The city could expand its bus trolley system, which attracted more than 56,000 riders in the first six months after the city began charging fares.
The city also is exploring ways to earn more revenue from advertising in the buses and at transit centers and to rely less on hotel-motel taxes generated by the convention center to pay for the service, Councilman Craig Brown said.
Galveston last summer rolled out its buses, which look like trolleys. Initially, the city offered three trolley buses operating a free service shuttling people to destinations along the Seawall, downtown and the Moody Gardens complex. The city now owns five buses, said Rick Beverlin, an assistant city manager who oversees public transportation.
In September, the city began charging a $1 fare for adults and free ridership for accompanying children. From September to April, the service averaged about 245 paying riders each day, according to the city.
The city projects bus trolley services to cost about $560,000 a year to operate with employees salaries, benefits and bus maintenance costs, according to the city. Fare revenues and excess hotel-motel taxes cover the services.
The service usually has four bus trolleys on the road at peak times to accommodate visitors and reduce wait times, Beverlin said. Having the fifth bus allows the city to conduct more routine maintenance on the buses, he said.
“People are starting to see the benefit of being able to park once,” Beverlin said.
The city hasn’t expanded its routes since launching the bus system last year, but is considering extending to other locations, Beverlin said. Consultants working for the city are expected to publish a seawall mobility plan this summer, which could give more recommendations for where to have bus routes, he said.
Because the program is funded primarily by taxes on hotel and motel room rentals, the marketing and route-planning for it mostly caters to tourists, Brown said. The Park Board of Trustees, which oversees tourism initiatives, helps with marketing the system.
The city is attempting to expand revenue by allowing companies to advertise inside the trolley buses and at the transit centers, Brown said. The city projects it could earn up to $600,000 a year from advertising, but those numbers haven’t come to fruition yet, Brown said.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” Brown said.
Transportation officials also are exploring the idea of renting the buses out on a charter basis to people who want to have a party or use them for that purpose, Brown said.
The city’s steel-wheeled trolleys, damaged in Hurricane Ike in 2008, are still in Iowa getting repaired, Beverlin said. The first one could be back as soon as June, with the others coming later, he said.
But the trolleys and trolley tracks will still have to undergo lengthy work to ensure they’re compliant with federal and state safety standards, Beverlin said. The trolley line isn’t expected to be running before early 2019, he said.
City officials want the trolleys to become part of the “Galveston experience,” Beverlin said.
“When people are here for a three- or four-day vacation, our hope is that becomes part of the whole experience of coming to Galveston.”