Galveston has competing notions of its trolley system — one good and one dubious.
Since the plan to restore trolley service in Galveston is working its way to the City Council, good citizens ought to let their representatives know what they think.
The first notion about the trolley system is that the fixed-rail system, which was wrecked by Hurricane Ike in 2008, was an integral part of Galveston’s transportation system. If that means a significant number of islanders used the trolley to get to work or to the grocery store, that notion is absurd. The rail trolleys were charming tourist attractions, but that’s about it.
The second notion is that the city needs a system of rubber-tired trolleys to get tourists from one place to another. That’s a huge, undeniable need.
On any sunny weekend, Seawall Boulevard looks like the parking lot of a professional football stadium. Traffic crawls when it’s not gridlocked.
Of all the problems facing Galveston’s tourism industry, traffic is perhaps the most serious. Nothing kills the experience of a relaxing getaway like a couple of hours of fighting traffic.
It would be nice to have some public parking lots where a family could leave the car, board a shuttle and hit all the hot spots — attractions, restaurants and shopping areas. Such a system would be a good investment in one of Galveston’s key industries.
These competing visions of the trolley system have a practical point. If the trolley system is an integral part of the island’s transportation system, used to move residents around, it makes sense to tap the general fund. If the trolley system is aimed at tourists, it makes sense to tap hotel occupancy taxes more heavily and to ask for contributions from those in the tourism business.
What constitutes fair funding is likely to be the entertaining question in the council’s discussions.
The rubber-tired trolleys are expensive — roughly $400,000 each. A fleet of five has been proposed, meaning a total investment of about $2 million.
A federal grant is available that would pay 80 percent of the cost, meaning Galveston would have to find the rest.
However, it’s a competitive grant administered through the Houston-Galveston Area Council. Other cities, particularly The Woodlands, are interested in the money.
That grant — and the discussion of a system of trolleys that run on rubber tires — is the place to start. The city really does need a plan to reduce traffic along the seawall and other areas heavily traveled by tourists. The rubber trolleys fit the bill, and the city has an opportunity to get them for 20 cents on the dollar.
If the rail trolleys have a future, it’s as a part of that system — not as a part of the bus service that gets people to work and the grocery store.