WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Wilmington City Council and community members are responding to the New Hanover County Commissioners vote to end their contract with WAVE Transit.
In a 3-2 vote, New Hanover County commissioners voted on Monday to give WAVE Transit notice that the county would be terminating its contract with the public transportation system.
City leaders say they will continue to support WAVE and expressed disappointment in the commissioners’ decision while citizens who rely on WAVE for transportation expressed concern for what comes next.
“This is a very important issue for our community and for our citizens," said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo. “From the city’s point of view, the city will continue to support public transportation and WAVE transit. We have supported it for many, many years and will continue to do so. I’ve talked to most of the council members and they’re all on board in the continued support of WAVE Transit.”
Saffo talked about the services WAVE provides to community members, especially those who do not have other means of transportation.
“They depend on WAVE Transit to get to medical services, to get to shopping, to go to their jobs. So this is a very important issue for our community and for our citizens and not only city residents but also county residents," Saffo said. “Our intention is to continue to support WAVE. We think it’s very important. We’re hearing it throughout this campaign season how important public transportation is to parts of our community.”
City and WAVE Transit leaders are now working to figure out what the county’s decision will mean for the future of the transit system.
“We think it’s an important issue for our community and this region,” Saffo said. “How it looks moving forward - we don’t know yet, but we will be evaluating that process and making some decisions very quickly.”
The county primarily contributes to WAVE’s para-transit services. Saffo said by law, they will have to continue to do so.
“I think they’ve supported it at a cost of about $300,000," Saffo said. “What they’ll do with the para-transit portion of that business - I do not know if they can contract out with WAVE or if they can provide para-transit with taxis and other means of transportation. So we’ll have to ask them how they’ll take care of those citizens.”
The county’s decision came as a surprise to WAVE’s Executive Director Albert Eby.
The transit system released the following statement Monday:
“In response to the decision by the New Hanover County commissioners to withdraw from the agreement creating Wave Transit, the Cape Fear Public Transportation is working to understand the details regarding the decision in an effort to draft a reasoned response. The Authority will consult with our board, our attorney and our main funding partner, the City of Wilmington, as we work to understand the impact the County’s decision will have on the important services provided by Wave Transit. 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. As we work through the legal process in response to the decision by New Hanover County we will share on our plans moving forward.”
This uncertainty has public transportation users like Teviin Mapson worried about how they will get around in the future.
Mapson is a 100 percent disabled veteran who uses the bus for most of his transportation.
“It would impact me greatly," he said. "I use public transportation a lot, about three or four times a week. I pretty much do all of my errands, my grocery shopping as well too, so it would be a great hit.”
Mapson said it would impact many others he knows, like his fellow students who live far from the Cape Fear Community College Campus and other disabled veterans.
“I know a lot of veterans that ride the bus," Mapson said. “There’s one bus, I think it’s 206, that goes directly to the VA, that would definitely affect a lot of veterans in the area too.”
Some have speculated that the county’s decision was a direct response to the resolution passed by Wilmington City Council last week that formally asked New Hanover County to delay any decision regarding the possible sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center for at least a year.
That resolution passed in a 5-1 vote with Councilman Charlie Rivenbark voting against it.
Despite not supporting the city’s request to the county, Rivenbark said he was disappointed in what he believes is a direct response from county commissioners.
"I hate for them [WAVE Transit riders] to be caught in the middle of this, but I think it might be a tit-for-tat and I was not in favor of that resolution that went over to the county last Tuesday night,“ Rivenbark said. "I’m disappointed. I am because I’ve heard the comments from across the street that the transit systems aren’t money makers, they have to be funded. I wish it hadn’t happened. I wish the county would go even further to help us fund this.”
Saffo also weighed in on the possibility.
“I would hope not," Saffo said. "I understand some of the commissioners had a concern about that resolution. We were just expressing though that resolution what citizens that are also county citizens expressed to us, and we were just asking them to make sure that the process be transparent and deliberate. We didn’t tell them if they could sell the hospital or not sell the hospital. We just basically told them that what they had promised the people and what people had told them are shared concerns about the possible sale of the hospital be what they say it is.”