NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Wave Transit riders who were against the previously proposed route restructure will have another chance to have their voices heard.
Wilmington’s public transportation operator is once again considering significant changes to its bus routes. A previous restructuring plan, which would have cut six routes in August, was scrapped last spring, three months before it was supposed to take effect.
It’s been two years since the severity of Wave Transit’s funding shortfalls and dwindling ridership came to light. The board of directors was subsequently overhauled; the executive director at the time, Albert Eby, was ousted; and consultants TransPro was brought in to find ways to cut costs and stabilize the transportation system.
Since then, New Hanover County commissioners and Wilmington council members have acknowledged that they need a more efficient method of funding Wave Transit than annual budget allocations. This year the city is contributing $1.5 million and the county is providing $526,016 to the bus system.
The local government bodies are considering increases to local motor vehicle fees and may ask taxpayers to approve a quarter-cent sales tax increase in the 2022 election, which would generate more than $12 million a year for Wave Transit and other desired transportation projects, such as multi-use paths.
According to Wave Transit’s operating statistics, ridership is down about 40% this fiscal year compared to fiscal year 2019.
Wave Transit’s former plan to improve its bus schedule, developed alongside Transpro, would have decreased the number of routes from 14 to eight. As the execution date neared, officials were hearing more pushback from riders who depend on the service. They directed Wave Transit to come up with a better plan, one that still saves costs but maintains existing service.
The city and county together paid the consulting firm roughly $226,000 for its work, which Commissioner Jonathan Barfield later criticized. He accused the company of only telling leaders what they wanted to hear.
The one-year postponement afforded executive director Marie Parker time to take the lead — and a closer look — on the restructuring. Parker joined Wave Transit in December 2020 when plans to cut routes were already underway. She now has until at least July 1 to put in place an improved route system.
Over the past eight months, her staff has collected and analyzed data in-house. The newest revised network is reportedly a blend of TransPro’s recommendations and improvements staff made based on its studies.
The proposed modifications include:
- Substituting Route 207 North and Route 301 Pleasure Island with RideMICRO, a new service that allows passengers to book rides, similarly to a rideshare app
- Consolidating Route 103 Oleander East, Route 106 Shipyard Boulevard, Route 202 Oleander West, and Route 205 Long Leaf Park into existing fixed routes
- Increasing the frequency of Routes 107 College Road, Route 108 Market Street, and Route 201 Carolina Beach Road
- Shifting weekend hours to start running buses on Saturdays at 8 a.m. instead of 9 a.m.
The Wave Transit Board of Directors will vote on the draft network this month, at which point the full proposal will become available online for the community to review.
Over the next 90 days, through Apr. 13, the public will have opportunities to comment on the anticipated changes. Then the board of directors will finalize and adopt the redesign. An educational phase will follow, and the new network will begin service in July.
Customers are invited to complete a survey, available online or at transfer facilities, that asks about their transit needs and priorities, changes to their travel patterns since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and their interest in shared, on-demand rides.
Further comments can be submitted on the Wave Transit website or in-person at Forden Station, 505 Cando St., or Padgett Station, 520 N. 3rd St.
Two public hearings will be scheduled, with details released later this month.
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