Trishaw Uncle

Updated and curated tours have the potential to revive the endangered trishaw business. Still, more may be needed to keep visitors hooked

WHAT Trishaws in Singapore were, until recently, run by independent operators and served as short-distance taxi rides within key districts.

Last year, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) appointed Trishaw Uncle as the country’s only licensed trishaw tour operator, which now manages the bulk of trishaw rides here and plies curated heritage routes.

Trishaw Uncle is managed by the same company that runs Singapore River Cruise on Clarke Quay and Marina Bay.

WHY To pull in passengers, Trishaw Uncle has introduced its own tours featuring newly installed GPS guides, location-triggered commentary and culinary stops – including afternoon tea at celebrity chef Violet Oon’s National Kitchen in National Gallery Singapore.

I took a spin with trishaw driver Yong through the colourful Little India district, admiring the Deepavali decorations overhead and trawling through alleys leading past Hindu temples.

From speakers built into the vehicle, tales of old trades and architecture were told as we passed them. Regrettably, some segments were drowned out by surrounding traffic, but Yong was amicable and filled in the blanks with his own stories.

Trishaw Uncle’s Chinatown tour also includes a tour of the revamped Chinatown Heritage Centre (CHC).

For visitors curious about the history behind Singapore’ shophouses, this is an immersive experience made more enjoyable by CHC’s docents, who are as entertaining as they are passionate.

Passengers can choose to be picked up by trishaw from CHC, or dropped off here for a tour after their trishaw ride.

HOW Introducing modern elements such as location-triggered commentary and gastronomical stops is a creative step forward for trishaw tours, especially as it complements STB’s latest marketing emphasis on Singapore stories and successes.

When asked if the GPS technology has helped business, Yong shared that travellers are now more willing to fork out the fare, valuing the enhanced service on top of the drivers’ hospitality.

The commentary is available in English, Japanese and Korean, with other languages in the pipeline, and is being implemented in phases starting with the Little India tour.

As we rode down Singapore’s busy roads, I asked Yong if he felt unsafe – although other drivers patiently give way, larger cargo vehicles can sometimes drive aggressively close. Perhaps if these tours snaked through smaller alleys instead of main roads, the rides could be more leisurely  commentaries uninterrupted.

Additionally, guests who want to start or end their Chinatown tour with a visit to CHC must book and pay for CHC entry separately. It may be more appealing and intuitive to travellers if both could be purchased as a package – similar to the combination with the National Gallery Singapore and Singapore River Cruise.

VERDICT An earnest effort to refresh old rickshaw rides, Trishaw Uncle’s latest update could spur the development of even more exciting tours to draw in more modern and millennial travellers.

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