After losses in the millions, AMA & Urban Train to resume services for citizens in need

By The Star Staff

With each passing month the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP by its Spanish acronym) loses $500,000 in fares because the Urban Train is not operating, and for that reason DTOP Assistant Secretary Josué Menéndez says it is a matter of urgency that the operations of the train and the Metropolitan Bus Authority (AMA by its Spanish acronym) resume as soon as possible.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced announced Friday that as part of the new executive order related to COVID-19, the AMA and the Urban Train will resume operations next Monday, Oct. 26.

During a Capital City Development and Youth Affairs Committee hearing last week evaluating the status of mass transportation in Puerto Rico under House Resolution 46, Committee Chairman Eddie Charbonier Chinea said the system, whose administration contract is for $4 million, has continued to be paid with the federal grant that was awarded for it.

Menéndez said the budget insufficiency at the AMA will be corrected by an allocation of $21 million from the funds the island received as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In the case of the Urban Train, the losses will be remedied with “grant” funds that have yet to be requested.

Menéndez assured that during the three weeks in which the system was in operation, no cases of coronavirus infection were reported and disinfection and distancing protocols were followed to the letter, both by employees and users, which were calculated at 3,000 daily.

He also noted that once the system resumes next Monday, service operations can be started in a period of five to six days, after employees have been tested for COVID-19 and rigorous cleaning and disinfection has been carried out. He argued that buses and the Urban Train cars are ready because they have continued to receive proper maintenance.

During the committee hearings in the House of Representatives last week, Charbonier criticized the executive branch for failing to activate the transportation system sooner, given that it serves vulnerable people who do not have their own transportation, such as students, the elderly and people with disabilities.

Puerto Rican Independence Party Rep. Denis Márquez Lebrón criticized the government for failing to note the urgency of the situation for the transit system’s core users.

“Since these means of transportation were closed, there has been a direct consequence of injustice against all those sectors of the population, because they do not have a means of transportation to return to work,” Márquez Lebrón said.

Meanwhile, Carmen Febres Alméstica, president of the Residents of Barrio Obrero Marina United Inc., complained about the lack of service through a presentation submitted to the committee in which the group protested the suspension of service for more than seven months.

“Although in principle we endorse the determination made and respect it, at present measures must be made more flexible or eliminated in order to open up various services and standardize them,” said Febres Alméstica, who requested that the determination to keep the service suspended be reviewed. “However, the suspension of mass transportation continues, greatly affecting our residents, especially the elderly.”

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