San Juan: the Best and the Worst

My family and I just got back from a trip to San Juan Batista, the capital of the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. I’ve got lots of things to say about the transportation situation there, particularly in contrast with that in Santo Domingo, on the next island over. I’ll start with our best and worst experiences.

The best experience was undoubtedly the Tren Urbano, the metrorail line that opened in 2005. It’s quiet, clean, uncrowded and comfortable. There are a few underground sections, but most of the line is elevated on concrete pillars. Payment is almost identical to the New York City pay-per-ride Metrocard, down to the (English) wording on the receipts; the main difference is that we had to “swipe out” at the end.

The main criticism of the project – and I’m guessing the reason it wasn’t very crowded when we took it – is that it doesn’t go to any of the major tourist destinations. Historic Old San Juan, the beaches and hotels of the Condado and Isla Verde, the government buildings in Santurce and Puerta de Tierra, and the two airports are all on peninsulas and islands along the coast, and the Tren terminus at Sagrado Coraz?n is separated from all those attractions by a mile (at the least) and two expressways.

There is, however, a bus terminal at Sagrado Coraz?n, and in fact there are bus connections at all the Tren Urbano stations. And that brings me to our worst experience. On Monday we decided to visit the neighborhood of R?o Piedras, which is home to the University of Puerto Rico and its botanical garden. It’s also served by two Tren Urbano stops, so we thought it would be simple getting there. It was – once we got to the Tren.

At around 12:10, after a leisurely brunch, we walked to the nearest eastbound bus station to our hotel at the corner of Ashford and Andino, and waited … and waited. I had checked the bus map before leaving and seen that both the C-10 and B-21 buses went from that stop to the Tren at Sagrado Coraz?n. The C-10 is supposed to come every 30 minutes on weekdays and the B-21 every 20-25 minutes; there was no more schedule information than that available.

There were already several people waiting at the stop when we got there. Many of them eventually wandered off to find other ways to get where they were going, or maybe just other things to do. A C-53 bus, which did not go to the Tren, stopped at one point, and several westbound buses as well. I had the idea of taking a westbound C-10 to the Parada 18 transfer point and catching an eastbound bus on another line, but none of the buses in San Juan show their routes on the left side or the rear, so once they got to us I had no idea which bus we were looking at.

A B-21 bus finally showed up around 1:30. We boarded and from then on had no problem: a relatively quick trip to Sagrado Coraz?n, then a short train ride to the University. But we had waited over an hour and a quarter for a bus that was supposed to come every 20-25 minutes. Even if a bus broke down or a driver missed his or her shift, what happened to the bus that was supposed to be behind it? There was no sign of the C-10 at all.

So that’s the best and the worst. There’s more from Puerto Rico coming up: counterflow bus lanes! Privatized routes! Transvestite trolleys! Stay tuned.

grvsmth (Author)

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