Although she has a 47-minute commute to work in the mornings, Ellen Carter claims she’s in a better mood than most when she gets to her office on Dauphin Street downtown.

The Chickasaw resident hasn’t found some miracle morning coffee, but argues that taking WAVE transit from Chickasaw every morning puts the pep in her step.

“Driving is work,” she said. “It’s work. That’s why they pay people to do it.”

Passengers board Mobile's WAVE transit system at the GM&O terminal on Water Street.

Passengers board Mobile's WAVE transit system at the GM&O terminal on Water Street.

Instead of fighting traffic, Carter said she pulls out her iPod, reads, or answers emails and leaves the driving to someone else.

Although she has a vehicle and a driver’s license, Carter said she takes public transportation, or rides a bike most places because it’s “economically and environmentally the right thing to do.”

“The thing about riding the bus is it just requires a little more planning and time,” she said.

Economically, Carter said taking the bus has helped her save money. For instance, she said she used to spend $30 to $50 a week on gas, but now spends only $40 a month on a bus pass. Since using the bus as her primary mode of transportation, Carter said she takes fewer unnecessary trips.

Riding the bus does have its disadvantages, she said. For one, WAVE doesn’t run on Sundays, “which really stinks,” she said.

Some routes don’t run late enough, like the bus that takes passengers to the University of South Alabama on the Spring Hill route. The bus is in the garage by 6:25 on weeknights, according to the WAVE website, and doesn’t make it to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.

“It doesn’t run late enough,” Carter said. “I sometimes have to get a ride, or drive my car when I know I’m going to be out there later. Sometimes I have to call a cab to get home.”

Carter said the bus is the best way to get to events downtown, like Mardi Gras parades, or MoonPie Over Mobile. The problem is service on several downtown routes ends too early. In those cases Carter reserves a cab.

The Dauphin Street bus route ends just before 10 p.m., while the Airport route, which also takes riders downtown from Providence Hospital, finishes up before 7 p.m. on weekdays and doesn’t serve downtown on Saturdays.

In addition to some later routes, Carter said she thinks the Dauphin Island Parkway bus should start offering Saturday service. She also thinks there should be a bus route to Dauphin Island. Right now, the DIP bus travels to just south of B.C. Rain High School.

“We need a second bus that’ll go all the way to Dauphin Island and back, so people from Mobile can go to the beach. We need to think like a big city. We need to let people get to recreation.”

Carter also suggested service for Schillinger Road. Currently, she said, the neighborhood bus will take riders there, but it has to be scheduled a day in advance.

In addition, Carter said she would like to see WAVE become part of a smartphone application that monitors where buses are in their routes.

“They don’t have that for WAVE and we really need it,” she said.
Some of Carter’s suggestions for WAVE transit mirror recommendations the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission laid out in its 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan. For instance, buses currently run every hour, but Carter said she thinks WAVE would be more popular if buses ran every 30 minutes.

“If you had a bus headed to the mall every 30 minutes you’d see more riders,” Carter said.

SARPC recommended 30-minute service on fixed routes as part of a third phase for public transportation improvements for the years 2019 to 2024. This along with an additional flex route is estimated to cost more than $6 million a year.

Other SARPC recommendations included immediate consolidation of routes through Plateau, Prichard and Highway 45, which would be cost neutral. SARPC also recommended a route that would run from Bel Air Mall to Mobile Regional Airport, as well as other route changes.

Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper said the administration would take the SARPC recommendations under consideration.

“We have to be thoughtful in how we do this,” Cooper said. “We have to take a good, hard look at the best ways to serve the citizens of Mobile.”

Last year, reports indicated the city footed about 60 percent of the $10 million bill for WAVE, which is operated by McDonald Transit. At the time, officials with the administration said they would make recommendations to try and save money. Cooper said Monday afternoon no recommendations have been made and the administration is still studying other cities of similar size and how they handle transit systems.

Carter said bus routes serve Prichard and Chickasaw, but neither municipality pays for the service. She said she’d like to see that change. Cooper said Mobile has not approach those municipalities about paying for service.  

WAVE had a little more than 1 million riders in 2013, according to numbers provided by the transit system. Carter said in her experience the Chickasaw bus at 7 a.m. is always full, heading to the mall, but there do seem to be obvious peaks. Carter blames limited service for other buses not being as full.