Cars-For-Hire Make 'Quick, Efficient' Deliveries in North Korea

2014-10-07
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South Korean businessmen greet a car carrying sacks of clothes made in North Korea's Kaesong joint industrial complex at a gate of the inter-Korean transit office in the South Korean border city of Paju, April 17, 2013.
South Korean businessmen greet a car carrying sacks of clothes made in North Korea's Kaesong joint industrial complex at a gate of the inter-Korean transit office in the South Korean border city of Paju, April 17, 2013.
AFP

Car owners in North Korea are doing a brisk business hiring out their privately owned vehicles to ship citizens’ parcels around the reclusive state in a bid to circumvent badly-run official distribution systems, according to sources inside the country.

Widely used in lieu of the unreliable North Korean railways system, the “servi,” or service, cars have become even more popular in recent days as North Koreans come more and more to rely on them for efficient delivery services, a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The numbers of people who use ‘servi cars’ to send parcels to other cities are increasing sharply, while fewer and fewer people are using government postal services to send their packages,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

State-run delivery services sometimes damage parcels or send them to the wrong address, and deliveries are often delayed, the source said.

Car owners can thus create a profitable business for themselves by delivering packages, and sometimes driving passengers, from place to place, he said.

Connections by phone

And though expensive transport fees are often charged, the drivers—usually the owners themselves—can also guarantee prompt and efficient delivery by using mobile phones to connect all parties involved in the transactions, he said.

“The parcel’s sender will provide the driver’s phone number to the intended recipient, and will also give the recipient’s name and phone number to the driver,” he said, adding, “Then, once the ‘servi car’ gets to where it’s going, the driver will call that person to come collect the package.”

Though this method of delivery is not as good as the systems used in many other countries, it has now become established as a “quick and efficient” method for North Korea, given the poor performance of the state-run system, the source said.

Still unregulated by the authorities, the hiring out of private cars for profit has now spread across the country, agreed a Chinese trader doing business in North Korea, speaking to RFA.

“Deliveries by ‘servi car’ are now available in big cities like Chongjin, Hamhung, Wonsan, Sinuiji, Haeju, and Nampo,” he said.

“The most active system now is the one that makes deliveries to Pyongyang,” he added.

Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Hanna Lee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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