Wanted: decent taxis, buses & boats to the rescue!

  • The going is so rough and expensive to get around Haiti that it´s a serious block for visitors of all kinds wishing to visit both the gateway city of Port-au-Prince, as well as any other cities and towns or rural areas. I´ve been gouged $40 for a short taxi hop within Petion-Ville alone, worth $10-15. Or try to get from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel where your choice is $200 by taxi, or $2 by crowded tap-tap, with no other choice available. It is outrageous that the vast bulk of demand in the middle is ignored. Here are four transport services that some visionary investors could launch relatively quickly for immediate benefit to the broad traveling public, both Haitian and foreign, at all income levels. And in particular for any visiting investors, with decent transportation they could easily inspect various sites, conduct their local research, and do their deals with fewer bruises and headaches, not to mention all Haitians as well. It is hoped that the relevant ministries, business chambers, and also the President’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, as well as the region’s development donors, will take serious interest in promoting these types of sorely needed services.


    Taxicabs: Trustworthy taxis desperately needed


    In towns big and small, this is a massive unmet need. A decent taxi system will remove the mystery for example for those hapless passengers landing at Port-au-Prince‘s Toussaint Louverture Airport without advance pickup arrangements; they are at the mercy of whatever driver grabs their attention. Far greater still is the everyday need for affordable, reliable cabs anywhere in the city for Haitians and visitors alike for all sorts of purposes. A simple regulated system adapted to the Haitian context needs to be progressively introduced at a very minimum for vehicle safety, adequate service standards [like driver training, security and foreign language skills], and fair pricing. Until that time, there is an investment opportunity immediately available in Haiti’s cities to launch full service taxi enterprises serving all income classes. This also applies to inter-city collective and share-cab services between Haiti’s cities, which are also woefully lacking.

    This is an industry where some Diaspora Haitians with years of taxi experience in the US and Canada may be particularly effective as investors. They may have first-hand knowledge as to how collectives, cooperatives, and corporations might be set up successfully in Haiti’s business environment. Moreover, they may be skillful in importing very suitable used vehicles, thereby cutting the initial capital needed for startup. The government or business chamber can act pro-actively to tap one of its development partners for insights as to comparative regulatory models that Haiti can readily adopt. Taxi industries exist worldwide so there is no need for Haiti’s industry to remain so rudimentary and inadequate any longer.


    Buses: Comfortable shuttles & buses to open up the provinces


    Much the same can be said for inter-city services where between the tap-tap and hired taxi, there isn’t much of a choice. Again, shuttles and busses need to be introduced at different price and comfort levels on runs across the Port-au-Prince metro area, as well as on inter-city runs. It is probably safe to say that in a number of nations in the Americas, different inter-city services can thrive, including high-frequency bus services at cheap no-frills prices, along with higher priced deluxe motor coaches with reclinable seats, air conditioning, videos, restrooms, kitchenettes, and service attendants. The motor coaches operating between Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo on scheduled runs give an indication of the quality of services that might be viable within Haiti, say for a 6 to 7 hour PAP to Cap-Haitien run. Upon startup of such a company, no terminal is even needed, and fleets of used vehicles of different sizes can operate on routes of differing traffic demand and price sensitivity. Again, Diaspora investors with relevant foreign experience may hold the needed managerial skills. This is an area of transportation which is well known from the regulatory perspective, and it should not be difficult to arrange the advisory skills for the Haitian regulatory and business framework. What is more, this article does not seek to examine public safety issues, but it must be said, that the traveling public in Haiti [of whatever nationality] also needs safer transportation services at all price levels.


    Seaplanes: Linking Haiti´s coves and Island gems to international markets


    Much of the potential Haiti holds for resort tourism and the dive market is found along its coastlines and on its islands, Ile a Vache, Ile de la Tortue and Ile de la Gonavebeing the main ones. In addition, there are smaller islands like les Cayemites, and also scenic coastal areas and coves both in the north and in the south coast having no good road access, that remain largely or totally bypassed by any development. With decent transportation, some of these places can emerge as great resort and marina locations. In Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Grenadines, amphibian aircraft are carrying the high income visitors between such remote areas and the international airports nearby [such as San Juan International, Saint Thomas, etc.] Similarly, remote gems in Haiti could also be linked by seaplanes to the airports of Port au Prince, Cap-Haitien, Santo Domingo, Santiago, and even Punta Cana and Turks & Caicos, where numerous international flights carry the visitors. There is a high income category of visitor, whether on vacation or on business, that will readily pay the $100-150 or more fare for such hops each way, as the hotel owners well know. For many tourists, the water landing and takeoff is part of the rare, exotic experience offered by the resort, and Haitian investors need to be aware of this.

    Operators can also offer flight-seeing excursions and air safaris to boost profitability, as well as offer non-travel uses such as emergency evacuations, air photography, or security operations. Air excursions to Cuban points may also be a profitable opportunity for one or more Haitian operators, since Cuba years ago became a thriving destination popular with Canadians and EU citizens. A used aircraft with 5-10 passenger capacity may be available in the $1 to 2 million range, possibly in the US or Caribbean region, for economical operation. Once the international airport at Cap-Haitien is finally expanded for international flights, amphibian flights may become viable to open up points in Haiti’s scenic north and northwest coastlines. As has happened in other instances, a Dominican operator of such aircraft might be recruited to operate such services on a test basis to determine their feasibility.


    Speedboats: Fast boat services to open up island points


    Haiti is blessed with its 3 main islands, plus any number of scenic coastal areas in all parts of the country, including the north and northwest coasts, the shores of the Gulf of Gonave, and the south coast. It is safe to say that many, if not most, of the promising locations for tourism development, are totally undeveloped or only sparsely so, because they are too hard or impossible to reach. Haiti’s three big islands of Ile a Vache, Ile de la Gonave and Ile de la Tortue, have some boat services to villages and hamlets, which are generally slow and not so comfortable. Fast boat services could put Ile de la Gonavewithin 30 minutes of Port-au-Prince, and a few of the points on Ile de la Tortuewithin a half hour from Port-de-Paix or St Louis du Nord. Ile a Vachecurrently requires a 20-minute crossing, longer when the sea is rough.

    Fast boats could handle traffic of tourists, business visitors, small farmers and shippers, and government workers, plus other user groups. Most importantly, high-speed light vessels can include catamaran, hovercraft or hydrofoil craft that can provide either scheduled, charter, or on-demand services for various additional uses [recreational, tourist, official, research etc.], improving overall profitability. Water excursions to Dominican and even Cuban points may also be a profitable opportunity for one or more Haitian operators, since they are both thriving international destinations. A number of Caribbean nations subsidize some of the scheduled services for local populations. Reliable fast boat services to attractive coastal points could spur interest in investment in resorts, restaurants, guesthouses, campgrounds, marinas, and possibly other types of small-scale tourism related businesses.


    To support Haiti’s broader push for development nationwide, it is time for commercial services set up on business foundations to fill all of these needs, as they do in so many other countries of the Caribbean and elsewhere. Those companies with foreign partners may be able to gather capital and processes all the more quickly by adapting to the Haitian context, business models that are successful abroad.

    There will certainly be a role for regulation in transport services, the taxi example immediately coming to mind. So it is not too early for the government to get technical guidance on proven approaches that are ensuring safe, comfortable and reasonably priced transport in other countries of the region. The broad Haitian population, as well as the tourists, would stand to gain immediately.

    Manuel L. Knight is an American tourism sector planner based in Washington DC consulting for development agencies and hotel and resort developers and their lenders. He has broad international experience including hotel related assignments in Haiti since the 1970s. mk@KnightConsultLLC.com ©