Thursday, November 16, 2006

Cheap Transport in Hong Kong

We take for granted sometimes here in Hong Kong the amazing public transport system we have throughout the city. Considering the price of property here, the cost of buses, ferries, MTR and particularly the taxis are quite cheap. The low fares of the cabs in particular seem to impress many visitors.

Yet it has always been part of deliberate government policy to keep transport charges as low as possible. I found a fascinating document from 1901, entitled, "Report of Commission on Chair and Jinricksha coolies," which basically complained about how the coolies running the chairs, following a strike they undertook a few years previous, were unwilling to take passengers for the same low fares they enjoyed in the good old days of the 1880s. These men were literally taking passengers on the power of their muscles alone, and of course our sympathies today are with the coolies. But things were not so clear to the Legislative Councillors enquiring about the cost of a chair:
At present, the minimum ricksha fare is 5 cents for a quarter of an hour. If a person takes a ricksha from the Clock Tower [a landmark then at the corner of Queen's Road and Pedder Street, demolished in 1911 - Ed.] to the Hongkong Club or Hongkong Bank [Christ, it's a 5 minute walk! - Ed.] he must pay 5 cents.

This seems to be an unnecessarily large fare. We therefore advocate ricksha rates of 2, 3, and 5 cents for 5, 10 and 15 minutes respectively. Distance fares, as in the case of garis [an Indian term for a horse-drawn cab - Ed.], might also be introduced. The difficulty of carrying the necessary money can be overcome by adopting a system of checks for these several amounts. These checks should be saleable at the Treasury and Police Stations in Colony and could be redeemed by the coolies on presentation at the Treasury in office hours.

Greatcare would have to be taken to guard against the acceptance, for redemption, of forged checks, not issued by the Treasury or a Police Station.
So these checks were like Club Med beads...except not really at all.

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