Transport in Puerto Rico

Transportation in Puerto Rico includes a system of roads, highways, freeways, airports, ports and harbors, and railway systems, serving a population of approximately 4 million inhabitants year-round. It is funded primarily with both local and federal government funds.


Puerto Rico has a total of 30 airports (3 of which are international), including one in each of the smaller islands of Vieques and Culebra. The main airport is Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, and consists of two runways and three concourses. It is by far the busiest airport in Puerto Rico, with direct connections to most major cities in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Madrid, Spain.

Puerto Rico's next largest airports are usually former U.S. Air Force bases converted to public airports. Most of the airports in Puerto Rico are used exclusively for private planes and for limited passenger travel to local destinations within Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

  • Puerto Rico has 21 airports with paved runways, of which:
    • 3 airports with more than 10,000 ft (3,048 m) of runway.
    • 3 airports with runways ranging between 5,000 ft (1,524 m) and 8,000 ft (2,438 m).
    • 15 airports with less than 5,000 ft (1,524 m) of runway.
  • Puerto Rico also has 8 airports with unpaved runways, all of which have less than 5,000 ft (1,524 m) of runway.

Airlines based in Puerto Rico

The following are current and former airlines based in Puerto Rico, whose routes are mainly within Puerto Rico and its smaller islands and the Dominican Republic:


Currently or recently operating/licensed

Seaports & harbors

Sea-based transportation of any merchandise or persons shipped entirely or even partly by water between U.S. points—either directly or indirectly via one or any number of foreign points—U.S. Federal Law requires that said items or persons must travel in U.S.-built, U.S.-crewed, U.S.-citizen owned vessels that are U.S.-documented by the Coast Guard for such maritime "cabotage" carriage. This transportation/trade restriction includes Puerto Rico per the Jones Act of 1920 (Merchant Marine Act of 1920). The Jones Act and various other United States laws that govern the domestic and domestic-foreign-domestic transportation of merchandise and passengers by water between two points in the United States, including Puerto Rico, have been extended to that island-territory since the initial years of United States’ political relations.

Strictly construed, the Jones Act refers only to Section 27 of the Baltasar Corrada del Río, obtained a limited-exception since no U.S. cruise ships that were Jones Act-eligible were participating in said market.

The application of these coastwise shipping laws and their imposition on Puerto Rico consist in a serious restriction of free trade and have been under scrutiny and controversy due to the apparent contradictory rhetoric involving the United States Government's sponsorship of free trade policies around the world, while its own national shipping policy (cabotage law) is essentially mercantilist and based on notions foreign to free-trade principles.

Major ports

  • San Juan Port - Mainly divided in three: one in Old San Juan which includes cargo/freight and cruise ships, the Pan American Port Terminal in Isla Grande section mostly for cruise ships, and Puerto Nuevo, exclusively for freight/cargo ships. It is the main port of the island.
  • Port of Ponce - The second largest port in Puerto Rico and can handle both freight/cargo and cruise ships. It is currently undergoing a significant expansion (see Port of the Americas), with plans to convert it to an international shipping hub.
  • Port of Mayagüez - The third largest port in Puerto Rico. It is mainly used for freight/cargo ships but is also home to the Dominican Republic-Puerto Rico passenger ferry and has also been used for cruise ships.

Minor ports and harbors

The following are minor ports and harbors used for small freight/cargo ships, fishing vessels, and private boats/yachts: Guánica, Guayanilla, Guayama, Fajardo, Culebra, and Vieques.

There are ferries between Fajardo, Culebra and Vieques; between San Juan and Cataño; and between Ponce and Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island).

There are several private marinas in Puerto Rico for boats and yachts, the largest being Puerto del Rey in Fajardo and Club Nautico de Ponce.

Federal restrictions

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (also known as the Jones Act) prevents foreign-flagged ships from carrying cargo between two American ports (a practice known as cabotage). Because of the Jones Act, foreign ships inbound with goods from Central and South America, Western Europe, and Africa cannot stop in Puerto Rico, offload Puerto Rico-bound goods, load mainland-bound Puerto Rico-manufactured goods, and continue to U.S. ports. Instead, they must proceed directly to U.S. ports, where distributors break bulk and send Puerto Rico-bound manufactured goods to Puerto Rico across the ocean by U.S.-flagged ships.

Puerto Rican consumers ultimately bear the expense of transporting goods again across the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea on U.S.-flagged ships subject to the extremely high operating costs imposed by the Jones Act. This also makes Puerto Rico less competitive with Caribbean ports as a shopping destination for tourists from home countries with much higher taxes (like mainland states) even though prices for non-American manufactured goods in theory should be cheaper since Puerto Rico is much closer to Central and South America, Western Europe, and Africa.


Rail transportation

Current systems

  • Tourism Railroads - Several locomotives are used for tourism and recreational services, such as "El Parque del Tren" in Bayamón (demolished to make way for the Tren Urbano)[5] and the historic narrow gauge old sugarcane plantation "Tren del Sur" in Arroyo (currently abandoned but with plans for restoration).[6]

Defunct systems

The Puerto Rico train system flourished during the late 19th and early 20th century due to a large sugar cane industry in the island. Most, if not all, of these system were private-owned services.

During the 1870s and 1890s, Puerto Rico did not have a national railroad system, but the city of Mayagüez did have a small passenger rail system for transporting its residents mainly along the Mendez Vigo Avenue.

The main system can be traced back to 1891, when the northern line was built between San Juan (Martín Peña sector) and the town of Manatí. The system was expanded to include all the western coastal towns, providing a link which would allow passengers to travel between the northern and southern parts of the island in less than a day for the first time in its history. Before its downfall, the Puerto Rico railroad system operated in all major cities, with tracks and stations along most of the coastal towns and direct lines to all major sugar refineries.

However, when Puerto Rico changed its mostly agricultural economy to an industrialized one, and the U.S. and Puerto Rican governments started investing heavily in interstate highways and freeways, the railroad business soon collapsed. Passenger travel ceased in 1953, while the commercial train system (mostly for the sugar cane industry) continued operating until 1957.

Road transportation

Main articles: List of highways in Puerto Rico and Expressways in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has an extensive system of roads and highways featuring tolled freeways (autopistas). Some are designated as Interstate Highways; although these routes do not connect to the contiguous United States, and are unsigned as such, they still receive funding in a similar fashion to the other Interstates on the U.S. mainland. In total, there are more than 8,950 miles (14,400 km, 1999 est.) of paved road. Some of the major highways are:

PR-1 - Original main road between San Juan and Ponce before the completion of PR-52. It is now mostly used by people living nearby and as a scenic route.

PR-2 - Main freeway/highway/urban primary highway between/through Ponce, Mayagüez, Aguadilla, and Arecibo. Original main highway between Arecibo and San Juan before completion of PR-22 (currently undergoing a conversion to a freeway between Ponce and Mayagüez). This is the longest road in Puerto Rico.

PR-3 - (65th Infantry Avenue) Original main highway/urban primary highway between/through Salinas, Guayama, Humacao, Fajardo and San Juan (before completion of PR-52, PR-53, PR-66, and PR-26).

PR-22 - Main freeway between San Juan and Hatillo (plans are under way to extend the freeway to Aguadilla).

PR-52 (Las Américas Expressway and/or Luis A. Ferré Expressway) - Main freeway between San Juan and Ponce.

PR-10 - Main highway between Ponce and Arecibo (Currently under construction. The final section between Adjuntas and Utuado scheduled to open in 2015[7]).

PR-53 - Main freeway between Salinas, Guayama, Yabucoa, Humacao and Fajardo (currently under construction: section between Salinas and Guayama and Humacao to Fajardo are complete and open; while section between Guayama, Yabucoa and Humacao are currently under construction).

PR-66 - Main freeway between Canóvanas, Carolina, and San Juan (the freeway is being extended to reach the municipality of Río Grande, with its completion expected towards mid-late 2012).

Urban transportation

Transportation in Puerto Rico is heavily dependent on automobile transportation. Nevertheless, the government has increased investment in public transportation in an attempt to decrease vehicle dependency and road congestion. The island's metro area is serviced with three major public transportation systems:

  • The 10.7 mile (17.2 km) metro system called "Tren Urbano" with a total of 16 stations.[8] The project, which began operations in late 2004 cost a total of $2.25 billion and was more than $1 billion over budget and four years late. However, the "subsidized" Tren Urbano has received far less ridership than was originally projected and has failed to make a significant impact on reducing the island's metropolitan area traffic.[9]
  • A daily ferry service known as the Cataño Ferry, (La Lancha de Cataño in Spanish) which operates a route across San Juan Bay between Old San Juan and the municipality of Cataño.[10]
  • Metropolitan Bus Authority (Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses or AMA in Spanish) provides daily bus transportation to residents of San Juan, Guaynabo, Bayamón, Trujillo Alto, Cataño, and Carolina through

Most cities and towns also have a Jitney-type taxi system locally called Carros Públicos. Each town has a central taxi terminal usually within walking distance of the town's central plaza where taxis are stationed, and they provide transportation through local and islandwide routes.

External links

  • Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works (Spanish)
  • Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (IPRAC) (Spanish)
  • , Searching for Our Roots (Spanish)
  • (Spanish)



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