Sun, Jun 18, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The passing of the three-wheeler

Pedicabs disappeared from Taipei after the city banned them in June 1968, making way for a booming taxi industry

By Han cheung  /  Staff reporter

A pedicab is seen in this 1951 street scene of Taipei.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

June 19 to June 25

Chang Shoou-yuh (張守玉) recalls his father toiling long hours every day as a three-wheeled pedicab driver in Taipei shortly after their arrival in Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War.

“It was barely enough to support the family,” he says in Dogwood (茱萸花), an autobiography ghostwritten by Chien Ting-ting (蹇婷婷). “But everyone was poor back then … When I got sick, my father would take me in the pedicab to the hospital at Daqiaotou (大橋頭). It was a complicated feeling — I was enjoying my father’s love but I also felt sad that he had to work so hard. And although it wasn’t a shameful profession, there was some sort of pride that made me not want people to know that my father was a pedicab driver.”

The family’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when the government launched a plan in the early 1960s to eliminate pedicabs in Taipei by purchasing them and helping them transition to driving taxis instead. On June 25, 1968, Taipei completely banned the use of pedicabs.

“My father was almost 50 years old then, and since he was illiterate he couldn’t take the taxi driver exam,” Chang says. “We only received a small fee of NT$3,000 from the government. He basically lost his job.”

Chang started working to support the family and put himself through school, eventually earning a doctorate in environmental engineering from the University of Illinois — but that is another story.

PEDICAB MEMORIES

According to a Ministry of Education-produced lesson about the history of cycling in Taiwan, pedicabs first arrived in 1942 from Japan. After World War II, they were imported from Hong Kong and China. It was a popular means of public transportion, reaching a peak in 1960 with about 44,000 cabs operating around the country. About 14,000 of them were in Taipei.

“A driver once said, ‘You’ll be poor for the rest of your life if you drive a pedicab,’” writes Cheng Yi-ying (鄭懿瀛) for a Central News Agency feature. “But although they were poor, many people raised their families with the meager wages that they earned.”

There were two types of operation. Some had specific shifts and waited at designated spots; others cruised the streets looking for customers, who negotiated the price with the driver.

Formosa Vintage Museum (秋惠文庫) founder Lin Yu-fang (林于昉) recalls in an Apple Daily article that there would always be several pedicabs waiting outside his childhood home off Xinsheng S Road (新生南路) in the 1960s. A wealthy elementary school classmate had a private pedicab driver, and Lin recalls chasing it after school with a group of classmates, yelling “give us a ride too!”

He adds that back then, most pedicabs-for-hire had a number spray painted on the frame along with the words “Annihilate the communist bandits and save our compatriots (消滅共匪、解救同胞).” Private owners made sure their pedicabs were always clean and shiny, not unlike taxi drivers today.

TAXIS TAKE OVER

The government initially limited the number of taxis according to population — for example, in Taipei, one vehicle was allowed to operate per 5,000 residents in 1950. The number was changed to 2,000 in 1957 (along with an ordinance requiring all vehicles to install meters and a “taxi” sign on top). In 1959, the cap was lifted, resulting in a huge explosion of taxis, causing much chaos on the roads.

Of course, pedicab drivers were not happy and according to The History of Transportation in the Republic of China (中華民國交通史), there were several incidents where pedicab drivers gathered together to stop taxis from picking up customers.

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