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Op-Ed: The problem with Vieques/Culebra ferry is 50 yrs of ‘criminal mismanagement’

In referring to the unfortunate ferry debacle last weekend resulting in the resignation of Director Juan Maldonado, Vieques Mayor Victor Emeric, was right — the problem is not the misuse of an idle cargo ferry, it’s the 50 years of criminal Maritime Transportation Authority (ATM, for its initials in Spanish) mismanagement that has plagued the interisland transportation system upon which our lives depend.

Some have vilified the
unwitting wedding couple for abusing the system, but I believe the blame is
totally misplaced and that we may all look back at this event as the tipping
point in our struggle.

I think they unknowingly created an element of the perfect storm that has reached beyond Vieques and Culebra and is affecting the status quo in our central government. Vieques responses to being treated as inmates rather than as citizens continue to be the source of Puerto Rico government hand wringing and embarrassment.

Our reaction to their inattention to our problems and their refusal to involve our citizens in their opaque creation of useless imposed solutions provides a focus on the process broadcast to a large audience.

This is another crisis in the
long list of ATM crises. But every crisis provides an opportunity. We know:

  • The governor wants this short-term problem to go
    away and get the situation out of the news;
  • The governor wants the long-term ATM problem to
    go away via a public-private partnership (P3);
  • The government wants to reduce the subsidies
    required to operate the service;
  • The ATM wants to maintain the status quo;
  • Vieques and Culebra are entitled to adequate capacity
    for both cargo and passengers;
  • Vieques and Culebra require the scheduling of
    trips that provide sufficient space available for passage and convenience to
    all users including residents, businesses (both to and from Isla Grande), and
    visitors going both directions;
  • Vieques and Culebra want quick and efficient
    transition from arrival and embarkation through disembarkation and departure
    from the ports;
  • Vieques and Culebra need nearby, economical,
    secure parking at all ports;
  • Vieques and Culebra should have clean, weather
    protected, and easy to use facilities for all functions at the ports — from
    parking, to sidewalks, to rest rooms;
  • Passengers are entitled to quick, respectful,
    and convenient ticket purchasing online and in person;
  • Customers must be kept informed and notified of
    any and all changes to the schedules;
  • Customer assistance procedures should be
    integrated into all areas from giving directions to helping loading, etc.;
  • Adequate, convenient, and economical landside
    transportation options and procedures must be implemented at all ports;
  • Vieques residents are pleading to minimize the
    secure area (as in fencing the small areas around the actual loading areas just
    as EVERY other port in our system) to allow traditional users of Mosquito Pier
    to continue their activities; and,
  • Most stakeholders strongly feel that the
    proposed use of the passenger pier at Mosquito not be used by the ATM to allow
    continued fishing, SCUBA, and snorkeling in the surrounding waters and to
    protect the valuable sea life that will be endangered with the operation of the

This could be accomplished in
one of two ways:

  • Keep the passenger ferry operating out of
    Isabell II permanently; and,
  • Operate only combination cargo and passenger
    boats to Vieques (via Mosquito) to reduce crew, fuel, and other related costs.
    Build a finger pier at the cargo docking area for side loading of passengers.

We have an elected
representative group ready and able to sit down with the new director in a
spirit of cooperation and discus options and realities for mutually acceptable
solutions. No previous director has accepted our offer to meet, but maybe this
time will be different.

It is clear that we are going
to be working with the ATM for a long time, and we need to make the best of our
relationship. Efforts to privatize the operation are unlikely to be successful
while the RFP (request for proposal) includes language implied by the new
director, Mara Pérez-Torres, in an interview with El Nuevo Día:

“The 122 employees of the ATM
would become employees of the private company, but they would retain the
benefits and rights they acquired in the government,” Pérez-Torres said.

Requirements to use the same
boats and crews while reducing costs and risking being compensated ad hoc by
the legislature carries the concept of “trust me” way too far. 

One of the five qualified
bidders has already withdrawn in disgust. When the remaining four depart it
will be “déjà vu all over again.”

 Author Paul H. Lutton,
Arq. is a Vieques resident.

Author Details
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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.


  1. Above God March 1, 2019

    The lease for the broken down ferrys is $15,000,000/ year of $41,000/ day. The ATM is unionized & all 122 employees should be fired for being incompetent, racist & uncaring bigots. Privatized the ferry can run a regular schedule, not be politicized & actually serve the customers, citizens & tourists w/o waiting 7 or more hours to arrive.

  2. Ernesto May 15, 2019

    I am a new property owner on vieques and I am frustrated with the lack of ferry availability.

    I recommend privatize the service.

    The people and businesses need and require a reliable transportation to and from the island.

  3. Sam Secrest September 12, 2019

    When so many people and businesses depend on a ferry to move people and goods from the main island to and from Vieques and Culebra, the people should be allowed to know the facts involved with the ferry system. Is it the government that keeps the ferry business from becoming an open market where a private firm might better serve the public? Why not make it competitive where the company with the best service gets the business?


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