Mdm Chiew shared with me of her fond childhood memories where taking a trishaw to school was a daily routine for her. The three-wheeled vehicles, which had evolved from rickshaws, were one of Singapore's earliest modes of public transport. Soon after rickshaws were phased out in Singapore, trishaws began to take off despite being bulkier and less easy to manoeuvre. A three-wheeler with a bicycle attached at one side, it was a lot faster and more stable than the rickshaw.
Mdm Chiew related to me that she used to mainly take trishaws to go to school or to another person’s house. The trishaw would seat two people comfortably, but kids would squat in front if there were no more space. They took the trishaws because it was cheaper than taxis, which were not plentiful then, and it was faster than buses and more convenient. Back then there wasn’t school buses or at least it wasn’t readily available, and if it were a very long way to go – parents would hire a trishaw to ferry their kids to school in those days.
Apart from ferrying customers for the whole day under the hot sun, trishaw riders also had to deal with hazardous road conditions. Despite the very hard manual work, it was an honest way to make a living and trishaw riders provided an invaluable service to the public. It was common to hitch rides to school or to the market, and the trishaw was a ubiquitous sight on the streets through the years. Mdm Chiew also shared that in those days; one could still flag down a trishaw at certain places, very much like a taxi. Taking the trishaw was not dangerous at all.
While the main mode of transportation in Singapore today is by car, train or bus, the trishaw remains an important heritage icon that the public is keen to preserve. Today, trishaws offer novelty rides to tourists that take them through the small street lanes in Bugis, Little India and the Singapore River.
(Interviewed and written by Jennifer Teo Kai Ling for the Singapore Memory Project's 'KopiTimes' Campaign)