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GALVESTON, TEXAS

Island Transit - City of Galveston

3115 Market

Galveston, TX 77550

Wayne Cook, Director of Transportation

(409) 762 2903

History:

The Galveston Trolley began service in 1988. The major impetus came from a billionaire named George Mitchell, who had grown up on the island and wanted to enhance the historic nature of the island by linking long the beach with the Victorian old downtown area.

System:

The line is 5.2 miles long. It operates around a loop in the historic downtown area on the north side of the island, then crosses the island along Rosenberg Street to an area of beachfront hotels and entertainment known as the Seawall. The line operates mostly in streets, and shares lanes with other vehicular traffic. The four cars were built by Kasgro as vintage trolley replicas, and are unusual in that they do not use overhead wire. Instead, a diesel bus engine is mounted in each car, which drives a generator to supply electricity for the motors. Because of output limits of this arrangement, the cars are neither heated nor air-conditioned, and performance is very docile. The reason given for this technological decision is that the city is often hit by hurricanes, and there was concern that these storms would blow down the trolley wire and subject the city to lawsuits. There are 24 stops along the route, and the line is not accessible for handicapped. A small maintenance facility is located near the north end of the line, adjacent to the former railroad station that is now a museum.

Operations:

The line operates year-round. In the winter, it runs from 10:00 AM until 6:00 PM on weekdays and until 8:00 PM on weekends. Summer hours are from 9:00 AM until 8:00 PM. Frequency is typically 20 minutes between cars. Current fare is $0.60 for adults, with half tare for children and seniors. The fare will be raised to $1.00 shortly. Ridership in 1999 was 55,000. The current ridership is about 98% tourists and visitors. A planned one-mile extension to the Medical Center is expected to be used primarily by residents of the island. Island Transit plans to rehabilitate the tracks and to air-condition the trolleys, probably with self-contained units like those used in RVs.

Organization:

Island Transit is owned and operated by the City of Galveston.

Operating Costs and Funding:

Currently, farebox receipts cover about 50% of the operating cost. Island Transit has made arrangements with merchants to buy trolley tickets and give them to customers. The City of Galveston also provides an operating subsidy.

Capital Costs and Funding:

The initial construction was largely funded from Federal grants.

System Benefits:

The line is perceived as a major tourist attraction and has caused an increase in tourism. A new cruise ship line plans to begin serving Galveston, and they will feature the connectivity of the trolley line in their promotional film. The line has increased retail activity. Recently, the highway department had to work on a street where the trolley runs, and the trolley was closed in that area temporarily—merchants claim that sales declined 30-35%.  The trolley has helped spur development, as illustrated by recent development near the Strand area, served by the trolley. Finally, the line is an attraction in itself.

System Problems and Issues:

While the line was still in the discussion stage, there was great concern over on going operating costs and funding. Federal money was available for capital, but not for operations. The city did not see the value of providing operating funds George Mitchell agreed to fund the operating deficit for a period of years to resolve the issue. Later, the city agreed to help provide operating funds, once the value of the trolley had been established. The line was one of the first new vintage trolleys built, and there were numerous problems with tracks and with the vehicles, most of which have been resolved over the years. Interestingly, no other major system has chosen to emulate Galveston's use of on-board diesel generators to provide electric power.

 

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