A fleet of 80 new Chinese-made taxi cabs has entered service in Pyongyang, dramatically increasing the size of the capital cities local taxi capacity.
The new taxis emerged on the streets of Pyongyang three months ago and are sometimes referred to as “Beijing taxis” – due to their yellow and body colors – Simon Cockerell, a regular visitor to North Korea told NK News.
The taxis charge a fixed starting fee of 400 won per ride, which includes the first 4km of travel, then an additional 100 won for each km of the journey.
But the taxi prices are quoted in “hard currency” rates, which mean that customers must actually pay at “official” exchange rates, currently set at 131 won to 1 EUR and 99 won to $1 USD.
At current rates a 10 km journey would cost approximately $10, or 0.3% of the CIA World Factbook-estimated North Korean per capita income of $1800 USD per year. In contrast, a ride on the Pyongyang metro costs just 5 won for local citizens, or 5 cents.
The introduction of the new taxis may have been linked to a need to please the emerging middle class population of Pyongyang, says Professor Antonio Fiori, Chair of the the Korea Foundation Endowment at the Università degli Studi di Bologna Antonio:
“This could eventually be the confirmation that Kim Jong Un is trying to do something, as he promised at the beginning of his “rule”, for the well-being of the population,” Fiori said.
Photo analysis of the new North Korean taxis suggests they are Chinese-produced F3 model compact cars, manufactured by the Shenzen-based BYD Autos.
The BYD F3 is used as a taxi in many parts of China and is one of the biggest selling cars there nationwide. It also shares a number of body parts that are interchangeable with the Japanese produced Toyota Corolla Altis and Honda City.
The BYD Auto F3 is powered by a Mitsubishi 1.6 litre engine, making it an economical choice for Pyongyang’s taxi service. In 2010 the car’s list price was $9,300.
“If these new taxis are produced in China, this would confirm that the China-North Korea relationship is still valid from an economic point of view, even if many scholars are saying that this relationship is in danger,” Fiori added.
Prior to the introduction of the F3, North Korea was mainly known for its vintage taxi fleet. Volvo and Mercedes Bendz models from the 1970s and 80s made up the core of this fleet, though modern Volkswagens have started appearing in recent years.
In 2007 it was estimated that there were some 250,000 vehicles in North Korea – roughly one vehicle per 100 citizens, or some 25-30 times lower than the then South Korean level.
Almost all of the North Korean vehicle fleet is state property and until recently, private cars have been a rare sight there.
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