WILMINGTON — One of the appeals of Coastal North Carolina is the proximity to the white sandy beaches. And, with spring on the way, it’s almost time to hang up the coats and trade them in for swimsuits. But for those visiting or living in the Cape Fear region, getting to and from the beach is sometimes easier said than done.
While driving to the beach can seem like the easiest option for beachgoers, the cost of parking as well as the limited availability of parking poses a challenge in most of the beach towns in the region.
So aside from driving a personal vehicle to the beach, what other options are there? When it comes to public transit, unfortunately there are not many.
Wave Transit is the region’s public transportation system, officially known as the Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority. The services offered are somewhat limited when it comes to getting riders to the beaches.
Wave Transit does not currently operate any buses that make their way onto the Island of Wrightsville Beach, according to Mobility Manager Vanessa Lacer.
This is in part because there has been little public support for a bus or shuttle program across the Hedi Trask Bridge, but also because town leaders have not shown any support for the transit system adding any stops within town limits, Lacer said.
The closest that Wave Transit buses get is to Lumina Station, still 2-miles from the beach. Every bus does have a bike rack on it Lacer said, and some people choose to take the bus to Lumina Station, and ride the rest of the way to the beach.
Shelly Wilkie has lived and worked in the area for years and thinks public transit could be improved when it comes to access to Wrightsville Beach.
“Maybe bring the trolley service Wrightsville Beach like the old days. Have a parking deck off the beach and bring people in like that. Workers on the beach should have transportation for free,” Wilkie said.
Town Manager of Wrightsville Beach Tim Owens said that the item has not been a topic of discussion in the past five years that he has worked for the town, but he believes it has come up in the past.
“I believe the opportunity was discussed in the past. I think there were a set of concerns such as visitor safety, traffic, the lack of area for a stop, etc,” Owens said.
For those hoping to get to Carolina Beach there might not be many options, but there is at least one. Wave Transit currently operates route 301, which is colloquially known as the Beach Bus.
“Route 301 provides service to Carolina Beach five times per day on Monday through Saturday, and three times per day on Sunday. We hope to identify funding to offer more frequent service in future,” Lacer said.
Mayor of Carolina Beach Joe Benson recently met with Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and discussed the possibility of expanding service to Carolina Beach to help mitigate parking problems and increase accessibility to the beach, he said in an email to Town Council.
“As some of you know, the WAVE Authority operates on a small budget. County kicks in about $300,000, I believe. At any rate, I asked about expanded routes to accommodate beach day-trippers (consider River Lights). He had no objection, but if it’s something we wish to do, beyond what’s already in place, then we’ll need to put up some funds. Addressing public transit ultimately points back to parking,” Benson said.
Since the Beach Bus is part of a so-called pilot program, riders are not given access to the bus via transfer ticket, so the easiest way to ride it is to purchase a day pass for $5, which gives access to all routes for one price, Lacer said.
Wave is currently considering the expansion of the Beach Bus to run every hour instead of every three hours, but funding is one of the potential roadblocks to making this a reality.
Part of the way Wave Transit decides where new routes will go is through public feedback, Lacer said. The authority is currently conducting a public input survey where residents can have their voices heard. The survey can be taken online. If more people were to request transit to and from the beaches, Wave Transit would be more likely to expand its services.
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