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Wave Transit Adds Airport To Route, Copes With Long-term Funding Issue

By Cece Nunn, posted Apr 7, 2017
Wave Transit plans to modify an existing bus route to provide service to Wilmington International Airport, while at the same time officials are studying ways to cope with a projected Wave capital funding shortfall of nearly $2 million in the future.

The funding shortfall isn’t unique to Wilmington’s bus service.

“It’s a problem nationwide,” said Albert Eby, executive director of Wave Transit. “There’s more needs than there are revenues available to replace buses, trains, bus shelters and bus facilities.”

A reduction in federal funding since 2009 as costs have continued to increase is a main factor.

“Based on current revenues and expenses, the prospects of Wave Transit maintaining the current level of service over the next five years without a new funding stream are bleak,” according to Wave’s short-term financial plan executive summary from January. “Efforts to reduce operating expenses including CNG fueling and maximizing federal and state funding for operating expenses, as well as modest increases in FTA funding under the FAST Act, have been or will be offset by rising operating costs and sunsetting subsidy programs. Current service levels are minimal and do not address the rapidly growing areas of Porter’s Neck, Northern Brunswick County, and other areas of the region.”  

An independent study of Wave finances is expected to be funded by the city and the county. New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, a member of the Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority, which operates Wave Transit, said he’d like the study to look at how funding will work in the future from New Hanover and Wilmington.

“Should the county be investing more,” Barfield questioned, as New Hanover becomes more urbanized?  

In the meantime, the transportation authority and other agencies are continuing to work on new initiatives to serve current passengers.

The New Hanover County Airport Authority passed a resolution this week approving a request from the transit authority for Wave transit to provide public transportation services directly to the airport. A bus already runs to the VA health care facility on the airport’s grounds.

The request was initially brought forward by Eby and Barfield, according to a news release from the airport, but it has also been part of long-range transportation plans.

The airport authority, stated the news release, voted April 5 to approve a trial run of the fixed route transit service to the main terminal.  

“The ILM staff recommended approval of the trial route based on two conditions; 1) ILM would not have any financial responsibility and 2) that ILM reserved the right to terminate the service at any time.  The New Hanover County Airport Authority agreed to the service with the understanding that at the end of the 6-month trial period, WAVE transit will present to ILM reports which show the daily average of WAVE’s passengers arriving and departing from ILM,” the release said. 

The data gathered will help determine whether the service will continue. 

“We strive to offer services our customers are seeking, and this trial run will allow us to see if there is a demand from our community for transit service to ILM,” said Julie Wilsey, airport director, in the release.

Eby said it will take about six weeks to get the modified route implemented. Wave Transit is also expected to roll out an app in the next six weeks, he said. 

Before that, construction activity could begin on the new Wilmington Multimodal Transportation Center downtown around the 500 block of North Third Street, Eby said.

"We hope to have that project done by this time next year," he said Friday.

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