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Test Drive: WHQR tries out WAVE's micro-transit system

The passenger van system is live now, but will expand significantly in the new year with more hours, Saturday service, and an app.

I've been excited about RideMicro for a while now, but haven't had the chance to use it because I rarely cross the river into Leland. But I finally had time this holiday season, and made the journey using WAVE's newest innovation.

WAVE transit’s micro-transit system has been running for over a month, and is slowly expanding in phases. The grant-funded service is meant to bridge gaps in within New Hanover County and surrounding areas.

WAVE Executive Director Marie Parker described it as "if transit bus and Uber had a baby".

"Basically, you're going to have something that's provided by WAVE Transit," she explained, "but it's going to be an on demand, and eventually, it's going to be app-based."

Right now, its services are limited to zones at the periphery of WAVE’s service area. Maps of the zonesare online, and the areas cover parts of Brunswick and Pender Counties, as well as Carolina Beach and Kure beaches.

A map of all RideMicro's areas of service. Zone 4 will open in Spring of 2022.

“It’s very similar to existing ride sharing services, but just a little bit different,” Parker said. “We are trying to keep the wait times down to 30 minutes or less, and our top goal is to make it 15 to 20. We want to make sure that it's convenient to everyone and still be able to serve everyone in the area.”

The idea is that transit riders who live outside the regular service area can take microtransit to get to areas served by the bus. It’s also the first step towards bringing back cross-river transit, after the bus that crossed from Wilmmington in Brunswick County lost funding and stopped running last year.

Prospective riders can currently sign up in two ways: either by filling out an online form at least 24 hours in advance, or by calling 1-844-764-1223.

I wanted to see what it’s like to ride across the river on the Microwave, so I decided to sign up.

First I tried to use the online form, but giving them 30 minutes notice for my desired ride was best done over the phone. I called at 4:30, and scheduled a ride for 6:15 to go to a grocery store in Leland.

Microtransit only picks up riders at specific “virtual stops,” but there are hundreds of them. My closest one was a block from my downtown home, so I bought my tickets online, then the driver called me around 5:35 and told me she was on her way and could pick me up in ten minutes. I grabbed my grocery bags and walked out the door.

I walked a block, where a large white passenger van was parked with its hazard lights on. The driver called me while I was walking over, and said the dispatcher had told her I already bought tickets. When I clambered into the vehicle, I found I was the only passenger for this little adventure.

Parker told me ridership is slowly increasing as more people find out about the service.

“Our first month, we were averaging about 65 people a month," she explained. "And then we were up to about 95 people. And now we're over 120 a month.”

My driver told me she already has a few regulars, especially folks who live on one side of the river but work on the other side.

We chatted as she drove over the Cape Fear River, the sky still orange from the sunset. I got a ride to Food Lion to do some grocery shopping, and she kindly dropped me off right by the door so I could go in.

Then, since I was her last rider that day, my driver parked and waited for me to come out. I grabbed my groceries, hopped back in the van, and was home 30 minutes after I'd been picked up.

MicroTransit is only available for certain hours of the day: 6:30-9 am and 4:30-7:30 pm on weekdays. But on January 17, they’ll be expanding the hours of service to include 9 am to 5 pm on Saturdays, with weekday hours expanding to 7-10 am and 12-7 pm. The hour expansion is also paired with the launch of the RideMicro app, Parker said.

Before that app is live, riders can schedule their rides and buy tickets on the web. For rides with less than 24 hours of notice, call 844-764-1223.

To see service area maps and find out more about how to use Micro Transit, click here.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.