All aboard for a pedicab hutong tour

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Tourists hoping to take a trip around Beijing's famous hutong can look forward to a more professional service from now on, the local tourism bureau said yesterday.

One of Beijing's new team of official pedicab drivers waves to a colleague, as he takes his passengers on a hutong tour near Shichahai Lake on Monday. 

With effect from Monday, all tours of the city's Shichahai Lake area are now operated by officially franchised operators, it said.

About 300 new pedicabs - sporting dark red roofs and copper inlays - hit the streets of Beijing this week under the control of a team of licensed drivers, uniformly dressed in traditional Chinese shirts.

The cabs are operated by five local travel firms, which won the franchise rights following a bidding contest held earlier in the year.

Only licensed drivers are permitted to conduct such tours.

Liu Jun, an official with the Xicheng district tourism bureau, said the new system is designed to provide a better service for tourists as well as more protection for the local environment.

In the past, hutong tours were often criticized for their poor quality, Liu said.

Drivers would ask passengers for tips, provide only scant information about interesting sites and even change the routes, he said.

To monitor the new service, a complaints hotline will be set up soon, he said.

Sydney Shapiro, 93, who lives in a hutong near Shichahai Lake, said he welcomes the move.

"In the past, the pedicabs went too fast; they were dangerous. Also, they often parked in the entrances to people's homes or in the narrow lanes, which was a nuisance for residents," Shapiro, an American writer and naturalized Chinese, told China Daily.

"I hope the move will help Shichahai maintain its peace and charm," Shapiro, who has campaigned for many years for more supervision of the pedicabs, said.

The new hutong tours cost 35 yuan (US$5) per hour, slightly more than the unsupervised ones, Liu said.

Tourists have a choice of five routes around Shichahai, which comprises three manmade lakes - Qianhai, Houhai and Xihai - he said.

In the future, pedicab drivers will also be expected to learn English and will be given lessons in etiquette, he said.

(China Daily May 14, 2008)

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