TEXAS CITY — Ridership on Connect Transit is up, fueled by a more than fivefold increase in mainland business between Galveston and League City in the past three years.
Customers are calling for expanded service hours and further destinations like Kemah and Houston, Gulf Coast Center Director James Hollis said.
Hollis started the Connect Transit program in 2008 to serve Galveston County residents who wanted public transportation and who fell outside of the jurisdiction of Galveston’s Island Transit bus system.
That year, the Texas City-based company expanded its service areas to include Dickinson, La Marque, Bacliff and League City.
The biggest draw was the result of an agreement between the Gulf Coast Center and the city of Galveston to redirect Island Transit buses to the Victory Lakes park and ride in League City.
About 16,000 people rode the Victory Lakes park and ride in 2009, its first year of operation. By 2012, ridership had ballooned to 93,500, and is projected to reach 103,000 by the end of this fiscal year, Hollis said.
“Expansion has been phenomenal,” he said. “More people are riding public transit now than before.”
About 90 percent of Victory Lakes passengers are employees at the University of Texas Medical Branch. It’s a much different crowd that the usual commuters who utilize the Mall of the Mainland park and ride for things like grocery shopping and medical appointments, he said.
“People have decided it’s nice to let someone else drive them down there so they can drink their coffee and read the newspaper,” Hollis said.
He also said the slow economy might have helped spur interest in public transportation.
Texas City resident Morgan Whittington said he never considered using public transportation until he took a job on Galveston Island last year.
“I can’t stand being hassled by paid parking,” he said. “I spent every commute trying to find a reason to justify taking a job that drained my tank until someone suggested I ride the bus.”
Whittington’s change in attitude mirrors similar reactions from once-hesitant riders who are happy to leave their vehicles behind, Hollis said.
“It’s that Texas mentality,” he said. “We’ve always had a lot of room here, but it’s starting to get congested. The mindset for public transit is slowly changing.”
Passengers are forced to stand in overcrowded buses a couple of times a week. Hollis said he is eager to add larger vehicles to the fleet and to expand service locations and operational hours to meet demand.
But passenger fares, which usually range from $2 to $4, cover little of the associated costs of mass transportation, Hollis said. Fixed-route services wouldn’t survive without matching grants from the cities that benefit from the service.
Saturday service and extended evening hours are on the horizon, he said.
He is also looking into building a third park and ride at Carlos Garza Park in Texas City, as well as including Kemah in the fixed route to alleviate the city’s parking.
Hollis wants to someday extend bus service north to Houston from Victory Lakes through a partnership with Houston Metro.
“I’m trying to connect the dots, so islanders could get a ride all the way to Houston,” he said.
At a glance
To request a reservation for demand response service or for information about Connect Transit in Texas City, call 800-266-2320 or 409-945-0820.