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CoastLine: Wave Transit Faces Criticism From New Hanover County

Wave Transit
Wave Transit has added six 35′ buses and one shuttle bus fueled by compressed natural gas, with ten buses programmed through 2020.";

It was a surprise to Wave Transit officials and to some fellow Commissioners when Julia Olson-Boseman, Vice Chair of the New Hanover County Board, made a motion to end the County’s agreement with Wave.  

Not only was the item not on the agenda, Olson-Boseman dropped the motion at the end of the regular Board meeting – during the part of the meeting entitled, “Additional Items.”  Commissioner Patricia Kusek quickly seconded the motion, forcing it to a vote.  It passed with a three-to-two majority.  One of the dissenters, Chairman Jonathan Barfield, said during the brief discussion that it’s not often he feels this way during a county meeting – but, he said, he felt sick to his stomach.

It’s a controversial move.  The Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority, also known as Wave Transit, came into being in 2004.  It was a joint effort by the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County to cooperate on a public transit system.  What the purpose of the enterprise was – whether to serve residents in need, the elderly, disabled, or poor, or whether officials at the time hoped to see the system grow and attract choice riders, appears to be an open question.   

Commissioner Olson-Boseman tells WHQR she knows and understands citizens need readily-available transportation.  But she says Wave Transit has problems:  long wait times, routes that have very few riders, and system officials asking for more money each year to do the same things.  There’s no innovation, says Olson-Boseman, in meeting the needs of the community.   

To be clear, the Commissioners’ recent vote has no impact on the current services of Wave. The City of Wilmington provides most of the local money to Wave.  This year, that amounts to about $1.4 million.  The county contributes just under $331,000 dollars as part of this year’s budget and will do it again next year. 

In an email to WHQR, New Hanover County Spokesperson Jessica Loeper said the county purchases paratransit services from Wave through the Department of Social Services and the Senior Resource Center, and that will continue as well.  Any change to the county’s funding of Wave would not happen until July 2021, if the county withdraws from the interlocal agreement.

On this edition, we’ll explore the purpose of WAVE, as well as its recurring challenges and the criticism it’s facing.  


Albert EbyExecutive Director, Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority, also known as Wave Transit

Beck Smith, Chairman, Wave Transit


On Monday, October 21, 2019, the New Hanover County Commissioners moved to withdraw its support from the Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority. After a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority on October 24, 2019, no immediate action was taken to modify services offered by Wave Transit. All routes and services will continue without interruption until further notice.
A public hearing has been scheduled for November 21, 2019 to hear from the public regarding the following changes to service offered by Wave Transit:

• Modify current weekday service (Monday – Friday) to end at 8:00pm
• Modify current Saturday service to begin at 9:00am and end at 6:00pm

The proposed changes will be considered by the Board of Directors on November 21, 2019. Comments regarding these modifications will be received via email to wavetransit@wavetransit.com , by phone to (910) 343-0106, by fax to (910) 3463-8317 or in person at a public hearing scheduled for Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 12:00pm at Forden Station, 505 Cando St., Wilmington, NC 28405.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.