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Meet the new Executive Director of Wave

Available data may impact how Wave Transit modifies service moving forward, with an emphasis on higher-frequency service in parts of the urban core.
Wave Transit
Available data may impact how Wave Transit modifies service moving forward, with an emphasis on higher-frequency service in parts of the urban core.

Wave has a new executive director who’s preparing for volatility. The public transit organization is facing a “fiscal cliff” in early 2025 because of the end of covid-related funding. That would mean dramatic changes to current service if replacement funding isn’t found. WHQR’s Kelly Kenoyer interviewed Executive Director Mark Hairr about his plans a few months into the job.

Kelly Kenoyer: What do you see as the future of Wave Transit in your vision? And I'd love to get your idealistic version of if you get the funding that you're hoping to, and also the version where the fiscal cliff affects us.

Mark Hairr: Great timing in terms of the question on the future here. And it's a great time to be talking about transit in our community, because we're embarking on a short range transit plan. So what that involves is, we'll be going out and talking to the community, all different groups. So we'll do a lot of extensive outreach during the month of November, in particular, right after Thanksgiving.

So that'll help us shape what the vision should be, again, what's good for the existing passengers. You know, Wilmington has a great downtown area, very dense. And so we're looking at, there are some areas where we perhaps a duplicate service, or maybe there's overlap, there's loops or things like that, that we think we can be more efficient, and probably eliminate some duplication. So that's kind of one key part of looking at the existing system.

In the future, we look at the areas that are growing in and around Wilmington — how we can serve those? It takes a little bit of a different model of service than the typical fixed route. RideMicro is a great example of a different type of service that works in some of the lower density outlying areas.

KK: I want to ask a little bit about microtransit. I know when that program came in, under Marie Parker, it was grant funded, we're kind of curious about financially, how it works, and whether it's grant funded in perpetuity, or if it's going to have to slide into your regular budget.

MH: Great question. We are grant-funded in terms of the ride microservice; we did just apply for the next round of funding. So hopefully, at least, next year, the funding will look like it has in the past. And we'll be able to continue that and working with the state of North Carolina and DOT. Again, going back to our plan, we will look at the future of this service and other similar types of on-demand or connector services, how we would run those and how we would fund those. So the good thing is we're looking at that currently, because we don't expect that funding to be available forever.

KK: Can you tell me how ridership in RideMicro compares to the regular fixed routes?

MH: The good thing is the ridership is strong, although it may be one or two people riding the trips, does stay busy throughout the day. And there are certain areas that are busier than others that may have more generators in terms of the facilities, businesses, and agencies that people are going to. But it's certainly the service replaced a couple of routes, and it's actually doing better in a couple of those areas. And it continues to do well the ridership has grown significantly since it started it was a new service. People were not that familiar with it. Now, it's kind of ingrained in the fabric of the community and people use that.

KK: Do you have numbers on ridership growth over the span of the grant so far?

MH: Yeah, the great thing is on RideMicro, the ridership continues to increase. So this fiscal year that started July 1, we're actually up 30%, compared to last year.

KK: This is kind of a philosophical question, but I know there's kind of a debate in the United States about whether transit should pay for itself as if it's a business or if it should be sustained by outside funding and treated like a government service. Can you talk philosophically about where you stand on that and where you think Wave should go?

MH: Certainly, I can say any public transportation system United States is not going to be a money-making venture, it's not going to happen doesn't happen anywhere. What we want to do is provide the best service with the funding we have and we are heavily reliant on grant funding from federal and state sources. What I like to do is look at not running transit as a business, but what type of best practices can we use either from public or private sector, from businesses, to be able to run as efficiently and make sure we're using the tax dollars that we do get particularly locally from the Wilmington area, city and county, and putting those to good use?

KK: I've been speaking with Mark Hairr, the new executive director of Wave Transit. Thank you so much for joining us.

MH: Thank you. It's good to be here.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on 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.