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Wave sees growth in ridership for first time in years

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Wave Transit
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After years of declining ridership, Wave Transit has seen growth in recent months.

Wave transit floundered for several years with unstable funding, changing leadership, and declining riders. But that's starting to even out as of this year.

A lot of the positive change Wave has seen can be attributed to new leadership: Executive Director Marie Parker has made significant changes to the service, including the introduction of microtransit. That program has since replaced a few infrequent routes, freeing up resources to increase frequency for more popular routes.

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

Parker says it’s all been paying off. "For the fiscal year, we had a net positive growth of 3.1%. And if you look at the four years prior to that, we were negative.”

Parker says gas prices may have driven some of the increased demand in recent months: ridership has grown the most significantly in the past four months, with ridership up 7 to 12% compared to the same time last year. But she says riders may also be returning with shifts in the pandemic, and with the higher quality service Wave is now providing.

Related: What do riders think of Wave's planned route changes?

There was some concern that ridership might dip a bit in July as regular riders adjusted to route changes. But while two routes were turned over to microtransit, three other routes increased in frequency to twice an hour. And so far, the numbers for July look good, Parker said.

“We've gotten a lot of positive feedback about the 30 minutes frequency from the general public, as well as from staff who are impressed with the changes and appreciate it," she said.

From the very first service day after the route changes, those new buses were already seeing riders. So the change is already paying off, and making the transit service a lot more usable.

Related: New Hanover County wants public input on proposed ¼-cent 'transportation sales tax'

Parker has her eye on future changes to make service better for riders too, if funding comes through. That depends on whether residents pass the proposed 1/4-cent sales tax, slated for this year's November 8 ballot.

"It would stabilize our funding, it would increase service," Parker said. "Our first task would be to expand our hours. Currently, we shut down our system at 8 p.m., which is almost unheard of in a city of this size."

Extending hours would help service industry employees get home from work. And Parker would expand the frequency of busses on all routes from 1 hour to every 30 or 45 minutes, along with adding new technology like free WiFi on all busses, electronic ticketing through an app, and electronic signs at stops with updated arrival times.

"Just a lot of new innovation," Parker said, to sum it all up, "to transform this service into a more usable service."

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.