A Volunteer's Account of Public Transit through Léogâne

Karl Johnson's picture
Posted by Karl Johnson on
Mon, 07/19/2010
A group of Architecture for Humanity folks shuttled over to Léogâne last week to look into T-shelter construction conducted by Hands On Disaster Relief. One of our volunteers, Adam Saltzman, reports back on their adventures with Haiti's public transit.....

Public transporation in Haiti means either a tap-tap or a moto-taxi. 

Last week a group of three of us were in Leogane, a city about 20 miles west of Port-au-Price, and stayed at the HODR [Hands On Disaster Relief, a volunteer-based effort Adam previously helped with] base camp. We set out to do a site visit in a small town called Papette where CordAid [Dutch nonprofit] has been building their prototype transitional shelters. Papette is about another 20 miles west of Leogane and we had no driver...so the adventure begins.

We grab a "moto-taxi" at the front gate of HODR, and the three of us jump on the back of a 125cc motorcycle, which is only intended to carry 2 people. But the driver scoots forward and sits on the gas tank and the luggage rack that sticks out the back of the seat allows the fourth person to squeeze on. 

The streets in Leogane are mostly dirt roads filled with rubble piles and the rain from the night before has made the roads pretty slippery. As we pull away the driver almost loses control but somehow manages to get going.

Once we get going we realize the moto doesn't have a horn which is one of the most crucial parts of a vehicle in Haiti since there are no traffic signs and most of the streets are too narrow for two cars to pass without pulling over. This driver also seems to be incapable of avoiding puddles so as we weave through town we are getting splashed with the nasty street water narrowly avoiding several collisions.

Needless to say we don't take the moto far before we decide we would be better trying our luck with a tap-tap.

For those of you who dont know, a tap-tap is basically an old pickup truck that has seats welded into the back and a roof over the bed. Amazingly the Haitians manage to fit about twenty people and their stuff (sometimes live animals) into or on top of these trucks.

As we walk down the national highway looking for a tap-tap headed west Megan says "we get our own tap-tap right? because I am not getting in that," pointing at the packed tap-tap that is pulling away. I point to the one up ahead and say "lets get in that one, its almost empty," knowing that by the time we head down the road it will be just as full, but it was enough to convince Megan (haha).  

On the way out of town we stop a couple time to pick up more riders who at this point are just able to get one foot on the bumper and one hand on the handle. As we continue down the road the driver is swerving across the road into oncoming traffic to avoid the giant cracks in the asphalt, another of the constant reminders of the recent earthquake. Megan yells "when I signed up to work for AFH I didn't sign up to risk my life," but we did eventually safely arrive at the site. 

...And that is our story of public transportation in Haiti.

Thanks Adam!