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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.

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