While the traffic system may appear to be chaos to the outsider, it is, indeed, an organized mess comprised of cars, motorcycles, school buses, semi-trucks and people, all weaving in and out of each other, always dodging one another at what seems to be the last second. It is almost always the first remark a foreigner makes upon arriving into Haiti for the first time. My first impression was the traffic. I couldn’t believe the traffic. I thought we were going to hit someone. I thought someone was going to hit us. And while the traffic is certainly notable, the shock tends to wear off after a few days until it just becomes part of the daily grind. The high stress levels on the road become the new norm. Honking doesn’t always imply a tone of anger (although is often does), but can be a gesture of greeting or, hey, coming through on your back left! The system is, in fact, quite remarkable, and there are surprisingly fewer accidents than what one might presume. Imagine removing all traffic laws from the streets, the roads and the highways in a developed country and the madness, the anger and the hatred that would ensue.
A majority of Haitians will never own a vehicle. Instead, they depend on the ways of public transportation due to tight financial means in a hurting economy. Amongst these forms of transit is the motorcycle taxi, referred to simply as the moto in Haitian Creole, which might charge anything from ten cents to twenty dollars depending on the distance the passenger needs to travel and the location in which one is traveling. The moto drivers in the city charge more than those in the province, a direct correlation to the cost of living, similar to such patterns in developed countries. The bike is faster than the tap-tap, a colorfully painted pick-up truck with a particular route written on the sides of his doors, but it comes with a higher price. One can assume those who can be seen on the back of a motorcycle have a little extra change in their pockets to spare. What is perhaps even more impressive is the maneuverability of the motorcycle taxi. They dodge in and out of cars that are already dodging in and out of their own lanes because despite the way in which the culture is undoubtedly laid back, everyone seems to be in a hurry when the wheels hit the streets. One lane highways are transformed into three or four lanes, sometimes to the point in which no one can even move due to the congestion. But the moto won’t sit for long. He will find a small space, a break in-between cars, or an adjacent sidewalk so he can keep going. Time is money, and especially in Haiti where money is scarce, the seconds on the clock are precious.
One might think the moto driver is not much a businessman, but he actually possesses more business qualities than meet the eye. Despite the fact of whether or not he (one rarely sees a woman driving a motorcycle) finished his education, he is good with numbers. He carries in his pocket crumbled money, ranging from small bills equivalent to twenty cents to larger equivalent to roughly twenty dollars, depending on the nation’s current exchange rate. He quickly calculates in his mind how much change he owes his customer according to the distance they’ve traveled. From his earnings, he fills his tank, hoping his dollars will stretch a little farther so he can spare more to take home to his family. Not only that, but he also has a knack at marketing. The drivers do not only transport random passerby’s, but they often maintain a handful of clients, clients who make regular trips, a promise of steady income. And what happens if something on his bike breaks? Rather than spending the change in his pocket on a mechanic, who may or may not be so trustworthy, he tries for himself, hoping the mechanical knowledge he’s picked up on the streets is sufficient for his problem at hand. Finances, marketing, mechanics – the list goes on. But one thing is for sure. The moto driver is not often recognized for his skill or his role in the Haitian culture.
Each driver has a different story, each a different reason for why he began driving a moto in the first place. But it often comes down to survival, and supporting themselves and their families, immediate and extended included. One drives so he can support his young wife and their new baby, another to put his children through school. Another drives because he makes more money as a moto driver than he did as a school teacher. And yet another drives because it’s what he knows and it’s what he’s always done. Some own their motorcycles, while more are under contract, unable to afford their own so they work for someone else, splitting the profits with the “boss” until they are able to uphold their signed commitment and call the bike their own. But despite their reasons, they are unmistakable. It would be impossible to imagine Haiti without the moto, a staple mode of transportation but also a state aspect of the Haitian culture.