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PICS: Haiti's Transportation Two Years After the Earthquake

Thursday, January 12, 2012 - 11:26 AM

Festively decorated vans and buses called tap taps comprise Haiti's most common public transportation and brighten the drab and damaged streets of Port-au-Prince. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

Today is the second anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 200,000 people, left 1.5 million homeless and destroyed much of the poor nation's existing infrastructure. I visited Haiti last week to report on the recovery. Listen to that coverage at TN partner programs Marketplace and The Takeaway. Here is a visual tour of Port-au-Prince's transportation as I saw it.

A ride through Haiti's capital today is smoother than  in recent months. Rubble piles are mostly removed from roadways easing the chaotic flow of cars, trucks and bikes, though unpredictably vicious traffic jams remains the bane of any punctual visitor—a 20 minute ride can take two hours for no discernible reason. The photos and notes collected below of Port-au-Prince's vehicles and public spaces, are, for the most part, typical of what you'd see on a ride through town. The most vibrant vehicles in Haiti are by far the the tap taps--privately owned buses festooned with flags and coated from bumper to bumper with vivid designs, murals and bold slogans.

The roads are bumpy and inconsistent but repair work is happening in many parts of the city. And public space is coming back too. Almost every inch of plaza and parkland in Port-au-Prince was co-opted by displaced families in hundreds of makeshift tent cities. For almost two years, residents have lived without open gathering places. Some of those are just now starting to come back to life as most tent camp residents have found semi-permanent housing. See a sampling of public space, festive tap taps, chaotic traffic, and at the very bottom, my attempt to videotape a mototaxi ride through a dense traffic jam.

The Toussaint Louverture International Airport is rebuilt with a shiny new multi-level departures terminal with several food kiosks and shops. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

Arrivals and baggage claim at the Port-au-Prince airport are still rudimentary.  (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

A common view from the back seat of a car in Port-au-Prince. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

Some tap taps promote movie stars, or fictional characters, but religious imagery is most common. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

An influx of cheap Chinese motorcycles has allowed the moto-taxi business to boom. It is the fastest, though by no means the safest, way to navigate the capital's capricious traffic. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

Port-au-Prince has been essentially without public space for two years as displaced families moved into more than 1,000 informal tent camps wherever they could fit. With two-thirds of them now in more permanent housing, some of the larger plazas are returning to normal, complete with tropical Christmas decorations. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

No square inch should be left unused on the brightly colored tap taps, Haiti's public transportation for both people and goods. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

An ambulance makes a noble effort to beat a traffic jam by driving on the wrong side of the crowded road. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

Occasionally the religious slogans on bus marquees are in English even though few Haitians speak the language. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

Though walking is common for residents of Port-au-Prince, sidewalks aren't always clear. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

With a continued heavy U.N. peace keeping presence, some buses need to remind passengers to leave their rifles behind. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

Because many people choose to fill up their tanks a few cents at a time, entrepreneurs earn a living with makeshift gas stations. Those plastic containers on the homemade table are filled with gasoline, ready to be served to passing motorists for a slight markup over the official gas stations. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

Lanes? Who needs 'em? (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

Abandoned cars could keep an ambitious towing company quite busy in Haiti. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

Note the bike carried on the roof. Multi-modal tap tap transport! (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

How much can you pack on your roof? (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

Dump trucks serve as buses too. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

Look carefully and you can see a banquet's worth of chairs strapped to the back of the bus. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 

This is roughly how I was riding while shooting the video below. (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

 


If only there were a left turn signal.

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Comments [5]

AKatesa

Thank-you Walter for clarifying the distinction between tap tap and buses! You don't see buses everywhere like the tap-taps because they are for long distance travel and moving items long distance (furniture, luggage, etc.). The small pick-ups that are elaborately decorated are tap taps and are for local transportation only. Generally 5-6 people sit inside on either side of the pick-up bed (10-12 people are riding to get up the road). The video is great! And keep in mind, you don't see "road rage" like you would see in the US despite the fact that people move to cut in and on different sides of the road. Although precarious, and accidents happen, (though not as much as you would expect), people get to the places they need to be.

Jul. 21 2012 11:47 AM
WALTER

MANY OF THE PICTURES POSTED HERE ARE OF BUSES AND OPEN BACK TRUCKS, NOT NOT NOT TAPTAPS. A BRIGHTLY PAINTED VEHICLE IS NOT NECESSARILY A TAPTAP. A SCHOOL BUS IS NOT A TAPTAP. A BIG BUS TRAVELLING BETWEEN CITIES IS NOT A TAPTAP. IS IS A BUS. A BUS GENERALLY DOES NOT STOP ALONG THE WAY, BETWEEN DEPARTURE CITY AND DESTINATION CITY. A TAPTAP STOPS ANYWHERE A PASSENGER WANTS TO GET ON OR OFF.

Jul. 01 2012 10:25 PM
Myrl Trimble

The Tap Taps are called that since when you wish to disembark, you tap tap on the side or top or wherever. Neat!

Jan. 15 2012 03:04 PM
Laura MacNeil

Thank you, Alex! Great, informative piece.

Jan. 14 2012 12:52 PM
martha danziger

tap taps. how did those works of art end up with that name? thanks for vicarious ride thru port au prince. i get good sense of why you return when you can. the whole scene has a way of fascinating one. woman at citylore who kept BA books runs org in bklyn to preserve haitian music: www.makandal.org

Jan. 13 2012 11:14 PM

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