Petri Urvil had been waiting for this day. And waiting. And waiting.
Urvil, a researcher who works in the Houston Medical Center, has lived on Galveston Island for 20 years. For many of those years, he commuted on various bus services that connected Galveston to the city.
That ended in 2013, when the last of those connections, run by Megabus, ended its service.
Since then, Urvil has been renting an apartment in Houston to cut down on car commuting time during the week.
“I rented an apartment because I think driving would be too tough,” he said.
On Monday, Urvil was the only person (not including a reporter and a photographer) to show up at the starting line of the Island Express, a new Houston-to-Galveston line that connects the City of Galveston’s Island Transit system and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County METRO system, via a transfer stop at the Bay Area Park & Ride in Webster.
The start of the bus service had been delayed at least twice since it was approved. First, contract language required a Galveston City Council vote before service could start. Then, Hurricane Harvey disrupted regular bus service in both cities, leading officials to wait a week before starting the program.
“I’ve been waiting for this for many, many years,” Urvil said.
The Island Express bus — a small bus that carries about 20 people — left downtown Galveston at about 7 a.m. Monday. The bus makes a stop in the parking lot of the Food Rite in Texas City before continuing to Webster — where riders get on a larger METRO bus that travels right into downtown Houston.
On Monday, Island Express picked up a second rider, Alastair Hatter, at 53rd Street. He was unaware that he had happened upon the inaugural ride to Houston — where he was headed to go apartment hunting.
“This kind of fit it in just right,” Hatter said. “I remember a while ago you were able to make this trip, but then it was discontinued. I will definitely be using it more.”
Urvil and Hatter made it to Houston at about 8:45 a.m., a little later than the 8:34 a.m. arrival time advertised in the bus line’s literature. Urvil raced off to make a connection downtown, still hoping to make a 9 a.m. meeting.
Hatter stuck around for a second, getting his bearings at the downtown METRO station, and offering his advice as a trailblazer to future riders.
“I would say to have some $1s,” he said. “If you’re coming back, definitely have some change, too.”
The first day was not without its hiccups. When METRO Bus 249 — the advertised afternoon connection back to Galveston — arrived about 15 minutes late to the Bay Area Park & Ride on Monday afternoon, the Island Transit bus that was supposed to carry commuters back to Galveston had already left, leaving the connection’s initial riders searching for alternate transportation.
Galveston officials speculated that the timing issue was because of post-Harvey adjustments being made by the Houston transit system, and said they would contact the Houston service about the missed connection.
“The city is working closely with METRO to better communicate arrival times with the connecting buses,” city spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said.
Houston Public Media reported Monday that some METRO buses and facilities were damaged by Harvey’s floods, but that ridership had returned to pre-storm levels.
METRO’s public affairs office did not return a phone call on Monday afternoon.
The Island Express service is funded to continue for two years. Officials hope the pilot project proves popular enough to attract a private company to continue the service after that, they said.