NC: Wave Transit Considers Eliminating Sunday Service

May 07--Seven days a week, Whitney Stephens boards a Wave Transit bus bound for her job at the Roses on Carolina Beach Road.

Recently, she spotted a notice that Wave is considering ending its Sunday bus service.

"I depend on the bus," Stephens said. "If they cut Sunday out, that's kinda going to stick me."

The Sunday routes, launched in 2004, are more costly than the daily service. Transit officials trying to compensate for rising fuel prices in next year's budget have proposed cutting Sunday service, which costs about $200,000 annually.

"This isn't' something that any of us look forward to doing," said Albert Eby, the executive director of Wave Transit.

Bus officials have to trim money from next year's budget. Last year, Wave locked in a diesel price of $2.22 per gallon but will pay much more when that contract ends. Last week, diesel was running $3.40 per gallon.

To plug the hole, officials considered raising fares or reducing service during the week. But they wanted to maintain routes and times that have the greatest demand. Sunday service stood out.

Wave Transit is one of only seven public transit systems in the state providing Sunday service, according to a Wave analysis.

The average cost per passenger trip is $3.87 on weekdays, Wave reports, but Sunday trips cost $11.61 per passenger, three times the daily amount. Ridership is also much lower on Sunday, averaging about 91 passengers per hour compared to 261 passengers per hour on weekdays.

"We've been looking some time at those Sunday passenger counts, and we don't see that moving upward," said Don Betz, chairman of the Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority, which oversees Wave Transit. "It's a weak link in the system."

Cutting Sunday service may save Wave Transit money, but it won't save Stephens any. She already pays $60 per month for a bus pass, and a one-way cab ride to work costs her $17.

"That's $34 every Sunday for a month," she said. "I make pretty decent money, but I live by myself. It's cheaper to ride the bus."

Wave has also proposed eliminating the second free downtown trolly, which was added in 2007 to operate between the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Axing the trolley will save Wave around $75,000 annually.

If the authority votes to make the cuts, they could be implemented as early as August or September.

Betz sees them as a necessity.

"We really have to take this step in order to salvage the rest of the system," Betz said.

Wave's Sunday service, which runs from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., is primarily recreational, Eby said, transporting fewer people who work or need to go to school.

"That doesn't mean people don't need groceries or need to visit somebody in the hospital," Stephens said. She sees folks going to church and others, like herself, who may need to find another way to work.

"I'll either have to take a cab or try to buy a car," she said.

When Carla Mitchell, a customer at Roses, heard about the possible Sunday cut, she said "Wow" and sighed. The buses are the only way the mother of two gets around. On the weekends, she likes to take her children bowling or on other outings as a break from their weeks in school. Now, she's worried about having to sit home on Sundays.

"I hope it don't stop," she said.

Julian March: 343-2099

On Twitter: @julian_march

Copyright 2012 - Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.