A new type of business is emerging in cities across North Korea to complement the growing number of taxi services. As competition grows between taxi drivers, so-called “shepherds” are offering their services to drivers to help attract customers.
A source in South Pyongan Province who spoke with Daily NK on November 1 noted how “private taxi owners are hiring ‘shepherds’ part-time to go out and secure the customers.”
“Men and women alike are appearing in this new service role, where the only thing that matters is charisma and the ability to recruit customers,” he continued.
According to the source, there is fierce competition to be hired as a “shepherd.” The practice is especially common for long-distance minibus taxis that make more profit if they can fill their vans to capacity.
Taxi owners have thus adopted an incentive system to motivate the “shepherds” to find the most number of customers. A standard payment is reported to be around $1 USD for each customer they secure. “Shepherds typically earn about $30 per day, but can earn as much as $50 on a really good day,” the source said.
Considering that $50 USD can buy almost 70 kg of rice in the markets (where $1 USD equals 8000 KPW and 1 kg of rice costs 5800 KPW), it is easy to see how competitive recruitment for these roles has become.
“A lot of people want to do this job, but there are only so many opportunities, especially because benchmark earnings are relatively high,” the source added.
The growth of the taxi industry and subsequently these new “shepherd” services is a knock-on effect of greater competition between merchants to acquire their products and get them to market faster than the competition.
The North Korean authorities have been trying to get into the business as well, purchasing taxis through various state-owned companies to compete with the private taxis. These operations have also had no choice but to follow the trend and hire “shepherds” to secure their customers.
But a separate source in South Pyongan Province said it makes no difference to the “shepherds” whether the taxis are owned by the government or not. “As long as the number of taxis continues to increase, so will the number of people trying to fill this new service role,” she said.