Affluent North Koreans are using Uber-like taxis on demand

A taxi waits for customers as pedestrians make their way past the central railway station in Pyongyang on July 10, 2016. Photo: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
  • On-demand taxis are gaining traction in North Korea.
  • This popularity is driven by the country’s growing consumer class.
  • In turn, taxis have become highly lucrative and being a driver is one of the country’s most sought after jobs.

On-demand taxis are gaining popularity among wealthier customers across North Korea.

According to Daily NK, a Seoul-based news site staffed by North Korean defector journalists, customers can summon North Korean taxis with a phone call, and one should arrive within 10 minutes no matter the time, day or night.

“Wealthier individuals in the city like to summon a taxi right to their doorstep on special occasions like holidays and birthdays, which then take them to their favourite restaurant, for example,” a source in Pyongsong told Daily NK.

Customers pay a base price of $US1 to $US2. The rate is three times more than a standard cab and far more than what the average North Korean worker earning $US4 a day can afford.

Plus, some “call taxi” drivers only accept US dollars and Chinese yuan.

Given their high cost and need for foreign currency, the best explanation for the popularity of “call taxis” amongst locals is for North Korea’s “consumer class” to be growing.

North Korea’s taxi market is highly lucrative

The potential income from taxis is significant in North Korea, and the competition between companies is fierce.

In previous years, both private and government drivers hired part-time ‘shepherds’ who would go out and find customers for them.

These shepherds could earn up to $US50 a day by working for a driver, indicating drivers are earning many times that amount. Even drivers for state-run taxi companies get to keep all their earning beyond a daily fee.

Given the ability to earn foreign currency while doing a relatively comfortable job, being a taxi driver has quickly become one of North Korea’s most popular jobs.

Potential workers are even paying bribes to secure a driver job, according to Radio Free Asia.

A number of North Korean businesses have launched taxi services

The market for taxis has grown so large in North Korea that several businesses aimed at middle class and wealthy North Koreans have diversified into the market.

In 2014, The Daedong River Passenger Transport Company launched its own service asking residents to call ‘186’ for a taxi.

In 2015, state airline Air Koryo launched a taxi service with cars, minivans, and SUVs.

And the following year the Mirim Horse Riding Club, which offers gambling and charges locals a hefty $US10 to use its luxury facilities, launched its own taxi service.

“It seems like everyone’s doing it,” Rowan Beard, a tour guide from the Young Pioneer Tours company, told NK News at the time. “Mirim have a good brand name and represent a finer class of Koreans.”

The $US35 million Masikryong Ski Resort also has its own taxi company.

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