Until very recently, about a month after my visit in April 2014, tourists did not get to ride on a trolley-bus. Looking at my pictures attached you might think that is no big deal or, in fact, a good thing.
A short trip on a trolley-bus is now featuring on some tours. It is another one of these things, like a walk in the street, that are a must do only because you are in North Korea.
The trolley-buses, given the severe shortage of private vehicles and the exorbitant cost of, only recently introduced, taxis, are the number one form of transport for locals, if you exclude walking. They are very cheap and generally very crowded even though, in more recent times four tram lines were introduced using old east European trams plus some flashier Swiss ones (one of which I sighted dropping of dignitaries at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun (The Kim’s Mausoleum). A former, early 1900s, tram system ceased operations during the Korean War. I do wonder why there are not more cycles in this very flat city. Interestingly, it is only very recently since ladies have been permitted to engage in the very unladylike activity of cycling in the city.
While there are a few east European trolley-buses in operation most of them were actually hand produced in the Pyongyang trolley-bus factory which apparently does not have suitable hydraulic presses. This accounts for all (ok, maybe not all) of the dents in the panels, attributable to the hand hammering of the sheet metal. The trolleybus network is supported by regular buses – perhaps in the hope that if they have no fuel for the diesel buses they will have electricity for the trolley-buses and vice-versa.
What makes the trolley-buses of particular interest to me is, sadly, their rather decrepit appearance and their constant breaking down. When we visited the Foreign Language Bookshop one broke down on the intersection while we were waiting to move on.
While the Pyongyang Traffic Police lady on duty had it moved on in very quick time we had the opportunity to get a few photos though photography was also banned with a couple of minutes on the arrival of a soldier. If you have read some of my other tips you will be aware that taking the photo of anything likely to be construed as painting North Korea in a bad light it illegal.
Do note the coloured tin foil used in place of brake lights, indicators etc on the back of the trolley-bus my picture below. This was actually a regular sight, though not really a problem given the lack of traffic in the city.
The trolley buses, ramshackle though they are, represent an era in Pyongyang and long may they rumble though its streets.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on my trip to Pyongyang. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Pyongyang Traffic Ladies – or to start the loop at the beginning go to – Pyongyang – A Capital City Unlike any Other