HMS Ferries Inc., gov’t begin transition of Vieques/Culebra ferry service
HMS Ferries Inc., a subsidiary of the Hornblower Group, and the Puerto Rico Maritime Transportation Authority (MTA), announced the start of the transition process for the operation and maintenance of the island’s maritime transportation systems.
The system includes service between Cataño and San Juan and between Ceiba, and the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra in the east.
“We’re very happy to begin this partnership with Puerto Rico through the MTA. We’re firmly committed to providing quality service to the thousands of people who use Puerto Rico’s ferry service annually,” said Kevin Rabbitt, CEO of the Hornblower Group.
“HMS Ferries has unrivaled maritime transportation experience and is the largest passenger ship operator in the United States,” he said. “We have put a lot of effort and dedication into this partnership, since our main objective is to provide a world-class service that will be the jewel of the Caribbean.”
Late last week, the Public-Private Partnership Authority announced the selection of HMS Ferries as the company that will take over the management and operation of Puerto Rico’s beleaguered ferry system. This media outlet first reported on this decision in July 2019.
HMS has contracts to operate at least eight other ferry services throughout the U.S. mainland, including New York City’s NYC Ferry Service, which offers two routes connecting Manhattan with points across the East River in northern Brooklyn and Queens.
“This public-private partnership agreement is the appropriate mechanism for the island-municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, as well as Cataño, to have an efficient, reliable and consistent maritime transport service,” Fermín Fontanés, executive director of the P3 Authority, said.
“We’re convinced that the selection of HMS Ferries will lead the way to improve this service, under the highest standards, in accordance with successful models in other jurisdictions,” he added.
HMS Ferries has developed a plan aimed at standardizing and executing improvements to maritime transportation between Ceiba and the islands of Vieques and Culebra. The transition period for operations could take up to three years, but HMS Ferries said it is “committed to implementing a comprehensive and aggressive work plan that can be completed sooner than stipulated.”
The plan outlines the priorities that will allow HMS Ferries and the MTA to “achieve a quality service based on the highest standards.”
“As part of our commitment, we’ll be initiating a series of community dialogues with the residents of the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, as well as with their mayors and the top municipal executives of Ceiba, Cataño and San Juan,” said Matt Miller, president of HMS Ferries.
“This will pursue having a clearer idea of their needs and get input of solutions to the problems that plagued the maritime transport system for years,” he added.
HMS Ferries is part of the Hornblower company that has a fleet of nearly 200 of its own vessels that offered services to more than 30 million passengers and more than 80,000 trips last year.
“We have a qualified staff, experts in maritime issues who will evaluate the immediate needs to achieve the maintenance, operation and improvement plans for the fleet of vessels used on the routes of Ceiba and the islands of Vieques and Culebra, as well as on the San Juan-Cataño route,” said José Jiménez, deputy director of operations for HMS Ferries.
He confirmed that an important element of the transition plan will be the launch of a new ticket and reservation system that will complement HMS’s work on the island.
“HMS Ferries is aware of user dissatisfaction with the existing ticket system. One of its priorities will be to implement its ticket and box office reservation system on the island that is used throughout the Hornblower organization, which will adjust to the needs of users without sacrificing quality and service,” he said.