Township considering trolley service expansion into Hughes Landing

The Woodlands Township is evaluating a plan that would extend its Town Center trolley service farther west into the new Hughes Landing development. The plan under consideration by the township would include the purchase of five new trolleys at a cost of $170,000 each. The total cost of extending the service under the proposed plan is $913,966, which also includes the cost of operating the system.

The route extension plan is being proposed by the township's ad hoc transportation committee, which worked with transit consulting firm HDR Inc. to formulate the plan.

"We will take this [plan] to the full board to see if there is an interest in moving this budget item forward and implementing a more detailed trolley service," said Jeff Long, who serves on both the transportation committee and the township board of directors.

The township board is working to create its fiscal year 2014–15 budget, and it will consider funding for expanded trolley service. The board is expected to vote on the budget at its Aug. 27 meeting.

The plan under consideration features two routes: a Green Route that is designed as an express service running every six minutes during peak times and every 10 minutes during non-peak times, and a Red Route designed for leisure travelers. The Red Route would run every 10 minutes seven hours per day.

Long said the board could choose to approve the plan and its expense, reject it, or consider other options.

Township Transit Program Manager Chris LaRue said the Federal Transit Authority funds, and will continue to fund, 50 percent of The Woodlands' trolley operations. However, the township could bear the full cost of purchasing any new trolleys for an extended service.

"Since we have not identified grant funding at this time, the township is programming the new vehicle acquisition in the budget initiative as a 100 percent township cost," LaRue said. "However, the township will be looking to identify possible grant funding sources should the budget initiative be adopted by the board."

Although the current trolley system is free to users, Long said an expanded route could come with a fare to offset costs.

"That is something we would need to consider," he said. "People might be willing to pay."

Between July 2013 and July 2014, 89,647 riders used the trolley service, according to the township.

The 66-acre Hughes Landing mixed-use development will feature several office buildings, a hotel, apartment facility and shopping and dining amenities.

To make room for the trolley routes, Long said a new expressway would need to be implemented. But the cost and funding for an expressway has yet to be determined, he said.

Long said one of the challenges of improving mobility through mass transit is to change notions commuters have about using their own vehicles.

"That is clearly a mindset, and a concerted effort needs to take place on our part to change some of that thinking," he said. "The pain has to be so great that [users] have to look at alternative ways to get from Point A to Point B. The pain is starting to mount, so we have to give people some options."