was in decline as manufacturers could not compete with foreign imports due to the increased costs of production and taxes on bicycle parts.32

Finally, Singapore’s urbanisation played a part in the demise of the trishaw industry. Many slums and squatter settlements within the inner-city area were cleared out in the 1960s as part of a government-initiated urbanisation programme. This caused many trishaw riders to lose their main source of income, as their clients traditionally came from these areas. Many trishaw riders were subsequently forced to move out of the inner city to seek customers in the new housing estates.33

The trishaw as tourist attraction
Trishaws today have become part of Singapore’s cultural heritage. As trishaws are no longer a common means of travel for locals, the passengers that trishaw riders now ferry are predominantly tourists who employ their services as a means of experiencing the Singapore of yesteryear. As such, most trishaws are now found operating in tourist areas such as Chinatown and Bugis.34 Currently, it is mandatory for all trishaw riders to operate with a licence.35



Authors
Koh Qi Rui Vincent and Jamie Han




References
1. Wheeler, T. (1998). Chasing rickshaws. Melbourne: Lonely Planet Publications, p. 7. (Call no.: R 388.341 WHE)
2. Nicol, G. (1977). Malaysia and Singapore. London: B. T. Batsford, p. 64. (Call no.: RSING 959.5 NIC)
3. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 93–94. (Call no.: RSING 388.095957 LIM)
4. Dying occupations of Singapore. (1978). Singapore: Raffles Interact Club, pp. 4–5. (Call no.: RSING 331.70095957 RAF)
5. Samuel, D. S. (2010). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, p. 137. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
6. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 6–7. (Call no.: RSING 388.095957 LIM)
7. Ricksha-cycles ply for hire in Syonan [Microfilm: NL 255]. (Showa 17 [1942], August 8). The Syonan Times, p. 4.
8. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 22–23. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
9. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
10. Wheeler, T. (1998). Chasing rickshaws. Melbourne: Lonely Planet Publications, pp. 22, 80, 106, 118, 129, 140, 183. (Call no.: R 388.341 WHE)
11. Agar, C. (2006). Frommer’s Thailand [eBook] Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, p. 182. Retrieved from eReads: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/ereads
12. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 32–38. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
13. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 16, 18. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
14. Goodwood Park Hotel. (1976). Getting around on three wheels. Goodwood journal, 3rd Qtr, 9–11 (9). (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
15. Dying occupations of Singapore. (1978). Singapore: Raffles Interact Club, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 331.70095957 RAF)
16. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 52–54. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
17. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 44, 52. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
18. Ramlee, P. (Director). (1955). Classic films: Penarek Becha [Motion picture; audiovisual recording no. 1999004058; television broadcast 1999, March 28]. (Singapore Television Twelve Pte Ltd). Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
19. Van der Heide, W. (2002). Malaysian cinema, Asian film: Border crossings and national cultures. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, p. 171. (Call no.: RSEA 791.43 VAN)
20. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, p. 61. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
21. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, p. 60. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
22. Harper, T. N. (1999). The end of empire and the making of Malaya. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 62–63. (Call no.: RSING 959.5105 HAR)
23. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, p. 84. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
24. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, p. 85. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM); Trishawmen protest. (1947, May 28). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Trishaw request turned down. (1947, May 31). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 17,000 trishaw men still hold out. (1947, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Strike threat by 10,000 trishawmen. (1947, August 30). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Trishaw riders defer strike. (1947, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 86–87. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
28. Taxi, trisha laws are tightened. (1948, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; New by-laws for the control of trishaws. (1948, December 9). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Fewer trishaws but more taxis. (1949, January 15). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Big increase in motor cars. (1951, January 9). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Move for fewer S’pore trishas. (1950, June 29). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 87–88. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
31. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 93–96. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
32. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 98–99. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
33. Lim, J. (1995). ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The rise and demise of the trishaw industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 [Honours thesis]. Perth: Murdoch University, pp. 100–101, 103–104. (Call no.: RSING 388 095957 LIM)
34. Dying occupations of Singapore. (1978). Singapore: Raffles Interact Club, pp. 4–5. (Call no.: RSING 331.70095957 RAF); Hornby, W. F., & Fyfe, E. M. (1990, January). Tourism for tomorrow: Singapore looks to the future. Geography,75(1), 58–62 (62). Retrieved from JSTOR; Trishaw Uncle. (2010). Where is Trishaw Park? Retrieved from Trishaw Uncle website: http://www.trishawuncle.com.sg/html/about_us/about_us_02.html
35. Wee, P. (1982, September 21). Tougher moves to regulate trishaw tours. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.




Further resources
Gibbins, J. (1971, October 23). Trisha – they are the outcasts of the roadsThe Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Lim, J. (2002). Just asking: Capturing memories as a child, student, and historian. The Oral History Review, 29(2), 53–56. Retrieved from JSTOR.


The land transport of Singapore: From early times to the present. (1984). Singapore: Educational Publications Bureau for Archives and Oral History Department, pp. 67–70.
(Call no.: RCLOS 779.9388095957 LAN)

The vanishing trades [CD-ROM]. (1997). Singapore: Daichi Media.
(Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN)



The information in this article is valid as at 19 November 2014 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Commerce and Industry>>Transportation
Heritage and Culture
Ethnic Communities
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Transportation and logistics
Rickshaws--Singapore
Transportation
Pedicabs--Singapore

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