PMV in Papua New Guinea

PMV (public motor vehicle) is the generic term for any type of public transport and wherever there are roads, there will be PMVs. Whether it’s a dilapidated minibus, a truck with two facing wooden benches, a pick-up with no seats whatsoever but space in the tray, or any other means of transport (boats are also referred to as PMVs), the PMV is one of the keys to travelling cheaply in PNG. It’s also one of the best ways to meet local people.

There’s no real science to using PMVs; just turn up at the designated departure point and wait for it to fill up, although the following tips are worth keeping in mind.

  • Many rural routes have only one service a day so ask around a day ahead for when and where it leaves (usually the local market).
  • From small towns, PMVs often start out very early in the morning, drive to another (usually larger) town, then wait a couple of hours while the morning’s passengers go to market before returning.
  • Out of town you can assume that anything with lots of people in it is a rural PMV. If you want to get off before the end, just yell ‘stop driver!’
  • In most urban areas PMVs travel along a network of established routes. Stops are predetermined and are often indicated by a yellow pole or a crowd of waiting people; you can’t just ask to be let off anywhere. The destination will be indicated by a sign inside the windscreen or called out by the driver’s assistant in a machine-gun-style staccato.
  • Market days (usually Friday and Saturday) are the best days for finding a ride.
  • Most of the time, travelling in a PMV is perfectly safe; your fellow passengers will be most impressed you’re with them and not in some expensive 4WD. There is, of course, a risk of robbery, especially on the Highlands Hwy. Lone women travellers are also at greater risk and should think twice about travelling by PMV. If you do, find a vehicle with women passengers and get a seat nearby.
  • PMVs have a crew of two: the driver, who usually maintains an aloof distance from the passengers; and the conductor, who takes fares and copes with the rabble.
  • Don’t be surprised if you have to wait for your change; it will come when the conductor gets his change sorted.

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