Galveston might have to wait longer and spend more for the return of three flood-damaged trolleys because the company repairing them found additional problems, city officials said.

The three steel-wheel trolleys were damaged during Hurricane Ike in 2008 and have been undergoing repairs at Iowa-based Gomaco Trolley Co., but their homecoming to Galveston has long been delayed.

Now, the company expects to return the first trolley by Oct. 1 and the last car in December, said David Smith, executive director of fleet, mass transit and special events.

“We’ve received notification from the company that in the internal framework they found corrosion inside the beams,” Smith said. “It will extend the delivery date because of the hang-up.”

To repair all three trolleys, it will cost the city an additional roughly $135,000, a small addition to the total costs associated with repairing the cars, Smith said.

Each car has cost about $1.2 million, paid for with hotel occupancy tax revenue and federal disaster relief money, he said.

In the past, the city considered abandoning costly repairs of the trolleys, but reconsidered at the threat of having to return long-spent federal grant money.

Rather than the resident focused Island Transit buses, the trolleys are directed to tourists and are part of the city’s goal of increasing ridership on its system, said Rick Beverlin, assistant city manager of grants and public transportation.

The city’s rubber wheel trolleys, buses built to look like old-style trolleys, have been growing in popularity, Beverlin said.

The city’s also been considering ways to increase sales and revenue from tickets, he said.

“We do believe that it would be beneficial to consider higher trolley fare, and tie that to some direct incentives to the hoteliers to really push that,” Beverlin said.

In the past few months, the trolley committee, a city recommending body made up of residents, has considered raising fees from $1 to $2 or $3 per ride.

“I was thinking, in order to make this all work, we need to raise it to $2 from $1,” said Trey Click, a co-chairman of the committee.

The city’s public transit systems will cost about $4.4 million in 2019, and in recent years the city made cuts to Island Transit to reduce costs.

When trolley repairs are completed, maintenance costs to the system should decrease, Smith said.

The costs to operate the trolleys should also be far less than it was before Hurricane Ike, when the city spent about $3 a mile on maintenance, he said.

Besides increasing revenue, the city’s goal of increasing ridership plays into a long-term vision for moving tourists around the island, Click said.

The island’s 7.2 million visitors have raised concern among citizens about congestion on the road and popularizing use of the trolleys can ease that strain, Click said.

“It’ll be a good system for moving tourists around,” Click said. “You can park once and then shuttle people around.”

The change order that authorizes the city to spend the additional $135,000 needed to complete repairs will likely come before the Galveston City Council for a vote later this month, Smith said.

The city will receive additional updates about repairs during its special meeting Wednesday.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

(6) comments

Steve Fouga

There are good reasons these archaic behemoths are obsolete. As I understand it, trolleys never actually make money directly, and cities generally don't expect them to. They are viewed as enticements that bring tourists to profitable attractions. We'll see... [whistling]

Jack Reeves

They aren't money makers but, they do add to the charm of The Island which, by the way, was a pioneer in public transportation in the south. If the city would emphasize that history, tie the trolley service to The Railroad Museum and the overall history of rail in Galveston, they could possibly be an attraction in themselves. It would also help to hire engineers/drivers who knew the history of the neighborhoods through which the trolley runs. Hoping for the best!

Steve Fouga

I agree, Jack. The City or Park Board should find a way to make them part of a larger plan. I'm encouraged by the recent emphasis on the Island's art and history. Like you suggest, maybe the trolleys can be made part of that.

David Schuler

It's difficult to imagine San Francisco without cable cars or New Orleans without street cars. Should be the same for Galveston's trolley. The trolley-themed buses may be more flexible and cheaper per seat-mile, but without the steel-wheeled trolley to establish the context they're just a poor substitute for the real thing, like adding a few cupolas to a Motel 6 and calling it The Galvez.

Bailey Jones

I've always been intrigued by old photos of Broadway with the trolley tracks where the median is now. How great would it be to be able to get around the island by hopping on a trolley? I think $2 for a trolley ride is perfectly reasonable. Like Seawall parking, the city could sell yearly passes to residents who need something more affordable. My question is - does the city now have some high water storage facility for these jewels, or will be go through all of this again with the next Ike or Harvey?

Wayne Holt

"My question is - does the city now have some high water storage facility for these jewels, or will be go through all of this again with the next Ike or Harvey?"

That is exactly what I was thinking, Bailey. I have supported the return of the trolleys as being perfectly in sync with Galveston's tourist appeal and literally everyone I speak to outside of Galveston loves the idea of historically accurate trolleys returning here.

The rub is what happens if we have a repeat of Ike? It's pretty obvious this is the last time this kind of money is going to be expended to reconstitute the trolley fleet if it happens again. So...what exactly is the plan to at least mitigate the threat of damage from a bay-side inundation like Ike visited on us or Harvey level flooding?

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