Tuesday 2 January 2018

Using Public Transport to Reach Galveston from Houston and Back

I am a fervent believer in public transport (mostly because I don't own a car and Uber/Lyft is untenable over long distances). 

Getting from Houston to Galveston (distance ~ 75 miles) was a challenge that I faced for the first time in June 2017 as I wanted to visit UTMB (University of Texas Medical Branch) on the island. 

I looked online for multiple solutions and eventually carved my own path. The biggest challenge at that time was the lack of a direct bus service connecting the two places. There were buses that went from Houston to Bay Area and there were buses that went from near Bay Area to Galveston but you had to traverse the intervening distance yourself. Now, there is a service that promises a direct transfer between the two cities. I want to list the two options that one might take while traveling between Houston and Galveston. 

ROUTE 1: The Direct Route (Island Express)
This service was supposed to start in August 2017 but due to Hurricane Harvey, there was a significant delay in commencing the route. Much like the 'indirect' route, this one involves changing buses, but not stations. This route combines route 249 and 246 (Houston Downtown-Bay Area Park and Ride) with a direct bus from Bay Area Park and Ride to Downtown Galveston. 

The official web page for this route can be accessed here (http://galvestontx.gov/895/Island-Express---HoustonGalveston-Connec). There are three times on which the buses depart the island and three different timings for buses arriving on the island. Despite the relative comfort it provides, there are numerous pitfalls to this plan. It is however, a cheaper plan.

(i) TIME
You have to wait up to 3-3.5 hours to traverse a distance of 70 miles (which takes anywhere from an hour to ninety minutes depending on traffic on a car). So in order to make this journey, you need ample amount of time with zero flexibility, at least on the Bay Area-Galveston route (since 246/249 run almost every hour from Houston). 

(ii) CASH
The buses to/from Galveston only accept Cash so you better have $4.50 in hand. 

One day I wanted to catch a bus to Houston from Downtown Galveston (I had a dinner to attend that night in Houston). I couldn't figure out where the bus is going to depart from and the number given on the brochure wasn't responding. I tried asking two different bus drivers and they gave me opposite directions. I missed that bus but eventually made it to Houston using the indirect route. For future reference, the bus leaves from the Strand bus-stop (which is the main bus stop for all local Galveston buses). 

The Afternoon service from Galveston leaves at 11:04 am (which is technically not 'Afternoon') and there is no service between then and 4:48 pm. 

A screenshot of the timings, just in case. 

I did not come up with this route but I don't know many people who have utilized this so I am sharing this for public benefit.  It involves taking 246/249 from/to Houston from/to Bay Area Park and Ride. That is the easy part. If you are coming from Houston and you reach Bay Area, you have to take an Uber/Lyft to 20738 Gulf Freeway, Webster, 77598. I have marked it on Google Maps as 'Clear Lake Center Pick-up Spot for Bus to Galveston'. In the parking lot of this shopping center, there is a stop sign near Hooters where a bus stops and takes people to Galveston (or drops you off if you are coming from Galveston). The charge is $4 in cash. I believe that despite the inconvenience of taking an Uber, this route offers more flexibility, time-wise. There is even an Afternoon service, which can take you to Galveston from Houston in around 2 hours if you time it well. (I have personally traveled from Hou-Gal using the Morning and Afternoon timings mostly). Following is the bus schedule for the Galveston-Clear Lake Center bus.It can be accessed here http://galvestontx.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/4475
It shows that the first bus leaving from Clear Lake is at 7:09 am. The Afternoon bus leaves Clear Lake Center at 1:34 pm.  
Schedule for 246/249 can be seen here 


I have used the afternoon service multiple times (coming from Houston to Galveston). I used 249 that left Milam & Jefferson or Milam & Dallas around 12:05 pm, reached Bay Area around 1:05-1:10 pm and then took an Uber/Lyft (cost between $6-10) to reach Clear Lake center before 1:34 pm. The afternoon bus from there reaches Galveston around 2:15 pm. On my last trip, I got off at El Dorado Park and Ride because that is closer to the Clear Lake Center than Bay Area but that's my personal tweak.