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St.Thomas–Members of the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Telecommunications, chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Friday, and voted favorably for Bill No. 33-0107- An Act authorizing the Commissioner of the Department of Public Works to permit advertisements to be placed on VITRAN buses. The item approved will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Department of Public Works Deputy Commissioner of Transportation Karole Ovesen-McGregor stated that negotiations with potential vendors are in progress despite the lack of proposals submitted in response to DPW’s Request of Proposals. “VITRAN is currently in negotiations with interested vendors and other government agencies to wrap buses. Once a bus is wrapped buses are scheduled for maximum service hours on a fixed route.” She added that available advertisement spaces are on the inside and outside of the VITRAN bus.

Presently, vendors will have an opportunity to advertise on the inside panels. On the outside, there is a space for partial and completed bus wrapping. DPW will like to expand advertisement opportunities by creating spaces at ferry terminals, bus shelters and, VITRAN branded ferry boats; according to Commissioner McGregor. Resident of the U.S. Virgin Islands Bruce Flamon added that advertisement options should also extend to government restrooms and waiting areas. Commissioner McGregor stated that marketing advertisements on VITRAN buses were permitted since 2014. To date, DPW has collected approximately $32,000 from advertisements. Proceeds from revenues collected from bus fares and advertisements are placed in the Public Transportation Fund.

However, in a written document submitted to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, the Office of Management and Budget Director Jenifer O’Neal stated that OMB opposes the measure. “This legislation may not be necessary because the Commissioner of DPW already has authority under Title 29, Chapter 9 of the VI Code.,” said Director O’Neal. “Additionally, while the bill seeks to have funds that are derived from the advertising deposited into the Public Transportation Fund, it does not speak to what sums are charged or how much could potentially be collected.”

In addition to the bill, senators were updated on the status of natural disaster preparedness from cellular phone providers. External and Legislative Affairs of AT&T of Puerto Rico Area Manager Salvatore Casale indicated that FirstNet, a public safety wireless broadband platform solely for first responders was implemented. Casale stated that for consumers, AT&T continues to bury fiber backhaul network to wireless cell sites and monitor generators for fuel at cell sites and underwater cable facilities. VIYA Vice President of Public Relations and Government Affairs Jennifer Matarangas-King stated that the preparedness plan is inclusive of continuing to replace wooden poles with monopoles at cell sites, adding Spanning Tree Protocol and Digital Switching Controls as a backup to node failures and, strengthening the wireline network. PR Wireless Senior Director of Engineering Edgar Jaen noted that to date there are battery backups at some cell sites, upgrading existing microwave radios and, improving network stability are efforts towards their plan.  

Separately, lawmakers were scheduled to meet with the V.I. Waste Management Authority (VIWMA) to receive testimony on the status of their operations. However, officials from VIWMA and the Telecommunications Industry were a no-show. Ultimately, policymakers voted to subpoena VIWMA and members of the Board of VIWMA to appear before the Senate on Thursday, August 29, 2019, at 5:00 pm.