What I Did On My Summer Vacation: Long For Public Transportation

Thanks to fabulous pinch-hitting from Kathryn, Noah, and Ben during a crazy week on Capitol Hill, I got to spend most of my week snorkeling and hiking my way through Puerto Rico. It was about as idyllic as I could have wished for – except for one glaring problem. From my perspective as a tourist, it seems Puerto Rico is in desperate need of a functioning public transportation system.

My friend almost missed her flight because of this traffic jam. Photo: Tanya Snyder.

My friend and I were strongly and unanimously advised to rent a car – that there was no other way to get around. Even more puzzling, we got the same advice about Vieques, a lightly-developed island off the mainland that’s just 21 miles long and 5 miles wide, more than half of which is a nature preserve.

We asked about renting bikes there and were told, well, that was technically possible, but it’s hilly, you know, and hot. And besides, the bike rental was on the wrong side of the island for us.

Rather than leave one rental car parked at the ferry port on the mainland and then rent another one to move around the tiny island of Vieques, as we were instructed, we decided to take our chances on the “público” van service we’d heard about. But it turns out those run according to the ferry schedule. When there’s no ferry, there’s no público, and getting between the two main towns on Vieques – less than five miles apart – was challenging. We had to be rescued a few times by the woman in the souvenir stand, who called her friend to drive us, and our restaurant server who was going our way, but we had to wait till the end of her shift.

An empty bus in downtown San Juan. Photo: Tanya Snyder

A simple, reliable system of shuttles between the island’s two towns and a few of the more popular beaches – along with a taxi service willing to go to more remote wildlife areas – would eliminate the need for every tourist on this tiny island to cram another car onto its roads.

Back on the mainland, meanwhile, I was shocked to discover that there’s no direct bus service between the airport and Old San Juan. I got lucky with a quick transfer, but according to other passengers, it’s not uncommon to wait almost an hour for each leg. And the only taxis I saw were big white vans that charge exorbitant rates. No wonder we got stuck in a panic-inducing traffic jam on our way back to the airport.

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