County, city to explore possibly restructuring WAVE Transit


NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — With the future of WAVE Transit up in the air, there is now talk about the program going away all together and developing a new service.

At a press conference Tuesday, New Hanover County and City of Wilmington officials announced a collaboration to evaluate and potentially restructure Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority, currently doing business as WAVE, to enhance public transit for the community.

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New Hanover County Commissioner Julia Olson-Boseman says, the day after she was elected chair, she was ready to tackle public transportation.

“I spoke to the county manager and went to the Mayor’s office 9 o’clock the next morning and said we need to sit down and talk about this,” Olson-Boseman said.

Olson-Boseman says she wants to erase the lines of county and city as much as she can and work together to reboot, rebirth and renew public transportation. Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo agrees.

“I think what we have right now is just not working and I think we can build a much better system,” Saffo said.

“The transportation system we have today is not the one we need for the future,” Olson-Boseman said. “So the county and city are going to work together over the coming year and a half to build a system that strengthens public transportation and creates a more sustainable model – focusing on transportation equity, the rider’s needs, innovation in services, and our community’s goals.”

County Commission Chair Julia Olson-Boseman talks at press conference on Jan. 7, 2020. (Photo: New Hanover County)

During this process, the interlocal agreement between the county and city will be rebuilt with new priorities, including a transportation model that: balances convenience with coverage, so routes are operated where there is the highest use and greatest need; embraces innovation; includes paratransit services county-wide; partners with other governments to equitably share in the cost for services to those communities; utilizes available revenue to ensure predictable and sustainable funding; and incorporates a governance body in keeping with the city and county’s priorities.

“All of this work will take time, so we hope to have a new structure and interlocal agreement that all of our governing bodies can agree to by July 2021,” City of Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said. “While these changes are evaluated, we want to ensure our community that WAVE buses will keep running and there will be no lapse in current services.”

Saffo says all parties will be looking at options that will produce funding without any additional tax increases. He says the City of Wilmington gives more than $1.4 million to WAVE transit each year and had to increase annual funding this year by $100,000.

“When we set our budgets every year, we’ve set them and to change course in the middle of the year and ask for a half of a million dollars or a quarter million dollars or whatever,” Saffo said. “It creates a lot of angst within our elected bodies.”

Saffo says New Hanover County is the second smallest county in the state, but the third most densely populated so a good, efficient transportation is necessary.

“We will actually engage our citizens and ask for their input in this very important endeavor,” Saffo said. “We will work together to come up with a solution that our public transportation system can meet the needs of the citizens now and in the future.”

Both the County Commission and City Council will consider a joint resolution at their second meetings in January to officially begin this process.

There will be opportunities for public input throughout the process.

In November, New Hanover County denied WAVE’s funding request and even voted to pull out of its agreement with WAVE, but now a change of plans.

Olson-Boseman says this new model could mean a new WAVE Transit Authority Board.

“We think that it’s time that we get up with the times and deal with ride-sharing and other avenues that we can work with public transportation and right now, I have no faith in the board,” Olson-Boseman said.

Tuesday’s press conference can be viewed on the here.