NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The Cape Fear’s only public transit entity will be able to reach more people in northern rural areas of the county not currently served thanks to an influx of federal funds.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation received $10.4 million, funded out of President Joe Biden’s newly created Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program, to give communities for on-demand transit services. Wave Transit was one of 11 recipients, with a goal to grow into Castle Hayne, located 11 miles north on the outskirts of Wilmington..
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The goal is to accelerate transportation services to low-income communities, improving access to resources through NCDOT’s Mobility for Everyone, Everywhere program.
“This is a historic achievement for Wave Transit,” Wave director Marie Parker told Port City Daily. “This investment in our micro-transit service in the Wilmington area could provide public transportation to corners of the community that are underserved or unserved.”
The newly expanded service, if adopted by Wave’s board, will add more service hours and vehicles, as well as serve a larger footprint. Wave’s current RideMICRO routes currently reach Skipper’s Corner, in the northern part of the county, beyond I-140..
According to the grant application, more than 60% of transit riders do not own a personal vehicle, rural areas have higher poverty rates and a higher average age of residents.
Funding will be tailored to each community and covered for three calendar years, 2024 to 2026. NCDOT spokesperson Jamie Kritzer said the state transportation entity will work with Wave and the U.S. Department of Transportation to finalize the scope of Wave’s portion of the project in the next few months.
Wave already has an on-demand transit service in place, so the grant will not be building a new program, only become accessible to more riders..
Wave launched its RIDEMicro on-demand rideshare service as a pilot program, funded by NCDOT, in October 2021. Its operations are similar to Uber, but costs $2 per ride. An app allows travelers to book and pay for rides online.
By July, virtual stops had increased tenfold, and now include 3,000 destinations in Pender, Brunswick and New Hanover counties. Four zones have already been phased into the RideMICRO service.
Since its launch, there has been a 1,261 person increase in monthly ridership and an 800% rise in daily passengers.
Vehicles currently run 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. in zones 1 and 2 (west into Brunswick and east into Pender) during the week and from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for zones 3 and 4 (New Hanover). The latter also offers weekend rides from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Applying for the project, according to Parker, was a collaborative effort with NCDOT and with support from the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County.
“This will improve the quality of life for our residents by providing affordable, convenient, and expanded public transit service access to essential services and economic opportunities,” Parker said.
Among all 11 communities — Alamance, McDowell, Johnston, Randolph, Rockingham, Sanford, Salisbury and Wilson counties, as well as Kerr Area Regional Transit, Tar River Transit and Wave Transit — more than 800,000 individuals can be served.
Funding will cover advanced transit scheduling software and in some communities third-party contracts for vehicles and drivers.
NCDOT’s Integrated Mobility Division applied for the money based on success rates of statewide on-demand transit services.
The other impetus is to improve rural roads, of which 13% in the state are in poor condition, according to the application.
The Mobility for Everyone, Everywhere in NC grant will invest $2 billion over the next three years to improve highways, bridges, and tunnels, address highway safety, and increase access in rural areas.
The program is part of the $44 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Also funded were the following states:
- $10 million to construct 3.6 miles of access roads in the Native Village of Wales, Alaska
- $25 million to upgrade the Madera 41 Expressway in Fresno, California
- $25 million to design and construct two ferry boats in Plaquemines Parish and Cameron Parish, Louisiana
- $26.3 million to construct two underpasses in City of Moorhead, Minnesota
- $25 million toward road improvements in Kalispell, Montana
- $959,304 to rehabilitate the Hartland Road Bridge over Hold Hill Creek in Niagara County, New York
- $69 million for the construction of a 6.1-mile highway in Snyder County, Pennsylvania
- $26.2 million to reconstruct roads in Todd County, South Dakota
- $6 million to improve roadways in Tooele, Utah
- $25 million to add lanes to I-64 in New Kent County, Virginia
- $25 million to construct a new expressway in Wyoming County, West Virginia
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