Island Transit reducing bus service

A passenger steps off the Island Transit’s “Lifeline” bus Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, at the Downtown Transit Terminal.

JENNIFER REYNOLDS/The Daily News file

The Galveston City Council has very little choice but to approve cutting some of the bus services Island Transit operates along traditional fixed routes.

Cuts to public services are never good news, especially cuts to services used by low-income people. The cuts at issue now, however, are being driven by many numbers, some very large and all running in the wrong direction.

The council on Jan. 25 is scheduled to consider whether to cut Island Transit’s nighttime bus service, which would bring the struggling transit system within budget in 2018 for the first time in years, Assistant City Manager Rick Beverlin said at a public meeting Thursday.

The proposal comes just months after the council created the route, consolidating several nighttime and weekend bus lines into one island-wide option.

While several other routes operate during the day, the lifeline is the island’s only nighttime route, the only bus option after 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and the only option on weekends.

The city has proposed eliminating the route on weekdays, as well as cutting the service after 7:30 p.m. on weekends. The city has alternatively looked at widening the service area of the route by extending wait times between bus stops to an hour, instead of 30 minutes, Beverlin said.

“I wish I had a different message to deliver right now,” Beverlin said. “But we want to keep Island Transit whole and above water.”

Island Transit officials this year have worked to offset a loss of more than $1 million in state and federal funding — about a quarter of the bus service’s operating costs, Beverlin said.

Much of that decline in funding occurred after the city lost its “small urban” status when the population dipped below 50,000 people after Hurricane Ike struck in 2008. The city was given “rural” status, meaning it was no longer eligible for $750,000 in annual federal funding it had received.

The city made up for much of that loss with supplemental funding from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, but that expired at the end of the 2017 fiscal year.

Added to the problem is a consistent drop in ridership over the years, Beverlin said. Weekday ridership on the lifeline route has also been low, with two buses combined collecting not even $30 a day in fares during the week, he said.

Ridership on the system’s fixed routes dropped by almost 50 percent after Hurricane Ike, according to a report by the city staff. It rose some between about 2010 and 2013, but has dropped pretty sharply since about 2014.

As a result, fewer people used the fixed-route buses in 2016 than did in 2010, according to the staff report.

This isn’t a matter of whether the public transportation should be subsidized with public money. There may be an exception somewhere, but, in general, all public transit systems are subsidized to some extent.

The question is how much can local taxpayers afford to subsidize a system that seems to be attracting fewer and fewer users each year?

The council should approve the staff recommendation to cut Island Transit’s nighttime route, but should continue to look for ways to help people get to work and other places.

It should consider partnerships with major employers and perhaps allowing more people to use Island Transit’s “Dial-a-Ride” program, which has seen increased ridership in recent years. That service is restricted to elderly and disabled people, but perhaps it should be opened to people with low-wage jobs.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com

(17) comments

Kelly Naschke

Keep dreaming of your progressive, liberal utopia Smith. The economics speak for themselves. It failed for a reason. Lack of demand. Even when bolstered by federal dollars. Can you say capitalism? Can you say Uber?

Steve Fouga

Maybe I misunderstood, but to me it sounds like Mr. Smith is in favor of cutting the route. A practical position, not a liberal or conservative one. [whistling]

Steve Fouga

I'll also add that it's great to know we're about to add railed trolleys to our underutilized transit system. LOL. [beam]

Katherine Maxwell

The trolleys are funded by hotel taxes. Transit buses cannot be funded that way. No general fund dollars or regular sales tax dollars operate the trolleys.

Steve Fouga

I understand. My point is that the railed trolleys are unnecessary. Not enough people will ride them to make them worthwhile. Like these bus routes.

Katherine Maxwell

Actually the trolleys in a couple months surpassed all of Island Transit in ridership. Tourism transportation is much more viable than island transit.

Steve Fouga

Mr. Maxwell, my main gripe is with the railed trolleys, but I seem to be in the minority. I don't like them, but I hope they fulfill their promise of boosting tourism.

Katherine Maxwell

Completely understand. - Brian

Jarvis Buckley

More folks are working now although winter is a slow time for Galveston business. lower use seems odd. Has
Anyone an answer for why?

Gary Miller

Count the riders? More than two riders is unusual. No riders is common. Buses parked, while drivers take a nap, on Skyline drive, under the Dickinson Bayou bridge and other strange places is common.

Ron Binkley

How close are we getting our population back over 50,000?

Jim Forsythe

Since 2015, Galveston has had over 50,000 in population. It must be easier to be removed from list, than to be add back.
http://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/galveston-tx-population/

Katherine Maxwell

It is based on the census. The island will not be eligible until most likely 2022 when the census is complete.

Jarvis Buckley

I agree Jim. I'll tweet Trump.

Jim Casey

The decline in ridership is a classic death spiral: Less frequent and convenient service pushes people to find other means of transportation, so ridership and revenue drop. I own a car and a bicycle, and haven't taken a city bus in about 10 years.

I know people who don't own cars. They walk, ride bicycles, bum rides, or pay someone that they work with for shared rides. They plan their trips so that they take care of multiple errands at once.

Taxis and Uber are both too expensive for people who are making minimum wage or less, and often on less than full-time jobs.

I think it's safe to say that the people taking buses have no other choice.

- Jim Casey, Galveston

Bill Cochrane

I wonder if some of the people that would normally use the bus are using the rubber tire trolley?

Katherine Maxwell

Possibly but they have to pay and can’t use passes and such which are cheaper.

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