By MARIA MIRANDA SIERRA
Foundation for Puerto Rico (FPR) Board Chairman Jon Boschow last week highlighted the importance of new technologies and models of transportation for the development of the island’s tourism sector and the overall visitors economy, therefore welcoming the possible arrival of ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft to the island.
“In Puerto Rico, where public transportation is limited and almost non-existent outside of the San Juan metro area, the entry of these networks would dramatically improve access to transportation services for visitors and residents,” Boschow said in a written statement. “This would have an impact of not only increasing the number of visitors, but also of extending their stay as they will gain access to more destinations and activities within the island.” Services like Uber and Lyft are typically integrated as part of the transportation network of a country, Boschow said. In Puerto Rico, from the point of view of tourism, this new transportation model would instead cover a market that currently is being neglected, he noted.
“This model is part of the ecosystem, we must not see it as competition, but rather as a strategy to complement other transportation services for our visitors, who surely already have the application [on their cellular phones], given that 67 countries and 400 cities currently use these services,” Boschow said. “Uber, Lyft and any other similar models would allow visitors easy access to thousands of points of interest –gastronomic, cultural, ecological, historical and social — in San Juan and across the island, which currently can not be reached unless they [tourists] have a rental car.”
FPR Investigation and Analysis Director Arnaldo Cruz said the Foundation recently conducted a study, in collaboration with the Universidad del Este, in which tourism ecosystem providers across the island were interviewed. The providers identified five common challenges, with infrastructure and mobility at the top of the list. Service providers stressed the shortage of carriers willing to transfer visitors outside of the San Juan metro area. “This affects many small business whose offers are not viable because visitors and [island] residents don’t have the means of transportation to reach these establishments,” Cruz said. “These [ride-hailing] platforms provide the means of transportation [metro area riders] need to get to municipalities outside of the metro area, thus accelerating the economy in many of these towns. In the case of foreign visitors, their average stay in Puerto Rico is less than three days, compared with Hawaii and the Dominican Republic, where tourists stay for approximately nine days.” Cruz added that to increase the number of days tourists stay on the island, with all the economic impact that brings, “it is necessary that they be able to move across the island easily.” “One of the factors that strengthens the competitiveness of a destination is the development of infrastructure and necessary mobility. Options like Uber and Lyft allow improvement of the country’s infrastructure system,” Cruz added. “We are sure that the arrival of the new networks will allow us to continue to strengthen Puerto Rico as a worldwide competitive destination.”
Last week, the island’s Taxi Federation held a protest against the arrival of Uber and Lyft. Taxi Federation President Juan de León charged that the government sought to “leave behind a sector that has been growing with the development of our country and has contributed to the treasury to allow the entrance of companies that take out money and don’t contribute anything.” “It isn’t right that hundreds of thousands of heads of families in all sectors are left out, without taking into consideration that here there are not so many passengers as in other countries who want to use the service,” de León said. “We don’t invade any service, nor will we permit ours to be invaded and much less in the way that they pretend to impose it on us.” Uber contracts professional services to private vehicles, to which would be applied the regulations of the Public Service Commission or the Tourism Co. The taxi drivers ask that the so-called Transportation System Regulation with private vehicles known as Uber be left without effect.
Uber addressed the taxi drivers’ concerns through the publication of advertisements in various island media which said the company enters Puerto Rico to be “part of the solution.” “Uber is one more alternative that complements existing transportation options,” the ads said. “We seek to reduce the use of private vehicles and help all the alternatives to improve quality and service.” According to the company, “all the transportation options can co-exist with the mutual purpose of improving mobility in San Juan.” “There is space for everything and we can help to construct a better San Juan,” the ads said. “We applaud the vision and the openness of Puerto Rican authorities that work so that projects like Uber can be established on the island, promoting a better future for all.