River ferries chug on despite bridges, subways

Updated 2017-12-19 11:00:18

During the 1980s, ferries were the only transport that linked the eastern and western banks of Shanghai across the Huangpu River.

In the heyday of the boats, more than a million people traveled every day on ferries, with a ferry station every 1.4 kilometers of riverbank. In the city center, one ferry line carried almost 370 million passengers a year, earning a reputation as the busiest ferry line in the world.

But that's all part of the past. Today, only three ferries are still in operation in Minhang District. They are the Ximin, Duwu and Chenche ferries.

The Ximin ferry

Ximin ferries originate in Fengxian District and transport passengers to the Pujiang ferry station. The line began operating in October 1932. It was the first government-owned ferry service in China.

At the time, it was the only way for Fengxian residents to access Minhang.

"There were so many people on the boat every morning that it seemed like it would sink," said an employee surnamed Chen, who has worked for the Ximin line since the age of 17. Over the years, he hasn't lost his enthusiasm for ferries.

"For the Fengxian residents coming to Minhang back then, the trip was a major outing, like Minhang residents going to the city center today," he said. "Passengers from Fengxian carried beans and seasonal vegetables on shoulder poles to sell in Minhang markets. Residents from the city center would take the ferry to temples and ancient streets to celebrate festivals."

Chen always began work before dawn to ensure that boarding lines were orderly to avoid stampedes of passengers.

"The ticket office was on the west bank of the Huangpu River, and only one-way tickets were sold there," he said. "Individuals and bikes were both charged 6 fen (about 1 cent). Students usually cadged free rides with truck drivers to save money."

There has been street speculation that the government may decide to shutter the Ximin line soon, but authorities confirmed that the ferry station would be relocated to make way for waterfront urban renewal. The new station will be 300 meters away from the old one located on Lanping Road near Pujiang Road. The new station will be able to accommodate 30,000 passengers a day. It is expected to be completed next year.

The Duwu ferry

The Duwu line dates back decades to the Republic of China (1912-1949). In 1964, the Shanghai Ferry Co took over operation of the service. It provided car transport before the Mingpu Bridge was built.

Along the riverbank is the Shanghai Greenway. One can walk to Lujiazui along the greenway. Just left of the ferry station is the newly open Pujiang Suburban Park.

The dock used to be an important place for travelers in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

A janitor surnamed Zhou explained why she takes the Duwu ferry to work every day.

"No mopeds or motorcycles are allowed on highways or on Metro lines," she said. "So commuting by ferry is our only option. It's cheap, too. I spend five minutes on the river and then ride for another 20 minutes to work."

Duwu ferries leave every 30 minutes, with the last boat departing at 7pm. The price for a motorcyclist is 1.5 yuan (23 US cents) on standard ferryboats and 3 yuan on air-conditioned ones.

The Chenche ferry

The ferry station is located upstream on the Huangpu River. It's close to a fruit market, so many people use the boat to buy fresh, inexpensive fruit there.

In 2012, the Expo air-conditioned ferry made its debut on the Chenche line. It charges 2.8 yuan for passengers with bikes for a one-way trip and 1.8 yuan for a roundtrip.

Passengers holding transportation cards are entitled to a discount on their second ferry ride on the same day.

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