It’s been just over a year since New Hanover County leaders, and particularly County Chair Julia Olson-Boseman, pushed for a redesign of Wave. The county cited funding shortfalls, and a need for new leadership. Now, Wave’s new Executive Director Marie Parker is tasked with overseeing the transit system’s reboot.
Parker isn’t a stranger to North Carolina or public transportation. She joins Wave after spending 21 years at GoRaleigh, the transit system operating in — you guessed it — Raleigh.
“I actually started out in the finance department. So I started out in a data entry position, or a data cleanup position. So working with ridership and revenue.”
After that, she spent a short period of time involved with operations, before becoming the Assistant General Manager, then General Manager. Parker officially started at Wave back in December, a little over a month after Wave’s board approved final route recommendations made by its consultant TransPro. With that major decision already made, Parker says that makes her role right now somewhat challenging:
“I'm not speaking negatively of them, but they are a consultant. They came in, they performed a job, they gave a packet and they walked away. So they don't actually have to implement anything. They don't have to plan it. The budget is a projection - these are the numbers they came up with based on the formula. Putting it into action is a completely different game.”
At the same time, Parker acknowledges that she still has a lot to learn about Wave, as well as the community -- and her making an immediate, major decision would have been difficult. And overall, she thinks TransPro made the right calls.
“I think they did the best that they could to put the service where the highest need exists. They kind of condensed everything down to the city center where the most ridership exists. Once we can establish that - that good baseline system, then we can plan to grow from there in the future.”
Removing lower-demand routes and establishing a ride-sharing system for them instead was a topic of controversy, back before TransPro’s final recommendations were approved. But Parker believes that while removing routes should always be a last resort, focusing on where demand is the highest is an important step to take right now:
“You want to put the service where it's most needed because people are going to utilize it. It kind of gives them the confidence in the transportation system, that they can go out there anytime a day, and there's going to be a bus there in five, 10, 15 minutes -- then they're more likely to use it.
Naturally, everybody wants to attract the choice rider. That's something that we probably need to put on the back burner, because with our limited funding in our budget, we need to concentrate on facilitating transportation for the people that don't have another choice, or don't have any other mode of transportation.”
As far as funding goes, Parker notes that it’s going to be a challenge. She says that historically, transit systems have been mostly city-funded. But Wave is unique in its city-county partnership, and how much responsibility each party wants to have needs to be resolved. A reliable funding source also needs to be implemented, she says - whether that’s through a sales tax, motor vehicle tax, or something else.
And, there are other challenges too:
“How they operate this entire system with as few members of staff is astounding, honestly. There's a very few amount of people getting a lot of stuff done here. So that is a huge challenge. We don't even have a planning department. So we're implementing a complete network redesign. We're recreating an entire route system. We have zero planning software. We have zero planners.”
While she says a lot still needs to be figured out -- Parker believes public transit is a vital service, and she stresses that her aim is to develop long-term solutions that will keep Wave accessible to those who need it.
“I can't express how important transit is to somebody that has never had to take a bus or doesn't need to take a bus. It's hard to communicate that, or articulate that to different people. I'm here because I love transit and I love doing something that is so important and impactful.”