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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Fiscal board: Free-fare initiative launched without economic study

The Financial Oversight and Management Board requested all documentation and communications related to the decision to implement the free-fare initiative of the Puerto Rico Integrated Transit Authority.

By The Star Staff

The Financial Oversight and Management Board gave the government until May 28 to provide information about the free-fare initiative of the Puerto Rico Integrated Transit Authority (PRITA) because an economic analysis was neither discussed with nor approved by the entity.

The petition was made in a recent letter addressed to PRITA Executive Director Josué L. Menéndez Agosto. On Feb. 27, 2024, PRITA publicly announced a promotional free-fare initiative, from March 1, 2024 to Aug. 31, 2024, for the Urban Train (TU by its Spanish initials), Metrobus, TU Conexión, Urban Metro, and the Metropolitan Bus Authority public transportation services. PRITA informed the oversight board of the initiative by providing a copy of a letter dated Feb. 28, 2024 addressed to the Highways and Transportation Authority (HTA), in which it explained that the initiative was implemented as part of its comprehensive upgrade of the Automatic Fare Collection (AFC) system. As explained in the Feb. 28 letter, by suspending fare collection during the upgrade period, the initiative is intended to, among other things, facilitate the removal of legacy AFC equipment, install and test new AFC system equipment, and educate customers on the new AFC system. PRITA further noted that the initiative is intended to minimize any inconvenience to public transportation commuters during the installation of the new AFC system.

“While the comprehensive upgrades to the AFC system align with the implementation milestones of the certified 2023 HTA Fiscal Plan, as called for within the Transportation Sector Reform, an economic analysis was not discussed with or approved by the Oversight Board,” the board said.

The oversight board requested all documentation and communications related to the decision to implement the initiative. To the extent not evident from the documents, the board seeks an explanation of the decision to implement the initiative, including the process used to select and design it and if other approaches besides a free fare program were considered.

The oversight board also wanted to know under whose authority the free fare initiative was approved and asked for any studies or analyses used or conducted to assess whether to implement the free fare program, and its optimal parameters.

The board also asked for PRITA’s action plan for reinstating fares and all communications and documents with the FTA regarding or related to the initiative.

“Please provide relevant details on how the … free-fare initiative will affect, if applicable, the pending grantee status approval, more specifically the technical capacity component of said approval,” the oversight board said. “Please indicate whether FTA expressed any concern or feedback to PRITA regarding this matter.”

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