In March and April, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in China, Cheng Luo took ferries to work.
Cheng, a Shanghai native in her 30s, lives in Puxi, an area on the west bank of the Huangpu River, and works in public relations in Pudong district on the east bank.
In the 1990s, when just a few bridges and tunnels linked both sides of the river, she also occasionally took ferries with her parents to visit relatives in Pudong.
However, since then, ferries have become a distant memory for Cheng and many locals, with transportation services in Pudong improving dramatically during three decades of the district”s opening-up.
Cheng decided to take ferries rather than the metro at the height of the pandemic to avoid contracting the virus in a crowded space.
Before boarding the ferries, which she described as “a nostalgic journey”, she said she was amazed by the breathtaking views on both sides of the river.
“With the modern Lujiazui financial zone on one side and the historic Bund on the other, the view at night during the 10-minute ferry journey was a total indulgence, even for someone like myself who was born and raised in the city,” she said.
Cheng added that there were often only about 30 people on the ferry and passengers could easily maintain social distancing.
The rapidly expanding subway network, new bridges and tunnels have gradually replaced ferries, which in the 1980s were estimated to carry 1 million passengers across the river every day. The number has since fallen to about 100,000 a day.
Now, a modern, diverse and comprehensive transportation infrastructure is in place, linking both sides of the waterway.
A total of 12 bridges and 16 tunnels provide easy access for vehicles.
The river is now also spanned by eight subway lines, up from just one in 2000.
Yang Lifeng, a researcher from the Shanghai Institute of Urban Comprehensive Transportation Planning, said: “You get no sense of the river when riding the subway. This has prompted more people to move to Pudong to live or work.
“In the 1980s, there were amazing scenes, with many people lining up to board ferries every morning,” he said. “Back then, there was a saying: ‘It’s better to own a bed in Puxi than a room in Pudong.'”
Of the 415 stations on the 705-kilometer-long Shanghai metro network, 119 are in Pudong. Last year, an average of 2.8 million trips were made by passengers entering and leaving the district’s subway stations every day, according to the Shanghai Metro Authority.
Li Jianhua, a director and captain with the Shanghai Ferry Company, who has worked on the cross-Huangpu route for four decades, has witnessed Pudong’s development.
He said that years ago, ferry services were suspended in foggy weather, making it harder for people to commute between Puxi and Pudong.
Moreover, the lack of quality educational establishments, medical facilities and shopping malls made many people reluctant to relocate to Pudong, he said.
Far-reaching changes have since taken place in Pudong, where in recent years hospitals, leading schools and universities, commercial centers, theaters and art galleries have been established.
“Today, people can hardly tell the difference between Puxi and Pudong, and even house prices in both districts are at the same level,” Li said.
Three more metro lines servicing Pudong are being built, according to the Shanghai government.