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Wave Transit To Seek The Route Ahead After County Vote

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Oct 22, 2019

Leaders with the Cape Fear Transportation Public Authority are working to assess its response to a decision Monday night by New Hanover County commissioners to terminate the county’s agreement with Wave Transit.

The members of the Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority, or Wave Transit, will meet this week, and part of their discussions will be about the county's decision, said Jonathan Barfield, a longtime member of the authority's board and one of two county commissioners who voted Monday against the decision to give notice for the county to withdraw from the Wave Transit interlocal agreement.

The withdrawal would begin in July 2021, according to the county. 

​The decision comes at a time when Wave Transit is experiencing some financial challenges, as its current level of funding is not able to provide for the existing level of its services, according to the organization. Wave Transit is looking at reductions in service, as it faces a deficit.

"The board was already looking at reducing service to certain areas. And so knowing that this is the plan for New Hanover County and the fact that those significant funds are going to go away, No. 1, the board needs to fully understand ... What does that really mean for the Wave budget?

"And at the same time go ahead and put citizens on notice that certain routes would definitely be eliminated and give people in our community the opportunity to plan in advance to figure out how they're going to get from point A to point B from work, to school, to our VA clinic and points beyond as well," Barfield said Tuesday.

In a statement released by Wave Transit on Tuesday morning, officials said that they were working to understand the details of the county's decision.

They plan, acording to the statement, to consult the authority board, its attorney and the city of Wilmington, which is its main funding partner.

“Our goal during these discussions will be focused on continuing to provide the highest level of service to our customers and the community in the most efficient manner possible," stated the release. "As we work through the legal process in response to the decision by New Hanover County we will share on our plans moving forward.”

Based on the interlocal agreement in place, there is a required nine-month notice to withdraw, and that has to occur in the subsequent fiscal year, Jessica Loeper, the county's chief communications officer, said in an email Tuesday. 

That means this change would not be in effect until the FY 2021-22 budget year, beginning on July 1, she said. 

"This is not intended to impact the fixed routes in the city, as those are largely funded through municipal, state and federal appropriations, not direct county funding," Loeper said.

New Hanover County adopted nearly $331,000 in funding for Wave Transit in its FY 2019-20 budget, which began on July 1. The city of Wilmington's FY 2019-20 budget included more than $1.4 million.

The commissioners' 3-2 vote Monday to provide notice of the county’s intent to withdraw from its agreement with Wave Transit had Barfield, board chairman, and commissioner Rob Zapple voting against the move, while commissioners Patricia Kusek, Woody White and Julia Olson-Boseman voted in favor of the motion.

The motion was brought forward late in the commissioners meeting by Olson-Boseman and was not on the agenda. The vice-chair did not return a message for comment Tuesday.

"For me it's disappointing," Barfield said of the move. "I think it's going to affect the people in our community that can least afford this to affect them. And that's a shame."

White said he has been constant in his stance on public transit.

“I do support [public transit] in densely populated areas where it makes sense. It does not make sense in our outlying areas to fund routes that use large buses that few ride, that clog up the roadways, and that cost so much to purchase and operate,” White said in an email. “If Wave had better leadership and guidance, they would reinvent themselves and innovate to maximize the more popular routes, lower wait times, and make the product they deliver more user-friendly and marketable.

"[Public transit] will always be in need of some government subsidy where it makes sense and supports the elderly and vulnerable ... But if we continue to deny the obvious – i.e. that under its present construct it is wasteful and is under existential threat due to disruptions in the transportation industry – then we are not doing our jobs," White said.

The city of Wilmington and New Hanover County entered into an agreement in June 2003, in which the county merged Wilmington Transit Authority (WTA) and New Hanover Transportation Services to form the Wilmington/New Hanover Transportation Agency (WNHTA).

“This agreement merged the respective organizations for one year, in order to provide oversight of both agencies under one public transportation authority,” according to Wave Transit’s website.

In July 2004 the WNHTA, the WTA and NHTS were dissolved, and a new transportation authority was created. The merged entity officially became the Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority but kept the name Wave Transit, stated the website.

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