Puerto Rico Senate requests gov, Transportation Dept. cancel contract with toll operator
SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico Senate requested Monday of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Transportation Secretary Carlos Contreras the “immediate cancellation” of the contract with Gila LLC, which operates the toll collection system in Puerto Rico.
The request was passed unanimously by Senate Resolution 857, authored by Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz.
“I hope the contract with this company will be canceled once and for all and that a company that has the moral stature and operational capacity to provide an excellent service to the users of Auto Expreso be put in its place,” Rivera Schatz said. According to the measure, Gila’s contract expires July 1.
Gila has been operating on the island for more than three years, where “the goals set have not been achieved,” the measure reads, adding there have been continuing complaints received by the Senate, multiple claims made for undue collection of tolls, as well as the issuance of “illegal” fines. On July 1, the Transportation Dept. (DTOP by its Spanish initials) secretary called on Gila to respond to multiple complaints from citizens and was given 48 hours to resolve them. However, despite more than two months having elapsed since the request, complaints continue.
That is how the Senate president put in perspective that the arguments on the passage of the measure and of House Bill 1724, which would amend the Puerto Rico Transit Law to establish a $15 fine for not paying the Auto Expreso toll, are based on self-criticism of the government.
He said some “get irritated” but “we came here to work well, to comply and he whoever does it poorly, it has to be denounced.” The lawmaker added that for him the main problem was not the amount of the fine goes up or down but “that a vicious fine is not imposed on a citizen.”
“The Justice Department has been irresponsible with this, as has the secretary of DTOP, who in July gave GILA 48 hours to solve the problem. After that, the number of Auto Expreso users who have been victims of that company, hired under the Popular [Democratic] Party government, that number of victims has grown. Then it’s like, there being so many complaints from so many citizens who have legitimately shown in the media what has been an abuse, that they have been viciously fined and that it has been robbery…there are people who drag their feet. And that’s what’s happened with the secretary of Justice, Wanda Vázquez. And the secretary of Justice, too. Someone tell her the 48 hours have already passed. I would like to be calm about this matter. I heard the secretary of Justice say she is going to investigate it. It turns out that several months later, hundreds of thousands of fines, endless lines, finally a referral made by Senator Miguel Laureano in May and now God has touched the Department of Justice and now the secretary of Justice said she will investigate,” Rivera Schatz further said.
Regarding H.B. 1724, Humacao District Sen. Miguel Laureano said he had previously filed Senate Bill 642, which proposed establishing the same, lowering the Auto Expreso fine from $50 to $15, but retroactively. However, “the Fiscal Control Board opposed these and they were rejected and now we have a letter dated September 4 from Ms. Natalie Jaresko that says they reject bills 1723 and 1724; these are the measures we are discussing today.”
He reiterated that even if the board rejects the measure, it would be reintroduced, and that beyond the issues with the fine, the problem is the system Gila is administrating. He also alleged that the transfer of the contract to the company had multiple irregularities.