$900K needed to implement Saipan bus system


Citing the 7,000-plus riders it had last year, the Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority believes the need for public transportation on Saipan will just continue to increase in the years ahead.

COTA special assistant for public transportation Thomas Camacho said the demand for public transportation is growing and the urgency to meet that need shows in last year’s statistics.

However, the means to address this need remains out of sight, with Camacho saying that funding is still required before the project—the Saipan Fix Flex Route System—can even be started.

Camacho said the first year of implementing the route system is projected to cost a little over $900,000, enough to buy at least nine buses.

COTA asked last year for a $908,556 budget from the local government but didn’t get it. COTA had also sought federal grant funding of $4.71 million but their application for the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery Grant VI with the U.S Department of Transportation was not selected.

Right now, COTA provides a call-a-ride service for people who want to be picked up and dropped off at locations such as work, school, home, and other public places.

New PUTC committee

To address its funding needs, COTA is planning to seek assistance from the Legislature and some lawmakers have expressed interest in working with the agency.

Rep. Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), a member of the House Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation, and Communication, said he would try to bring up the matter in this Friday’s PUTC meeting.

Senate PUTC committee chair Sen. Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan) said he attended a COTA public hearing last month and approached them to express interest in meeting with them.

“[COTA] dropped off a document and I have yet to review it but I do intend to sit down with them to find out the issues and concerns. I am highly favorable to COTA and my main interest with COTA is the need for public transportation. For me, we need to get the bus system online to provide public transportation for those who can’t afford vehicles or have vehicles but can’t afford it because of fuel costs. I intend to work with Camacho to iron out the issues and hopefully get this started,” Igisomar said.

Camacho said that Federal Transit Administration grants, fare, and other revenue to be derived from advertising and parking meter fare collections will supplement a good percentage of the costs or expenses to operate and maintain the transit system, but it is not enough to support the entire costs of running and maintaining a public transportation system.

Growing demand

A taxi owner told Saipan Tribune there’s a growing demand for public transportation from tourists arriving on island but many do not ride taxis due to the high cost and instead opt for other means of transportation.

The taxi owner said that tourists would often wait for buses, rent a car, or just walk.

“It will affect us if there are more buses, but also we have competition now, the illegal taxis. I’m not saying I don’t support easy and cheap transportation, I’m just saying it would help our island more.”

A driver of an illegal taxi said they aren’t trying to put legal taxi owners out of business.

“It is what the residents request of public transportation. They need cheaper rides, something more affordable and they look to us for that. Sometimes we can’t even accommodate so many calls at once in one day. Sometimes more than four people are calling. Sometimes we even tell them to call another taxi,” he said.

He said that sometimes they accommodate almost 50 people in the daytime alone, and that doesn’t include evenings.

One passenger of an illegal taxi said he depends on the illegal taxi to get from home to work and back. He said he agrees with the illegal taxi owner.

“It won’t be necessary to ride this if they just provide us with cheap public transportation. In my country, we have buses and people who can’t afford [legal taxis] use them. This is something we need on Saipan,” he said.

Illegal taxis costs $3 for short-distance travel, while legal taxis costs a lot more, with service between Pacific Islands Club Saipan in San Antonio to Garapan sometimes setting passengers back $30.

Jayson Camacho | Reporter
Jayson Camacho covers community events, tourism, and general news coverages. Contact him at jayson_camacho@saipantribune.com.

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