The use of vehicle-based courier services in North Korea is increasing, report several sources in North Korea. The emerging industry is drawing parallels to the widespread use of express buses to deliver packages in South Korea.
“There are more and more North Koreans sending packages by courier, and there are cases where delivery vehicles carry a lot of freight and no passengers,” said a source based in South Pyongan Province on August 23. “Traders would have to pay for their own seat in the vehicles, so they only send the packages.”
A source in North Pyongan Province added, “It costs 80,000 North Korean won for one person to travel from Kujang County in North Pyongan Province to Sinuiju, and people have to pay extra for baggage. There are more people just sending the packages because it only costs around 5,000 to 10,000 North Korean won to transport a regular package the same distance.”
With rising marketization in the country, there has been an increase in business activity and subsequent growth in the regional shipping of freight. Recently, these delivery services have led to an uptick in the sale of cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables cultivated in greenhouses to places like Sinuiju, Pyongyang, and Wonsan.
Although the services are popular and relatively affordable, there are some downsides.
“A package sent from Tokchon in South Pyongan Province at 6 AM may arrive at Sinuiju by 10 PM,” a separate source in South Pyongan Province said.
This means it can take some 16 hours for a delivery vehicle to cover a distance of 160 kilometers, non-stop.
“There are also many cases where people taking ‘longgubang*’ [vans] from Kaechon at 7 AM may arrive at Sinuiju at 8 PM or later,” he added. “The buses stop occasionally because they’re not full and pick up packages and goods along the way.”
From the perspective of the delivery drivers, there is a need to cover their fuel and transportation costs, but passengers can find it irritating due to the frequent stops along the way.
The need to provide bribes for personal travel permits is one reason why the services have become so popular. The North Korean authorities heavily control the movement of people within the country and require them to obtain travel permits when traveling to another region.
“Travel permits have been priced at USD $100 dollars in recent months,” said an additional source in North Pyongan Province.
“It’s hard times right now, and the security officials still demand bribes. If they don’t receive the bribes, they don’t give out the permits.”
*Longgubang Bus: The North Korean word for “van.” The word originates from the name of a Nissan-branded van (caravan) that was the first vehicle of its type to be imported into North Korea. All similar looking vans are now called longgubang.