This story originally appeared on Houston Public Media.
Like a lot of folks on Galveston Island, Frances Barnes is proud to tell you she’s a lifelong resident. She says she gets around the island quite a bit, and since she doesn’t have a car, she makes all her trips on public transit.
Barnes rides Island Transit, which is operated by the City of Galveston. The latest figures from the American Public Transportation Association put Island Transit’s monthly ridership at about 60,000 trips.
Barnes says she likes the system a lot. But there’s one thing she doesn’t like, and that’s Galveston’s old transit center.
That transit center is basically a bus stop. It’s on a one-way section of 20th Street at Market Street in the heart of downtown. Riders have a place to sit, but they’re in the middle of the road and there’s only a narrow awning for cover.
It’s also awkward for drivers. We watched four buses at once negotiate the small space.
But things could be getting a lot easier. Galveston Transportation Director Michael Worthy gave us a tour of their new Downtown Transit Center, on the historic Strand at 25th Street.
Instead of huddling under a shelter outdoors, riders can now sit inside in comfortable chairs. And if they have questions about a route they can ask someone at the information desk. The terminal also has floor-to-ceiling windows where riders can watch their bus pull into a designated parking bay.
The facility costs about $6.3 million. Much of that money came from a federal grant. It’ll be operated through a partnership between the city and the Port of Galveston.
Officials say the new transit terminal should accomplish several things. It’ll help transit-dependent riders, people who don’t have a car. According to the Census Bureau, over 23% of Galveston residents live below the poverty line.
Worthy says buses also transport people to the University of Texas Medical Branch. UTMB has a partnership with the city that lets employees ride for free.
“UTMB being the largest employer, we have a lot of employees that need that transportation service for the late-night shifts,” explains Worthy.
But it’s not just the locals who need transportation. The island gets about six million visitors a year and the cruise ship terminal is just across the street. Galveston city spokeswoman Kala McCain says they’d like to create a situation where visitors can enjoy the historic city without having to use a car.
Another feature of the transit terminal is a parking garage.
“We’re an island, so we’re constricted to space,” says McCain. “Really the only option is to go up for parking. So anything we can do to encourage individuals to capitalize on our transit terminal and catching the bus to go to the different sites, is a great step forward in making us a more walkable community.”
Meanwhile back at the old transit center on 20th Street, Frances Barnes says she’s just looking forward to waiting for her bus in comfort.
“You know, we don’t have to sit out here when it rains, everything’s inside,” says Barnes. “So it’s going to be great.”
Despite the completion of the new transit terminal, there’s one piece that’s still missing. That’s the restoration of Galveston’s trolley. The old trolley line runs right in front of the new facility but its operating system was destroyed in Hurricane Ike in 2008. Officials say they plan to return the trolleys to service but it could take another couple of years.