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Public Transportation in Haiti—a short-term visitor's perspective

By Dr. Robert L. Gordon | 03/31/2016 | 4:40 PM

Magic Bus

Guest Posting by Stacey Little, Program Director, Transportation & Logistics, American Public University System

Because of my teaching and experience in transportation, any time I travel I pay particular attention to transportation modes. I have visited Haiti three times in the past few years. Although the island has some beautiful sights, I am amazed at the poor condition of the roads, traffic congestion/jams, and the overall unorthodox approach to driving in general. It takes much longer to travel the roads and get to your destination because of these conditions. Haiti's transportation infrastructure is lacking many of the familiar public transportation options that most Americans expect and enjoy. For instance, I did not see the following while traveling in most parts of Haiti: subways, trains, U.S. style taxis, clearly marked roads, properly working intersection signals, road information signs, nicely paved roads, police officers to enforce driving rules, and of course, basic traffic courtesy.

I often wonder how much longer it takes for the delivery of products under such conditions compared to the United States. I know that a friend picked us up at the airport in Port Au Prince the first time I traveled to Haiti. I asked how far the ride was to our destination and he told us it was about 30 miles. It took us almost 2 hours to travel 30 miles because of the congestion and poor road conditions. Added to the poor road conditions are piles of trash, enormous potholes, vendors selling anything and everything you could imagine along side of the road, and people walking everywhere.

The streets in Haiti are not only congested, they are noisy. There is a lot of honking, and there are not the road rules we abide by in the U.S. I did not notice any lanes or lane lines. It was not uncommon to see people driving on the opposite side of the road if it was open and the road was in better condition. At one time, three cars were coming at us side by side on a two-lane road. Eventually, an opening emerged and we passed through unharmed, but at the time, it seemed a little scary and the outcome unpredictable. Drivers will pass on the left, on the right, or even in the middle. I also did not see any speed-limit signs posted. Drivers were aggressive and did not give right of way, which made the roads seem like a very dangerous place, especially for those who were walking.

Among all of the traffic congestion is a popular form of public transportation called a "tap tap." These are colorful open-air pickup trucks filled with people. May times these vehicles are covered with religious pictures and sayings. There are people in all of the seats and people hanging off the sides and off of the back. And just when you think there is no way possible there is room for more, another person will jump on. Oh, and did I mention that there could be livestock on the “tap tap” as well?  Soon the “tap tap” will make another stop and two or three people will jump on and off.

Another form of public transportation I noticed was the use of an old American school bus. There were a couple of aged American school buses on the road filled with people. I assume this is similar to the “tap tap” and is used to transport people short distances.

Also, the motorcycle is often used as public transportation. I was amazed at the number of people that can fit on a two-person motorcycle. I rarely saw a motorcycle with just one or two people on it. There were usually at least three people on board. While attending church on Sunday morning, I witnessed an entire family, six people, riding in on a two-person motorcycle. It was actually pretty amazing.

Walking is one of the most common forms of transportation in Haiti. I was amazed at the number of people who filled the streets walking from place to place. It was not unlikely to see goods delivered to the market in baskets on top of the heads of Haitian women. I also noticed other items being transported by broken down wheel barrows. Sometimes it would take more than one person to push the wheel barrow because it was missing a wheel. In many places, there are no sidewalks requiring the people to walk down dangerous roads.

Other forms of public transportation that I noticed were the traditional car or truck and the bicycle. My visits to Haiti were short. I was only able to see Port Au Prince and the surrounding rural areas, so my perspective is limited, but I can’t wait to return to expand my perspective. I appreciated the learning experience regarding public transportation in Haiti and it made me thankful for the convenience and efficiency that I can enjoy when I am back home in the United States.



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About Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is program director of the Reverse Logistics department at American Public University. Dr. Gordon has over twenty-five years of professional experience in supply chain management and human resources. He holds a Doctorate of Management and Organizational Leadership and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, as well earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from UCLA. Dr. Gordon has spent more than 14 years teaching reverse logistics, transportation, project management, and human resources. He has published articles on reverse logistics; supply chain management; project management; human resources; education, and complexity. He has also published four books on Reverse Logistics Management; Complexity and Project Management; Virtual Project Management Organizations, and Successful Program Management..

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