Servi-Cha Professionalizing for Kim Jong Eun Era

Not only are North Korean people able to buy and sell goods
in markets using hard currency these days; US Dollars or Chinese Renminbi are also in use for the ubiquitous “servi-cha,” one
of North Korea’s few reliable means of mass transit.

A source from North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK on the
11th, “Trains only run about once a week, and you’d be a fool if you
believed that they would run on time. Demand has
risen thanks to this state of affairs, so people are making good money from running servi-cha.”

“If you want to ride a servi-cha you can’t use Chosun
currency, you have to use Chinese or American money,” the source went on to claim. “You
can get anywhere in the country that you want for 200 Yuan.”

The source said that people in Hyesan opt to travel by servi-cha in part because the journey can
take up to a week by train but only takes a day by servi-cha. The route from Pyongsung to Chongjin costs 100 Yuan, and
a similar amount is required for the trip from the North Hamkyung Province county of Kilju to the border
near Hyesan.

According to the source, the price of North Korean gasoline
is currently 11 Yuan per kg, approximately two to three Yuan cheaper than the
Chinese equivalent. Diesel trades at 6 Yuan. The source said, “There is no
problem running a vehicle these days because there are fuel traders selling cheap North
Korean gas alongside every road in the country that buses use.”

Many owners of servi-cha
have purchased buses rather than utilizing trucks, as they used to do. Owners offer a portion of their income
to local government agencies and enterprises, in effect forming the North
Korean equivalent of a Chinese “red hat enterprise.”

These privately run buses are clean and popular, and the
business itself is seen by operators as an easy way to earn good money. The
servi-cha are mainly new vehicles
from China or second-hand ones from Japan, and the average cost is in the vicinity of
12,000 USD (though size and type of vehicle both vary). A well run business can earn 3000 USD per month.

In theory, if a traveller wishes to visit a different region,
prior to travel he or she must obtain a certificate authorizing the visit. The
2nd Department of his or her Provincial People’s Committee ordinarily issues
these permits; however, corruption among Party officials means that these can also be
bought illicitly.

According to the source, servi-cha owners deliver regular bribes
to senior security service officials running No. 10 Checkpoints, which are in place on every
major thoroughfare connecting regions for the purpose of checking transit papers. These payments ensure rapid transit for

Questions or comments about this article? Contact us at