Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Wilmington and New Hanover officials to vote on new public transit agreement

WAVE transit faces financial challenges. Now, the county is preparing to walk away from its funding of public transportation. (Port City Daily photo / File)
WAVE transit faces serious challenges. The city and county are proposing to overhaul the system. (Port City Daily photo / File)

WILMINGTON — The fate of public transportation in Wilmington and New Hanover County is in the hands of elected leaders this week as both governmental bodies move to approve an interlocal agreement to revamp the current system.

The Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority, more commonly known as Wave Transit, was first set up in 2002 through an agreement between the city and county. But current leadership, namely Chairwoman Julia Olsen-Boseman, has been calling for reform to the system and in October, she made the surprise motion to withdraw funding from the transit system.

Wave has been criticized by both residents and leaders alike for years, especially the routes busses took and the so-called ‘coverage model.’ What this means is Wave Transit services a large geographical area of the county at the cost of lower ridership for some of the less populous routes.

While coverage models have their benefits, the lower ridership undoubtedly takes its toll on the finances of the system.

“A coverage model offers infrequent transit service (typically 60-minute headways) over the majority of an urbanized area (UZA). This model ensures that all jurisdictions encompassing the UZA have access to federal and state public transportation revenues if local match is provided. Coverage models are common in regional transit systems. The major drawback of the coverage model is that less populous areas are not as economical or efficient due to fewer passengers,” according to a report from Wave Transit.

The other method, the so-called ‘convenience model’ focuses on density and ridership.

“This method of service delivery allocates resources to the most densely populated areas on a more frequent basis, either consistently or during peak demand, or overextended hours during the service day. This service model offers increased convenience for passengers and potential passengers living in denser areas which can make commuting by bus more appealing potentially leading to higher ridership. The convenience model is challenging, especially in transit-dependent areas, because it offers no service in outlying urbanized areas,” according to the report.

Earlier this month, city and county leaders announced the complete overhauling of Wave transit with Mayor Bill Saffo acknowledging the coverage model and its shortcomings.

“When this authority was set up in 2002, the commitment was that we would make it a coverage model, and the board and the WAVE transit executives have tried to do that with the money they had,” Saffo said. “Obviously there’s a lot of concerns about that coverage model.”

The new agreement

On Tuesday, both the city and the county will vote on a joint resolution titled, ‘Concurrent Resolution of the Wilmington City Council and the Board of Commissioners of New Hanover County For Enhanced Public Transportation Operations and Efficiency.’

According to the City of Wilmington’s agenda, the new resolution will call for the following items:

  • Assess the current WAVE system and structure for improvement to address current and future needs, without any lapse in service with a new structure anticipated to be in place by July 2021
  • Consider the paratransit needs of the system in order to promote efficiency
  • Consider rideshare and other innovative transportation options in conjunction with conventional buses
  • Develop specific criteria to address route determination and evaluation based on community needs, transit-dependent areas and a convenience service model also with an emphasis on increasing transit vehicle frequency with targeted coverage
  • Identify opportunities for other regional local governments both within and outside New Hanover County and other stakeholder entities which might participate financially and provide input in the new governance structure
  • Assure revenue is aligned with the system of choice and with approved, available, revenue streams, dedicated or otherwise adequate to ensure a consistent and predictable financial sustainability
  • That community input is encouraged through various forums.

Wilmington City Council meets on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall. The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners will meet Tuesday morning at 9:30 in Room 301 of the New Hanover County Courthouse, 24 N. Third St.


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