Transportation 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 mainland United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Madrid, Spain.

Airlines based in Puerto Rico

The following are current and former passenger and cargo airlines based in Puerto Rico or with flights to Puerto Rico:


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 Merchant Marine Act of 1920, (46 U.S.C. § 883; 19 CFR 4.80 and 4.80(b)), which has come to bear the name of its original sponsor, Sen. Wesley L. Jones. Another law that was enacted in 1886 requires essentially the same standards for the transport of passengers between U.S. points, directly or indirectly transported through foreign ports or foreign points (46 App. U.S.C. 289; 19 CFR 4.80(a)). However, since the mid-1980s, as part of a joint effort between the cruise ship industry that serves Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican politicians such as then Resident Commissioner, U.S. non-voting Representative 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

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

Map of Jones Act carrier routes for Puerto Rico.

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).[lower-alpha 1][lower-alpha 2][lower-alpha 3][lower-alpha 4][lower-alpha 5] 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.[lower-alpha 6]

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.[lower-alpha 7] 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.

The local government of Puerto Rico has requested several times to the U.S. Congress to exclude Puerto Rico from the Jones Act restrictions without success.[lower-alpha 8] The most recent measure has been taken by the 17th Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico through R. Conc. del S. 21.[4][5] These measures have always received support from all the major local political parties. In 2013 the Government Accountability Office published a report which concluded that "repealing or amending the Jones Act cabotage law might cut Puerto Rico shipping costs" and that "shippers believed that opening the trade to non-U.S.-flag competition could lower costs."[lower-alpha 4][lower-alpha 5] The report, however, concluded that the effects of modifying the application of the Jones Act for Puerto Rico are highly uncertain for both Puerto Rico and the United States, particularly for the U.S. shipping industry and the military preparedness of the United States.[2]

Rail transportation

Current systems

Defunct systems

19th century train station in Yauco

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

Puerto Rico Interstates

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[9]).

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, San Juan, and Río Grande.

Urban transportation

Tren Urbano at Bayamón Station

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:

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. In February 2014, the islandwide system of Carros Públicos consisted of over 3,000 vehicles authorized by the "Comission de Servico Público" (Public Service Commission), and it covered almost 500 routes. At approximately 130,000 passengers per day, in 2014 the Públicos system handled over five times the daily passenger volume of the island's largest international airport, the Luis Muñoz Marín.[14]


  1. Gutierrez. "Mr. Chairman, we are here to express our support for any effort that would unburden the economy of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico from the unfair and unreasonable restrictions that stem from dispositions of the Merchant Marine Acts of 1920 and 1936 on trade conducted between the Commonwealth and the United States mainland."[1]
  2. Gutierrez. "Being treated as an extension of the United States coastline by the protectionist merchant marine statutes has imposed a heavy and unfair cost on United States citizens in Puerto Rico."[1]
  3. Gutierrez. "The Merchant Marine Acts inflict costs to the Puerto Rican economy."[1]
  4. 1 2 JOC (2013) "Repealing or amending the Jones Act cabotage law might cut Puerto Rico shipping costs"[2]
  5. 1 2 JOC (2013) "The GAO report said its interviews with shippers indicated they [...] believed that opening the trade to non-U.S.-flag competition could lower costs."[2]
  6. Gutierrez. "The “cabotage” laws impose significant restrictions on commerce between Puerto Rico and the U. S. mainland by requiring that merchandise and produce shipped by water between U.S. ports be shipped only on U.S.-built, U.S.- manned, U.S.-flagged, and U.S.-citizen owned vessels."[1]
  7. Gutierrez. "Because such restrictions boost shipping costs, American consumers pay the price."[1]
  8. Santiago (2021) "Local detractors of the Jones Act [...] for many years have unsuccessfully tried to have Puerto Rico excluded from the law's provisions[...]"[3]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Gutierrez, Elías. "Impact of the Coastwise Trade Laws on the Transportation System of the United States of America" (PDF). Retrieved September 6, 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 "GAO's Jones Act Report Is Inconclusive". The Journal of Commerce. March 20, 2013. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
  3. Santiago, Jaime (November 29, 2012). "Jones Act requirement comes under new light". Caribbean Business. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
  4. "R. Conc. del S. 21" (Microsoft Word) (in Spanish). Puerto Rico Office of Legislative Services. May 6, 2013. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
  5. "Senado aprueba proyecto para pedir trato preferencial en leyes de cabotaje". NotiCel (in Spanish). June 5, 2013. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
  6. Railroads of Puerto Rico: Ferrocarril Chemex Chemex Railroad operation in Ponce.
  7. Bayamon Tourism,
  8. Government of Puerto Rico State Historic Conservation Plan 2006-2010 (Spanish)
  9. Alfonso, Omar (11 May 2011). "Asegura Autoridad de Carreteras: Para el 2015 expreso de Ponce a Arecibo". La Perla del Sur (in Spanish). Ponce, PR. p. 16. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  10. "Alternativa de Transporte Integrado homepage" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2007-05-08.
  11. Tren Urbano PR another way low transit ridership forecast, TOLLROADSNews, November 20, 2005, accessed April 13, 2007.
  12. "Government's page on Lancha de Cataño's economical impact" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2007-05-08.
  13. AMA: Descripción (Spanish)
  14. De San Juan a Cayey en carro público. Toñito Zayas. El Nuevo Día. 15 February 2014. Photo Number 2. Photo Caption. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
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