HARLINGEN, Texas – Now that Valley International Airport is about to start nonstop flights to and from Monterrey, Mexico, it is time to have better transportation links between Harlingen and South Padre Island. 

This is the view of Ed Caum, director of SPI’s convention and visitors bureau, and Marv Esterly, aviation director for VIA. 

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Caum pointed out that many Mexican nationals that own property on SPI have been unable to enjoy their homes on the island while the international bridges have been closed to so-called non-essential travel.

With pent up demand expected to lead to a lot of visitors to VIA from Monterrey, Caum said the need for a shuttle service between the airport and the island becomes more vital.

“I would say it is a great day for the Valley and particularly for Harlingen and SPI,” Caum said, soon after the announcement was made that Viva Aerobus would be flying twice a week direct between VIA and Monterrey, starting May 6.

“I am really thankful for the partnership we have had with Harlingen over the many years. I would hope that me coming on board, that the Island and VIA are working even closer together.”

Caum then spoke about one of his top agenda items.

“The one thing we would like to ask the Valley is for help with transportation. We now need to figure out a way to get people fairly easily back and forth through the different destinations, particularly the island.”

Caum said there used to be a contract for transportation to the island but it was stopped when the coronavirus pandemic started. 

“I would love to see some local entrepreneurs step up and fill in this need to get people moving around the Valley from VIA to wherever they want to go, whether it be here in Harlingen, Brownsville, or over to our island. Again, together we are better, a rising tide floats all boats.”

The international bridges have been closed to non-essential travel since last March, in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. There was no such block on non-essential travelers going by air. 

During the year, Caum said he has seen an increase in private jets fly in bringing Mexican nationals to SPI. 

“But, that is not everybody, obviously. This (Viva Aerobus) flight is really going to help out with that and you don’t have to worry about sitting in line at the border. You zip over here to your island property, enjoy the Valley and fly home.”

Asked if public transport can fill the void, Caum said: “Public transportation does not run as effectively. Public transportation will drop you at a bus stop. It will not drop you at your destination, be it your apartment, your condo, your hotel or your vacation rental. So, we really want to bridge that. I think this is a perfect opportunity for an entrepreneur to step in and find some public-private partnership support to run like we used to.”

Caum said the City of South Padre Island and the City of Harlingen are discussing ways in which taxi cabs in both cities can work together. 

“We are also working on an RFP or a RFQ, possibly, to find two or three vendors that will work together to service the needs. Because, obviously, if you do not have a plane offloading there is really not a need but you could balance it for different flights.”

An RFP is a request for proposals. An RFQ is a request for qualification.

“This particular flight on Sundays and Thursdays coming out of Monterrey is great. We have also got the direct flight coming in from Chicago that comes in every Saturday. So there are some known sweet spots for an entrepreneur to pick up and move people around,” Caum added.

VIA’s Esterly agreed.

“It is definitely a big priority of ours, currently. It is probably the only thing that we were weakened by, during the pandemic,” Easterly said, referring to the need for better a better mini-bus service to and from VIA.

“We need to bring that service back, even more robust than it was was before. Like Ed said, we need to find those entrepreneurs. It just so happens I am talking to one right now. There are going to be others. We are going to get this thing done in short order, working with the Island and looking at reciprocal agreements with our taxicab companies as well.”

Asked how well leisure travel is rebounding, Esterly said: “There is no doubt things are picking up. There is pent up demand out there. People want to get out and they want to fly. They want to go see family and friends. Plus, we have the increased vaccination rate. That is going to increase the excitement and the traffic at airports.”

Esterly said he was pleased to report that flights leaving VIA are full every day. Indeed, he said, demand is currently outpacing supply.

“Airlines are going to have a difficult time putting the capacity back in each market, so go online and book your ticket. There is going to be huge demand, bigger than before COVID. Everyone wants to go at the same time. We can see light at the end of the tunnel and it is showing in our traffic demand.”

As for VIA remaining a safe place, hygiene-wise, Esterly said: “Nothing has changed there. We do not want to let our guard down. We continue to clean and disinfect high-touch surface areas. The federal mandate for masks is still in place. We are proud of the measures we have put in place to keep the citizens safe who come to our airport.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Ed Caum and Marv Esterly at VIA.

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