Noise complaints bring on motorcycle ban

In a bid to reduce noise pollution and accidents amid the growing use of motorcycles, the North Korean authorities have issued a fresh ban on the vehicles, Daily NK has learned. 

In a telephone conversation with the Daily NK on November 20th, an inside source from South Pyongan Province said, “Up to just a little bit ago, the popularity of scooters was increasing. But since the authorities banned them, they have more or less disappeared from public view. All registered scooters in big cities like Pyongyang have been investigated. For those who violate the ban, the General [Kim Jong Un] issued an order to confiscate their vehicle.” 

An additional source in North Hamgyong Province reported the same news, noting that the ban came from Pyongyang and has been applied nationwide. 

Following the ban, some motorcycles have been confiscated and sent to collective farms and other complexes in the countryside. “As a result of this order, sales of the Japanese-produced motorcycles have dropped drastically,” he asserted. 

There are, however, known exceptions. In cities such as Pyongyang, injured soldiers as well as State Security Department and Ministry of People’s Security personnel are still permitted to use three-wheeled motorbikes and others variants for work purposes. Outside of those special cases, at least for the time being,  all others are banned from using the vehicles. 

According to the source, reappropriating the motorcycles for farming has already proven misguided. “In truth, since the announcement of the crackdown, not that many motorbikes have actually been sent out to the countryside after being confiscated,” he explained. 

“There are a few instances of older motorcycles being remodeled and being used to drive between the rice paddies. There are also some cadres in the countryside that ride them, but since the cost of diesel fuel is pretty high, it’s difficult to use them regularly outside of the big cities.” 

Notably, the ban itself can be traced back to disgruntled residents vocalizing their complaints. “In the beginning, the residents were mostly using the motorcycles like bicycles, as a simple transportation method. But then they started using them to move goods or passengers around for business purposes. Then the children of the donju began riding them around at night to show off. The residents complained about the noise and then this order came down.” 

Opinions on the ground regarding the measure have been markedly less mixed than usual, with many noting, “For once, they’ve enacted a good law.” 

The source attributed much of this to the fact that “the majority of people can’t afford motorcycles” and that “people have  tired of rich youngsters speeding about and making a racket.” Moreover, as the number of scooters on the road has increased, “so have the number of accidents,” he pointed out, expressing hope that the ban would see such incidents drop. 

The only negative reactions he reported were that “some bachelorettes lamenting the fact that they’ll no longer get to see highly eligible bachelors buzz all over town in the expensive vehicles.” Still, much remains to be seen on the long term effects of the ban on public opinion if it stays in place., though most predict it will fizzle out much like similar attempts in the past to hamper bicycle usage.

According to the source, private ownership of motorbikes was made legal in 2012. North Korean residents generally prefer Japanese models over their Chinese counterparts. Even though the Chinese produced models get better gas mileage, residents generally prefer product lines from the more stylish companies such as Mitsubishi, Suzuki, and Yamaha.

The motorcycles are brought in by Chinese companies through Rason Harbor. However, this new law directs the customs tax administrator at Rason Harbor to maintain tighter control, so it has been harder to get the motorbikes through the harbor recently.

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