Jinrikisha were the cheapest means of public transport until the end of World War II; this building remembers the men who toiled to provide this service.

The Jinrikisha Station in Neil Road was constructed in 1903 to ease the heavy load of the Station in Middle Road. It Stands on a triangular plot at the junction of Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar Road and has a curved corner at the junction of these two roads. An extra storey was added to the roof, a lantern-shaped structure.

Today the Jinrikisha Station building is a seafood restaurant.

The Middle Road Station (Office of the Registrar of Vehicles) until recently served as the Work Permit Office of the Ministry of Labour.

The jinrikisha was invented in Japan in 1869. It meant 'man-powered carriage'; in the Jinrikisha Ordinance it means 'a wheeled vehicle for the conveyance of passengers drawn by one or more men.' The jinrikisha was introduced to Singapore in 1880 from Shanghai. It became the main mode of transport in Singapore and the cheapest. In Malay the jinrikisha was called 'kreta Hong Kong'.

The jinrikisha provided additional employment for a section of the Chinese immigrants in the Colony. The owners of the jinrikisha came from South China primarily from Foochow and Canton. There were about 1000 owners in the 19th century and each 1 to 20 jinrikishas which had to be registered and licensed. These owners hired them out to pullers on two shifts: 6 a.m to 2.p.m. and 3 p.m. to midnight; sometimes the shift ran from 5p.m. to 3 a.m. the following morning.

The jinrikisha took the largest proportion of the traffic in the Colony; it was also the cheapest and the most convenient for commuters. The distance the jinrikisha carried its passengers extended from several hundred yards to about two miles. By the early 20th century the jinrikisha became the pride of the road and it was patronised by shoppers, hawkers, colonial officials tourists and even prostitutes. the jinrikisha and their pullers became part of the scene near hotels, markets and in business districts; they could be seen plying in South Bridge Road, New Bridge Road, Collyer Quay, Raffles Place and Tank Road. The pullers particularly competed for the right to operate the lucrative Raffles Hotel pitch. In 1923 about 400 of the pullers fought for this right. The Duxton area in Tanjong Pagar used to be the battleground where pullers from different clans fought one another often to protect their monopoly of the jinrikisha trade.

The jinrikisha pullers were hard-working and suffered to earn a meager livelihood. They were exploited by their prosperous owners who collected a very high percentage of their earnings. The owners made a fortune; the cost of a jinrikisha was $25 and its licence $12 per annum. The fare generally was 3 cents for half a mile or 20 cents for one hour; between 1904 and 1916 the rate was 50 to 60 cents per day for a first-class jinrikisha (a puller and a runner behind it for the safety of the passenger) and 15 to 32 cents for a second class one. The Europeans were selective; they looked for pullers who were strong, experienced and had muscular legs!

The pullers lived in lodging houses in different parts of the town; these were known as jinrikisha depots. They had inadequate ventilation, they were foul and thick with filth; they were breeding grounds for cholera. These depots had one or more large rooms; the average had two to three rooms and the largest six to nine rooms in the building. The pullers slept on wooden beds in tiers, on canvas or straw cots in the centre of the room and on the floor in the passageway.

In the early 20th century one of the major occupational groups rediding in Tanjong Pagar were the jinrikisha pullers and one of the depots was located at 135 Tanjong Pagar Road.

As the jinrikisha was a means of transport on public roads the Singapore Municipality established a Jinriksha Department in 1888 to register the vehicle. The necessary Ordinance was passed for its periodic inspection; it also provided for fines and even seizure of the vehicle in certain circumstances.

The pullers were bachelors in their early twenties. They were young men in search of a livelihood and experience. They generally returned to China with their hard-earned savings every 6 to 10 years. Though life was tough the pullers kept up their morale with a quasi-kinship that bound them to each other. Some of them married young women between the ages of 16 to 20; most did not marry because they did not see a future in Singapore and therefore did not raise a family here.

The jinrikisha traffic increased as the years went by and the population of Singapore grew.

The Jinrikisha Department coped with the ever increasing number of pullers by renting houses in Beach Road, South Bridge Road and Fort Canning for the inspection and registration of jinrikishas. It became necessary to build a new headquarters. A multi-storey department was built in 1899 at a cost of $34,000 at the junction of Middle Road and Prinsep Street. The quadrangle was used for inspecting vehicles and the ground floor for impounding them. The building had quarters for officers and the Registrar's Court.

The implementation of the Ordinance was not an easy task; there were grievances by both the owners and their pullers and these led to four major jinrikisha strikes in 1903, 1919, 1920 and 1938.

When Singaporeans pass by the stations in Middle Road and Neil Road they should remember the hard-working, thrifty and suffering jinrikisha pullers who provided early Singapore with the cheapest means of public transport. These pullers were an intrinsic part of the early social history of Singapore. Today the jinrikisha has been replaced by the trishaw. Some trishaw riders still wear blue shorts and shirts of the type worn by pre-war jinrikisha pullers. The trishaw riders today are generally seen near markets and at Waterloo Street. They carry numerous tourists for a tour of Chinatown and 'Little India' in Serangoon Road.

When Singaporeans dine in the air-conditioned seafood restaurant at the former Jinrikisha Station in Neil Road let us not forget the early immigrants, the pullers, who toiled day and night under harsh conditions to provide Singapore with the cheapest means of public transport now replaced by the Mass Rapid Transport System.