As the number of people using taxis in
North Korea’s capital grows, the depreciating value of the Korean People’s Won
(KPW) has led taxi drivers to include a sizable add on fee to those paying for
rides in local currency.
Drivers prefer customers who pay in dollars
and yuan to cut out the hassle of exchanging domestic currency into a foreign,
more readily utilized, tender. A source from Pyongyang speaking to us from
South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on November 17th, “In Pyongyang, if you
pay the driver in foreign currency the cost of the ride is normal, but if you
pay in won you can expect to get slapped with a fee of 5000 KPW.”
She added, “As foreign currency is becoming
the standard medium of currency used in markets, drivers are charging extra for
the time it takes them to exchange KPW.”
Daily NK crosschecked this information with an
additional source in the capital.
As the general standard of living in
Pyongyang rises, the number of people using taxis rather than the subway is
also growing. This is particularly the case for destinations more than 10km
away. The average taxi fee for a distance of more than 10km is 5 USD; the base
fare of taxis is 2 USD for the first four kilometers, and an additional 0.50
USD per kilometer after that.
In fact, it is so common for people to pay
in foreign currency that the taxi fares are listed in dollars, and people who
pay in local currency are looked down upon with disdain. Many taxi drivers will
even go so far as to refuse payments of local currency, saying that the act “defies common sense.”
“Taxi drivers have to use dollars to fill
up their tanks with gas, so if they accept local currency as payment they have
to deal with the hassle of calculating the exchange rate, which changes
frequently, and the additional trouble of actually exchanging it for foreign
currency,” she noted.
Although there is no rule stating that taxi
fares must be paid in foreign currency, it is a natural consequence of the
depreciating won for taxi drivers to use dollars as the standard instead, and
to prefer foreign currency over the KPW. Because most citizens in Pyongyang are
also aware of the situation, making sure they have dollars ready to pay the
driver before getting into a taxi is second nature, according to the source.