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Haiti Table of Contents


Transportation and Communications


Figure 15. Transportation System, 1989

Riders on a "tap-tap" (jitney) near Gonaïves
Courtesy Inter-American Development Bank


Colorful "tap-taps" on Avenue Dessalines, Port- au-Prince
Courtesy Inter-American Development Bank

Haiti's transportation system was still inadequate in the 1980s, in spite of the major infrastructural improvements that had accompanied the growth period of the 1970s. Poor transportation hindered economic growth, particularly in the agricultural sector. Like other services in the economy, transportation--when it was available--was prohibitively expensive for most citizens. One study in the 1980s revealed that some assembly workers spent as much as one-quarter of their daily wages and two hours of their time on transportation.

The country's road system was the most important part of the transportation system. In 1989 there were more than 3,700 kilometers of roads: 17 percent were paved; 27 percent were gravel or were otherwise improved; and 56 percent were unimproved and were generally impassible following heavy rains. Besides the paved streets in the capital, there were only two paved highways, which linked the northern and the southern regions of the country. National Highway One (Duarte Highway) extended north from Port-au-Prince to Cap Haïtien via the coastal towns of Montrouis and Gonaïves. National Highway Two proceeded south from the capital to Les Cayes by way of Miragoâne with a spur to Jacmel (see fig. 15). Both were paved in 1973 with funding from AID. Despite international funding and some government improvement efforts by the National Road Maintenance Service (Service Entretien Permanent du Réseau Routier National--Serrin), inadequate road maintenance persisted.

Haiti imported all its vehicles, about 4,000 a year in the late 1980s. According to government sources, more than 36,600 vehicles were in use in 1981, three times the number in 1960. Travel outside the capital generally required four-wheel-drive vehicles, which were equipped to ride on poorly maintained and washed-out roads. The government offered limited and unreliable public transportation. The majority of Haitians who traveled by vehicle used tap-taps, brightly colored and overcrowded jitneys that serviced most of the island.

Haiti's fourteen ports constituted another major component of the transportation sector. Port-au-Prince was the central shipping site, accounting for as much as 90 percent of registered imports and most exports. Upgraded in 1978, Port-au-Prince was the only modern port in Haiti in the late 1980s; it offered mechanical handling equipment, two transit warehouses, and container capability. The capital's port, however, was expensive and therefore underutilized; wharfage costs were four times higher than those of ports in the Dominican Republic. CapHaïtien , the second major port, handled most cruise-ship traffic as well as domestic and international merchant ships. CapHaïtien , like some other small ports, underwent renovations during the 1980s. Lesser-used ports included Miragoâne, Les Cayes, Fort Liberté, Gonaïves, Jacmel, Montrovís, and Jérémie.

As a result of the poor road system, cabotage via provincial ports played an important role in internal commerce. Smaller ports also dealt extensively in the pervasive contraband trade out of the Dominican Republic and Miami. Smuggling stimulated economic activity at depressed provincial ports, but it also resulted in the loss of millions of dollars in import duties.

Port-au-Prince had the country's only international airport. Located about ten kilometers outside the capital, this airport, opened in 1965, was fully equipped for all international flights, and it handled the majority of domestic flights. More than a dozen airlines from North America, South America, the Caribbean, and Europe serviced the airport. The government-owned airline, Air Haiti, operating under the control of the National Civil Aviation Office (Office Nationale de l'Aviation Civile--ONAC), flew domestic flights to many provincial airports. Eleven other airfields of varying quality were also operational. The National Airport Authority (Autorité Aéroportuaire Nationale--AAN) regulated the country's airports.

There was no passenger rail service in Haiti. The 80- kilometer railroad that operated southwest and east of Port-au- Prince for the Haitian American Sugar Company (HASCO) was the country's only railroad system.

Haitians were the most isolated citizens of the Western Hemisphere in terms of their low per capita use of telephones, radios, and televisions. There were only six telephones for every 1,000 people in Haiti, compared with the average of eight telephones for every 1,000 people in Africa.

The Haitian Telecommunications Company (Telecommunications d'Haïti--TELECO), under the Ministry of Public Works, Transport, and Communications, was responsible for the nation's telephone service and other telecommunications. The government owned 96 percent of TELECO, which modernized the national telephone industry in the late 1980s, with French financing, by introducing digital dialing to the Port-au-Prince area. The capital also enjoyed direct dialing to the United States and Europe, via a satellite station at Sabourin, although at very high rates. Telephones, however, continued to be a luxury item. In the mid1980s , more than 80 percent of the country's 39,000 telephones were in Port-au-Prince, where only about 20 percent of Haiti's population lived. Telephone service to provincial cities was so unreliable that many rural areas relied on two-way radios. Rapid expansion of the telephone system was expected by the early 1990s, when the number of telephones in Port-au-Prince was slated nearly to double from 39,000 to 69,000 and the number outside the capital, more than to triple from 7,000 to 23,000. About 400 telex lines and an elementary mail service functioned in the late 1980s.

Data as of December 1989

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