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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
North Korean state airline Air Koryo has introduced a new domestic taxi service, designed to bring passengers to and from the airport and provide additional taxi capacity around the capital city.
Details of the new service were recently posted at an Air Koryo ticketing office in Beijing and confirmed by sources living and regularly visiting the city.
“Koryo airport taxi is for the convenience of customers using Pyongyang International Airport, providing cars, minivans, and SUVs when requested through an order, airport standby services or taxi services,” a poster at the Air Koryo ticketing office said.
It suggested the cars will serve a primary airport shuttle role, helping passengers “arriving from Beijing, Shenyang, Vladivostok and Kuwait” to get to “Pyongyang and other cities.”
David Thompson, owner of Juche Travel Services, said the service would also serve a secondary role in providing “additional taxi capacity for around Pyongyang city.”
His company works closely with Air Koryo, regularly providing specialized aviation tours to foreign visitors.
“I also heard that this particular taxi service has been given special dispensation to work later at night and also on Sundays,” he told NK News on Monday.
Quoted fares start from 49 won per kilometer, rising to 70 won per kilometer, dependent on the vehicle type being used.
However, differences between the black-market value of North Korean won and the rates quoted by the state mean that services like taxis are usually paid for in foreign currencies, such as the Euro or Chinese renminbi.
The introduction of the Air Koryo branded car service comes as the Pyongyang taxi fleet continues to surge, with the introduction of at least 1,000 Chinese-manufactured cars since 2013.
One observer said that Air Koryo’s decision to enter the taxi market reflects expanding provision of services in metropolitan Pyongyang.
“What I can imagine is that existing services downtown encouraged this decision,” said Christopher Green, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Leiden.
“But it is also common sense. As other cities have found out to their cost, a brand new airport with poor transit infrastructure invites international criticism.
“It also shows that Air Koryo is obliged to seek revenue streams, and that the investors and operators of the new airport have thought far enough ahead to see the benefit of a taxi service.”
Another regular visitor to the country said it was notable that the new service offered routes outside of Pyongyang, too.
“The real novelty in this kind of service is that it indicates a drastic evolution of the freedom to move across the country … since they claim to be able to travel to any destination within DPRK,” said Dieter Schmitt, director of East-West Business Consulting, who regularly visits the country.
“I wonder how those cabs can pass the myriad of check points across the country,” he continued, referring to internal borders that have traditionally complicated domestic transport for average North Korean citizens.
Another Pyongyang resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to NK News that the taxi service had been introduced this year, including a fleet of “nice cars with the logo and name on it.”
Pyongyang’s main taxi fleet is owned by the KKG group, a company which a Financial Times investigation recently suggested is a “product of a partnership between a group of Hong Kong-based investors and a secretive arm of the North Korean state that seeks to cut international business deals.”
Besides the taxi market, KKG are also involved in major infrastructure projects throughout the DPRK, including the possible construction of a major new department store in downtown Pyongyang.
Main picture: D. Schmitt