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Wave Transit moves forward with controversial route changes

Hannah Breisinger
On Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, the Wave board approved the TransPro final route recommendations in a 5-4 vote.

Wave Transit is officially switching gears. Final route recommendations have been accepted by the Wave board, meaning the current system will be reconfigured. But that decision wasn’t made unanimously. WHQR’s Ben Schachtman and Hannah Breisinger have both been checking in on Wave, and discuss the latest developments.

HB: Hi, I'm Hannah Breisinger.

BS: And I'm Managing Editor Ben Schachtman. Hannah, you've been following the history of Wave for some time — can you tell us what's the latest development for the public transportation system?

HB: Yeah, the latest development on Wave is that last week, on October 22, 2020, the Wave board met and they approved the TransPro final route recommendations. And TransPro is the consulting firm that was contracted by New Hanover County to work with Wave to kind of develop this new system. 

BS: Right. And this comes out of a debate over really what Wave is supposed to be doing. I think we saw some major upheaval earlier in the year, and part of this is it looks like they're moving away from what's called a coverage model. And what does that mean?

HB: Yeah, so a coverage model kind of refers to a regional model, if that makes sense. So that would pertain to the routes outside of inner-city Wilmington — longer riding times. And they are less economically efficient because there's less demand. 

So they're kind of moving away from that. And they're actually cutting a lot of routes in the outlying areas. So not necessarily in the city of Wilmington, but in the County areas — and they're going to implement this ride-sharing program.

And so what that means is that people who normally take those routes that aren't in the inner-city will take an Uber or a Lyft. They're not sure what the company would be yet — but that would take them to a station and then they would take one of the inner-city routes, if that makes sense.

BS: Yeah, so I think a lot of that still needs to get worked out in the future, but that's the basic idea. It's worth pointing out though that Wave has a new board that was recently put together earlier this year. And there's not total agreement on how to approach this. 

HB: No, there isn't. And Wave is really interesting because there aren't a lot of public transportation companies like this, where you have the city and the county working on something together like this. And so there's been some head-butting. And a lot of that pertains to TransPro. 

And a few months back, Wilmington's City Council was supposed to move forward a resolution that would fund their part of TransPro’s contract. And they kept delaying that. And council members criticized TransPro because they don't like the ride-sharing model, and they don't think it's going to prioritize riders. They also wanted TransPro to have more local input. And Kevin O'Grady kind of kicked off that critique:

“The vision I get in my head is that the poor people down on Baltic Avenue, they get a ride, the bus -- if they can get to it. But Mr. Big with his top hat and cigar is sitting in the backseat of his Uber, and it's being subsidized by the government. I mean, this is absurd.”

BS: But despite that criticism, County Manager, Chris Coudriet has stood by TransPro and its report. And here's what he had to say:

“TransPro, in my opinion, is absolutely keeping with the charter and the resolution adopted by the county commission and the city council.”

HB: I also want to mention in regards to the council and the county, that while TransPro’s new route recommendations were approved, the four city appointees did not vote in favor. So that vote was 5-4.

BS: Yeah. So it seems like there are still two minds about this issue, and it's certainly something we'll keep an eye on moving forward and maybe take a deep dive in the future. But real quick, before we leave, there are two more developments you wanted to touch on.

HB: Yeah. So the most recent development has obviously been, as far as the pandemic goes, fares are going to be reinstated starting November 16th, 2020. Wave is also going to open its stations again to public access, and all vehicles are going to be equipped with personal protective barriers around the drivers.

And then the other thing is that Wave is going to announce its new Executive Director in the coming days. That's according to Chris Coudriet. So we'll be seeing how that turns out and who that person is. 

BS: Thank you so much. 

HB: All right, thanks, Ben.


Hannah is WHQR's All Things Considered host, and also reports on science, the environment, and climate change. She enjoys loud music, documentaries, and stargazing; and is the proud mother of three cats, a dog, and many, many houseplants. Contact her via email at hbreisinger@whqr.org, or on Twitter @hbreisinger.
Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature.