10 November 2007

Pa Ong Chia - Cab Sharing In The 1960s


The pa ong chia was basically an illegal taxi service. (The Hokkien term literally means "bully car". No, not a vehicle driven by a road rage bully but more a pirate taxi service driven by someone trying hard to make a living. The cars were usually very old. (Read on and you will soon realise that there was a reason for using very old cars for this purpose.) All of them ran on diesel because it was very cheap at that time.

Such a service, though illegal, was extremely popular with the public because the fares were very cheap. Passengers paid only 20 cents a trip. (Compare that with today's taxi fares - I think it is about $2.50 for the first 200 metres travelled or so.) However, there was a catch - passengers had to share the car with any strangers picked up along the way. Those could well be the very first cab sharing days, a move necessitated by the difficult economic circumstances then. That was certainly long before any smart aleck taxi CEO even thought of the idea of sharing cabs.

In the November 2007 issue of Lifestyle (an NTUC monthly magazine), there is an article titled "Pirates And Sons". It is about an interview with one Mr Seet Lip Phuang, 78, who was a pa ong chia driver in the 1960s. Mr Seet became an NTUC Comfort taxi driver in 1971 and only retired 8 years ago. In the article, he reminisces about his days as a pa ong chia driver.

Despite charging ridiculously low fares, Mr Seet could still make some money and raise a family of 5 children. That was possible mainly because the car cost him only $200 (to buy, not to rent) and diesel cost only 50 cents a gallon (about 3.8 litres). Of course, the cost of living then was very low too. Although $200 was probably not considered as a meagre sum of money to Mr Seet then, it was still a comparatively cheap price to pay for a car. It was a deliberate move as much as a strategic one to buy a cheap car to be used as a pa ong chia. I remember a family friend's son who drove a pa ong chia in the 1960s too. He was caught more than once by the authorities. Each time, his car was confiscated. (In Hokkien, it was called cheong kong.) Later, he became an SBS driver.

You can read Mr Seet's story here.

(Also read another Victor's article in yesterday.sg about the notorious Pa Ong chia here.)

13 comments:

etel said...

I remember when I was in taiwan, there was an old lady, she also took our cab for free.

Now in Singapore, taxi drivers also find it hard to survive liao, so don't think they will allow it to happen anyway.. Which leads me to think that Singaporeans are getting more n more selfish these days lah.

Remember how close we used to be with our neighbours? Nowadays almost everyone close their doors and never talk to their neighbours anymore.

世界变迁...

Firehorse said...

I remember those cab sharing days but then as cab rides were a luxury to me i seldom take them, my "prefered" mode of transportation was the bus, i made so many friends on the bus which surprisingly are some of them are still my friends till this day :)

Victor said...

Etel - You didn't have the heart to chase the old lady away or ask her to share the fare? You're indeed so very kind-hearted.

Cab sharing was introduced at selected popular taxi stands in our city a few years ago. (There was one such taxi stand at Takashimaya S C. Er... where have you been all this while, besides Taiwan? LOL.)

The system works like this - people at the front of the queue press one of several preset buttons on an electronic board to indicate where they are heading to and don't mind sharing a cab with others heading in the same direction. Others in the queue can see the share-a-cab offer as well as the intended destination on an LED display. If they don't mind sharing the cab, they may move ahead (sort of cut the queue) and join the people at the front of the queue. Just imagine, all this can be done without ever talking to each other or even so much as a glance towards each other.

I am not sure but I think the authorities might have rescinded the scheme because it was not very popular.

Victor said...

Firehorse - I can tell that you are gregarious by nature, just like this old monkey. :P

fr said...

I think last time no such thing as student bus pass, if you were young or in sch uniform, the conductor gave you a half-price ticket which is 10 cents for all STC bus services.

Sometimes the conductor judged you by your height, so even if you were a young adult but short, he might gave you a half-price ticket too.

etel said...

Serious? But its so weird, like.. You'll never know who will come up to you to share a cab with you, and if I am the person that's in front of the queue, I would not press that too, for fear that don't-know-what-kind-of-person-will-share-cab-with-you.

I think its just Singaporeans, very careful. :p

Btw I was too shocked to see the old lady rushing into our cab that I didn't ask anything, but I will not take money from them too obviously - but its a different story in Singapore LOL

Why? Because I seen that the Taiwanese are so helpful towards everyone. Singaporeans? Forget it. -.-

Okay I'm a Singaporean myself lol but I think we need such kindness around us, no? Erks Okay I better stop before I go on to talk about rude Singaporeans kakaka

Victor said...

Fr - When I was a kid (in 1960s), half-price bus tickets was just 5 cents. 10 cents could bring me all the way from terminus to terminus.

When I was in my early 20s, I took bus service no. 30 almost daily. On certain days, I would meet a particular bus conductor who would simply refuse to issue me a ticket, letting me ride for free! Whenever I boarded his bus, he would just smile at me. I think he mistaken me for someone he knew.

Victor said...

GNE - You're right. I think the system was scrapped because most Singaporeans are like you - they feel awkward sharing a cab with strangers.

Hey, I may be touring Taiwan soon. I have revisited your photo album and taken note of where to get all the nice food.

peter said...

When we lived in the Upper Bukit Timah Road area, it was cvommon to see Pai Hong Chia plying in ther Mercedes 190D car. Those cars were always black in colour and could as many as 2 in front and 5 at the back excluding the driver. For $1.00 it would take you down to Newton Circus from Bukit Gombak. The fare was doubled when an "Ang Mo' was picked up.

From young I grew to associate the Mercedes car as a reliable car otherwise why would a Pa Hong Chia choose the Mercedes brand? maybe someone can explain.

Victor said...

Thanks for the interesting information, Peter. I didn't know that such a luxurious and premier brand of car like the Mercedes Benz was also used by Pa Ong Chia drivers of those days. Nowadays, only Premier cab drivers use Mercedes Benz.

peter said...

That 190D Mercedes was the same model Lee Kuan Yew used when he was a lawyer and just becoming PM in 1959. Thta model had a column gear which allowed more passengers to be seated in the front row.

Mercedes brand was a good workhouse then because it had less electronic parts. Today I cant say the same about Mercedes. In fact Toyota is a better buy. For reliability before you buy your next car, ask your car mechanic. They know best

Victor said...

Peter - My mechanic said, "Aiyah, of all cars, why you go and buy a Renault?" I replied, "But my wife like what."

peter said...

French ppl - emphasis on good looks, the presentation must be good, even for the cars. i worked for a French MMC before and they say French very cocky bcos they r critical on food, ambience and beauty