One service to resume quickly after Haiti’s earthquake were its privately-owned buses, which are cheap, reliable and, amazingly, painted with intricate murals featuring everyone from the Virgin Mary to Kobe Bryant. Adam Davidson reported on the curious economics of Haiti’s wildly-painted buses, called tap-taps, for the PBS show Frontline, which aired a special about the earthquake last night.
The story is an incredible tale of branding, entrepreneurship and, yes, simple economics. Keeping the buses outwardly maintained is a vital signal to riders, who, without any kind of government oversight, use the visual cues to tell if the bus is safe and reliable inside, too. “If it doesn’t look nice, people won’t ride it,” a bus owner tells Davidson, who watches as, sure enough, several unpainted buses pull up at a stop and leave, sans passengers. The hustle of getting customers onto the buses goes beyond slapping a coat onto the bus’s exterior: Some owners spend up to $1,200 a year so artists and carpenters (many trained in schools) can devote serious talent to their buses, repainting them several times a year to keep the murals bright.