Taxis Take Off in South Pyongan Province

Independently owned taxi services have emerged in South
Pyongan Province, Daily NK has learned. This is the only other confirmed
location of such a service in North Korea, outside of Pyongyang and Rasun.

A source in South Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on
September 11th, “Taxis have appeared in Pyungsung and Suncheon Cities and are
quickly gaining popularity,” adding that, “Privately owned taxis are emerging as a new way to make
money and the donju [new affluent classes] are quick to invest in the
opportunity.”

Taxis managed by the Daedong River Passenger Transport
Service Company in Pyongyang are widespread in the capital city as well as
Rasun, but the cabs operating in Pyungsung and Suncheon only require
registration with the Transport Service Company, after which they  and are free to operate
independently. 

Originally, Daedong River Passenger Transport Service
Company had plans to expand its operations to other regions, but budget
shortages stymied these efforts, and the source surmised this as cause for the organization
to begin issuing operating licenses, for a fee, to individually owned taxis
instead.

As these privately owned taxis become more prevalent in
Pyongnam, Pyongsung, and Suncheon, vehicle sales, automobile parts, and
recruitment and hiring of drivers continues to rise. The source estimated
approximately 18 privately owned taxis in Pyungsung currently, with at least
8-10 operating in Suncheon.

A report by the pro-North publication Choson Sinbo [run by
The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan] proclaimed last year that
there were 400 taxis operating in Pyongyang. A taxi dispatching service [known
as “call taxis” in South Korea] were among the other purported features offered
to customers by the Transport Company in the capital city.

“These independently-owned cabs are not part of a state-run
enterprise; they are personal businesses,” he explained. “After being granted
an operating license, the donju are keen to purchase vehicles to employ as
taxis. Cars imported for use as taxis through official trading licenses are
taxed at high rates, so most use smuggled cars instead.”

In Sinuiju City, the Kangsung Port sees high volumes of
exports serving to procure foreign currency that funnels back into the Chosun
Workers’ Party, in addition to highly active smuggling operations. Members of
the donju usually request a vehicle to utilize as a cab through the appropriate
trading company and receive it through the Kangsung Port.

New vehicles to service as taxis sold at Suncheon Market
cost approximately $12,000, while used cars are priced in the region of
$6,000-7,000 USD, with additional payments of $500 sellers who have the
connections to throw in an accompanying license plate.

Even those who receive the license plate in the market must
go through the proper channels to start offering their services. “Taxis
purchased by individuals must be registered with the Daedong River Passenger
Transport Company in Pyongyang,” he said, nothing it to be a fairly simple
procedure, “After being issued an operating license and license plate, they
pass through the “No. 10 Checkpoint and they are immediately able to begin
business operations.”

According to the source, the majority of individuals
purchasing taxis are female, while the drivers are procured from the Transport
Company or personal connections. The taxi owners generally conduct personal
interviews before hiring the drivers, who are mostly males in their 30s and
40s; it is fiercely competitive process–one must pass through a competition of
50:1 to secure the job.

Potential benefits of the position are enough to ensure no shortage of
applicants. With the exception of those areas off limits without a special
license, namely border regions and Pyongyang, it is within taxis’ rights to go
to most areas. These taxis fetch approximately $100 USD [80,000 KPW] per day,
excluding fuel expenses, and cab owners pay the driver roughly 50% of these
profits [including gas] as a monthly salary.

The exact amount that individual taxi workers owe the
transport company in Pyongyang cannot yet be verified, though the source
reported that a monthly offering in the region of $500 USD, for “the sake of
formality,” must be contributed to management officials there.

Taxi fees run about 15,000 KPW for a 4km ride; bus fees are
approximately 2000 KPW to go the same distance. A Pyungsung-Suncheon trip costs
the passenger in the region of 75,000 KPW–extremely expensive compared to the
10,000 KPW bus fee to make the same trip. However, for those doing a great deal
of business and working against time, taxis are the easiest option, explaining
the increase in those employing their services.

The source asserts that the North Korean authorities’
inability to expand taxi operations due to budget shortages will inevitably
lead to the spread of these individually owned cab services through the North.
The ease of and lack of restriction on running such an operation will also see
them continue to spread, “Everyone doing business will start to use them,” he
said. “There aren’t that many taxis at the moment, and the price is expensive,
but as the number of those owning the vehicles increases, the price will drop,
as will the cost of motorcycles and bicycles.”

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