CNMI To Launch Public Bus Service In Saipan

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

US Department of Interior funds public transportation effort

By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 14, 2016) – The Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority will soon launch a public, medium-size bus that will ply the Garapan-Middle Road-NMC-Koblerville-Beach Road route.

Funding for the bus amounts to $344,293 and will come from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Diego B. Songsong, COTA’s community planner and Title VI coordinator, said they are now conducting a bidding process for the bus which will also cater to persons with disabilities.

In addition, he said they will designate bus stop signs and drop-off and pick-up areas for passengers.

Songsong said things are still at the planning stage, including how much they will charge those who use the bus.

Funding for the bus stops will come from a different agency, he said, adding that they are working with the Department of Public Works to identify possible sources.

Special Assistant for Public Transportation Alfreda P. Camacho said the pilot project is supported by Gov. Ralph Torres and Lt. Gov. Victor Hocog.

"Fixed-route transit is an essential service," she said. "It fulfills many community needs and helps our island meet a number of important public-policy objectives. In addition to these community benefits, spending federal funds on transit contributes to economic activity."

Camacho added, "This is just the beginning of a bigger picture for public transportation in the CNMI. We are happy that it is to be realized soon because we want our community to embrace this project and from there we will be able to assess and implement rules on how this service will work for the community. Basically this is good news for the community as we want more accessibility. More students will be able to go to school and more parents will be able to go to work if we have this public transportation. I am passionate about this project because I know this will help our community and improve the quality of life of the people."

She said COTA submitted its funding request to the CNMI Office of Grants Management on Feb. 17, 2016 and they received the good news in March.

Camacho expressed appreciation for the support of the governor and the Office of Grants Management.

COTA’s funding was just one of several grants with a total amount of $1.4 million approved by Interior for the CNMI.

Administrator for Grants Management Epi Cabrera said $1.4 million is a "remarkable amount."

"We are very fortunate to receive these grants and now the CNMI can begin moving forward on much needed projects. Our office is now looking forward to submitting Empowering Insular Communities (EIC) grants before the end of the month and continuing to push for grants that will benefit our community," he said in a statement.

Other Interior grants for the CNMI included $150,000 for the Department of Fire and Emergency Management Services to purchase an ambulance; and $255,578 for the Department of Commerce "to establish an online portal to streamline government services for residents in the territory. The online portal will facilitate the provision of social services, tax e-filing, business license and tax filing, and driver’s license issuance and renewal. The portal will serve as a virtual one-stop help center for the CNMI government."

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