COTA provides House committee with operations updates

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OFFICIALS of the Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority or COTA met with the House Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications on Wednesday morning to discuss the current status of COTA operations.

COTA Special Assistant Alfreda Camacho, community planner/title VI coordinator Diego Songsong, and operations/mobility coordinator Joe Pangelinan talked about several key factors of COTA operations, including ridership, the fixed route service, planned projects, grants, and community outreach.

Regarding ridership, they said the demand-responsive route service is more frequently utilized compared to the fixed route service.

In the operations/maintenance status report that COTA provided to the committee, it was stated that ridership for fiscal year 2019 totaled 7,683 trips, with over 100 riders per day.

The report added that 11 percent of the riders are elderly, and 15 percent of their trips were related to medical reasons. The busiest days were Wednesdays and Fridays, and the peak hours were 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The COTA officials also discussed the fixed route service, and the suspension of the Flame Tree line that will occur in April. It was emphasized that this was purely the result of low ridership and is not connected to the government’s austerity measures.

Camacho said the fixed route was a pilot project implemented in 2018, adding that riders will still be able to request rides via their demand-responsive route service, which is also known as Call-A-Ride.

Also discussed were projects that COTA has planned, including providing Tinian and Rota with a van each.

Camacho said because of the strict requirements involving federal funding, COTA will not be providing Tinian and Rota with federally funded minibuses.

She said COTA has received complaints from some community members on those islands about improper use of government vehicles.

Camacho said COTA cannot risk losing its federal funding, and thus will resort to local funding — around $300,000 — for the minibuses that will be provided to Tinian and Rota.

Some lawmakers expressed concern about this plan.

Camacho explained that COTA will provide minibuses to Tinian and Rota, including instructions and recommendations for the proper use, management, and maintenance of the vehicles.

Another project that COTA is working on is the construction of bus stops around the island.

Camacho said the bus stops will resemble those of I Love Saipan’s. This project was in response to rider feedback via surveys conducted by the Garapan Revitalization Task Force, she added.

When asked about funding, Camacho said COTA's operational costs are entirely funded by Federal Transit Administration/federal funds.

She added that because COTA receives federal funding, and has requested the administration to exempt COTA from the austerity measures. COTA, she added, provides transportation for dialysis and other patients even on holidays.

Regarding barriers that COTA currently faces, Camacho said these mostly involve the federal procurement process and requirements.

Because of the hoops that COTA has to jump through to be in compliance with federal rules and regulations, their projects need time to come to fruition, she said.

Camacho also mentioned that COTA intends to create a transportation master plan for the CNMI. She added that COTA is currently working on increasing ridership via outreach programs for potential riders.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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