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What do riders think of WAVE's planned route changes?


Wave plans to replace some routes with the authority's new Microtransit program, while others will get increased frequency. So what do riders think?

Last week, the Wave Transit Board of Directors approved a proposal to change the existing bus network, and replace two routes with micro transit.

Should the plans be finalized, the route changes would go into effect this summer. But Wave is still seeking feedback — and riders at Padgett Station downtown seemed pleased with some of the changes.

"I'm optimistic," said Kevin Mowery, who often rides the 207 — which travels through downtown Wilmington up into the northern part of the county — to the Veteran’s Affairs clinic by the airport. His route, and the 301 to Pleasure Island, are both getting replaced with micro transit, which operates much like an Uber or other ride-share. Riders can request a ride by phone or through an app, and it comes to a stop nearby them instead of along a predetermined route.

Mowery said the 301 might do well with a micro transit replacement, as it's not a well utilized route: "So maybe the the on demand service might be a little more economical. I hope.”

But he was less sure about replacing the 207, which he says is often quite full. Wave Executive Director Marie Parker says Microtransit is much less expensive to run than a regular bus, and it also covers a wider area. That might help prospective riders use public transit, even if they live far away from a traditional bus stop.

Beyond the Microtransit changeover on those two routes, other routes are picking up more frequency: the 201 Carolina Beach Road, 205 Long Leaf Park, and 108 Market Street.

All three routes will run every 30 minutes instead of once an hour, and leaders at the Wave board hope to see more ridership with the increase in frequency.

Wave’s board of directors unanimously approved these route changes on February 8, after a work session to determine how to spend an extra $700,000 a year in federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

In a press release, Board of Commissioner Vice-Chair and Wave Board member Deb Hays said the plan came together after extensive research and community input. “This will offer the opportunity to grow ridership and then use data to introduce future routes and transit options when they are needed. We are moving forward in a really positive direction for our transit system and believe it will be a future economic development driver for New Hanover County.”

But it was really federal funding which prevented cuts to the system. Before money from the infrastructure bill came in, the system was facing cuts to 5% of its service hours. And although those service hours have been saved, the system’s funding isn’t guaranteed after five years.

Wave Executive Director Marie Parker says the new funding will save a lot of routes and route segments from the chopping block, while improving service significantly on the more popular routes.

“One of the other biggest changes that is just phenomenal, is we're going to add frequencies to four routes, that's 30% of our system," she said. The Route 107 is the fourth route gaining more service hours, going to an uninterrupted hourly service, rather than deviating to go to Pleasure Island.

The hope is that more residents will be able to rely consistently on the buses if they are more frequent and reliable. And with micro transit, those who live in areas with low population density, on the north and south ends of the county, won’t have to walk as far to get picked up by public transportation.

“We can serve thousands more people, it's much more responsive," Parker said. "Because the population density isn't as great in those areas, we're able to offer this type of service."

And, she says, riders will be able to use public transit anytime, instead of just once an hour or every two hours in those Microtransit zones. “It's actually a much improved service hours," she said. "They're going to offer the exact same service hours that our current bus routes operate on.”

The proposed route changes include increased frequency on some popular routes, like 108 Market Street, 201 Carolina Beach Road, and 205 Long Leaf Park. But others will be replaced by microtransit zones which will operate under the same hours as regular bus service.
Wave Transit
The proposed route changes include increased frequency on some popular routes, like 108 Market Street, 107 College Avenue, 201 Carolina Beach Road, and 205 Long Leaf Park. But others will be replaced by microtransit zones which will operate under the same hours as regular bus service.

That’s 6am to 8pm on weekdays, and 9am to 6pm on the weekends.

Back at Padgett station, rider Tonya Autry says she’ll benefit from increased frequency on some of the routes, but said the planned seasonal cuts to the downtown trolley will be difficult for a lot of unhoused people.

“Because they like to be able to get on the bus and just go in whenever they want," Autry said.

Other riders were sad to see some fixed routes go, but seemed optimistic about the micro transit — so long as there are enough vehicles to meet demand.

Members of the public can comment on the proposed system redesign until April 12, and if they’re adopted as final, the routes will go into effect on July 3. You can find the survey for public feedback 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.