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Rosselló: Gov’t working on ‘transformation’ of Vieques/Culebra ferry system

Admitting that transformations are “seldom smooth and many times messy,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló confirmed that his administration is working on ironing out the kinks that have come up with the shift into the “short route” connecting Puerto Rico with Vieques and Culebra.

In an exclusive interview with
this media outlet, Rosselló said moving the ferry operations from Fajardo to Ceiba
will “be better in the mid- to long-run for tourists and for our neighbors in
Vieques and Culebra to come to the Puerto Rico.”

The move took place in
September 2018, and service began the following month, with four ferries.
However, the service has drawn countless complaints from passengers — both
locals and tourists — especially during the peak holiday season that just
concluded. Problems included late departures, ticketing issues and lack of space
on the cargo ferry.

“We’ve encountered certain
obstacles along the way, we’ve been handling some of those as they’ve
manifested, all the while handling some chronic issues,” he said.

“For example, the functionality
of the boats. Right now, we have two but by Holy Week, we should have four
boats running that will represent a marked improvement and that’s not counting
the two boats we have from the private sector,” he said, noting that two
additional vessels should be added by summer, for a total of six ferries on the
routes.

Another problem that came up recently
as a result of heavy rains over the eastern half of Puerto Rico were flooded
parking facilities at the ferry terminal in Ceiba.

“It is unfortunately a normal
course of events when it rains and you have the lack of drainage to get the water
out, so now we’re working with it,” he said. “It was an isolated issue –
drainage is not the best, so we need to fix it and, as we speak, folks are
there fixing it. The issues with the roads have been fixed as well.”

The move from Fajardo to the former
Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba also sparked another problem — the lack of
food and bathroom facilities available for passengers during their wait.

To address that, the government
recently opened a concession to sell food within the terminal and is now working
to create a food truck park on the grounds, Rosselló said.

“As we move forward, the
expectation is that the platform will be much more permissive to tourists to be
there, and to have a good time if they need to wait,” he said.

The governor said the transformation
of the ferry route should be complete by summer, when the Maritime Transportation
Authority will also unveil a virtual ticketing system.

“I know some of these changes
can be complex and some unfortunately, take time, but we’re committed to doing
them,” he said.

“The expectation is that by
summer, we should have a system that is transformed and ready to piggyback on
the [public-private partnership] proposal that’s out there right now,” he said,
referring to the request for proposal that has drawn interest from Balearia
Caribbean, HMS Ferries, Priority Roro Services, Puerto Rico Fast Ferries, and
Seastreak.

One company will be selected for the P3 later this year.

In related news, Gov. Rosselló provides an update on the PREPA privatization process.

Author Details
Business reporter with 25 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other areas of the economy.

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