TRANSPORT TYCOON

Dominican Republic 2019 | TRANSPORT | REVIEW

Located in the West Indies—and at a distance of some 150km from the nearest land—the Dominican Republic relies heavily on maritime transportation and is home to more than a dozen seaports. Among them, four ports carry the weight of the country's international sea transport: Haina Occidental Port, Port of Puerto Plata, Port of Barahona, and Port of Santo Domingo. Haina Occidental Port—also known as Rio Haina—benefits from terminals on both banks of the Haina River not far from the capital city.

The port has been handling export and import cargo from the Caribbean region since the early 1990s. It is now regarded as the Dominican Republic's primary shipping facility for regional maritime transportation, and one of the most critical access points to the county, together with the Port of Santo Domingo.

Although Rio Haina has taken over as the default berthing place for oceangoing cargo vessels, the Port of Santo Domingo remains the first port of entry for most cruise ships bound for the Dominican Republic, especially from Florida. The Port of Santo Domingo is now increasingly dedicated to tourism, as it is well-positioned to function as a cruising hub.
The country is also equipped with eight international airports in addition to a few airdromes for domestic flights. In 2016, Punta Cana International Airport handled over 7.8 million passengers—most of whom were tourists heading for Punta Cana's legendary white sand seaside resorts. This figure was twice the size of passenger traffic handled by the capital's Las Américas International.

Coming into service in 1983, Punta Cana International has the distinction of being the first privately owned international airport in the world. As the country's tourism sector has been on a steep growth path since 2016, Punta Cana International is seeing an annual rise of 6-8% in the number of arrivals and departures.
To keep pace with the number of passengers, the airport's control tower and runway were upgraded in 2011, which enabled it to handle as much as 60% of the country's tourism traffic by 2014. The airport works with over 50 airlines flying to and from some 95 cities in over 35 countries, with the largest number of arrivals coming from Canada, France, and Russia—in addition to other countries whose citizens have a soft spot for Caribbean resorts.

Once in the Dominican Republic, tourists, just like Dominicans, make use of the country's public in-city and intercity transport systems, although their current state leaves something to be desired. As with many other post-colonial countries, the first intercity rail tracks were laid for freight transport—in the Dominican Republic's case, to carry loads to and from sugar mills. Since different lines were constructed separately and without the idea of a national rail network in mind, different non-standard gauges were used in different lines, which has remained a challenge to this day.

Despite the shortcomings of the country's intercity rail network, the capital has one of the best metro systems in the Caribbean, incorporating 34 stations and 27km of standard tracks. With the aim of improving transportation in the Greater Santo Domingo area and relieving the city of congestion, the first and second lines of lines of the metro system came into service in 2008 and 2013, respectively. Since the metro system's inception, the trainsets have been purchased from Alstom SA, a French rail transport giant, whose manufactured rolling stock are widely in service across the EU. It is estimated that over 60 million passengers ride these trains in Santo Domingo each year.

Santiago de los Caballeros, as the country's second-largest city, has been eager to launch its own urban train system since 2008. The proposed light rail system will connect the city center to the Cibao Aiport, located some 22km away. However, construction work has not begun so far—presumably due to funding and planning challenges.
Indeed, funding issues seem to be a recurring theme in the Dominican Republic's transportation system. Although a number of renovation projects and initiatives—for airports, seaports, roads, and mass transit systems—were on the runway in the 2000s, the financial crisis of 2007-2008 brought everything to a halt. However, tourism, as one of the pillars of the country's economy, has had a full recovery between 2016 and 2018. As such, arranging the financing of major in-city and intercity transportation projects is certainly within the realm of possibilities in 2019 and 2020.