If you could use more connectivity among and between communities, now is a great time to join the growing number of people taking advantage of Western Washtenaw Area Value Express (WAVE).

At the Chelsea City Council meeting held on January 22, 2024, Marie Gress, the Executive Director of WAVE, detailed the organization’s goals and achievements since her appointment on November 1, 2023. Gress, who shifted her career focus from non-profit management and aging sector involvement to transportation, emphasized the critical roles of connection and collaboration in WAVE’s operations.

Gress emphasized the organization’s success in linking residents of Western Washtenaw County to essential services and destinations.

WAVE Executive Director Marie Gress speaks to the Chelsea City Council on January 22, 2023. Image: Council video.

“Something that I see a lot in WAVE and in transportation is our ability to connect people to where they need to go, connect people to where they want to go,” said Gress. “All sorts of purposes – medical, banking, recreation, wellness, seeing friends, family, church and all that kind of stuff. And so, seeing that connection to other people, connection to services is a really critical piece that transportation offers, and WAVE does that really well.” She also pointed out the importance of collaboration with government, community businesses, and organizations in improving transportation services.

The presentation included an analysis of WAVE’s annual report, drawing attention to a service area map and a chart showing the impact of COVID-19 on ride numbers and subsequent recovery. “I wanted to show you how rides were increasing,” said Gress. “And then after that plummet, how we were growing back again. We’re seeing that growth. We’re seeing people come back to us in huge ways.”

Gress also presented data specific to Chelsea, noting significant usage of WAVE services within the city. “Over 11,000 rides were provided in Chelsea, representing almost half of our total trips,” she explained. The door-to-door service, particularly beneficial to the elderly and disabled, was highlighted, with over 4,000 rides used by Chelsea city residents alone.

WAVE’s service area of Western Washtenaw County. From Gress presentation.

Addressing a council member’s question about school transportation challenges, Gress mentioned exploring dual employment opportunities for drivers to mitigate the bus driver shortage in schools. “We’re looking at how we can work together for that dual employment,” she said.

The meeting also covered WAVE’s mission statement, “Providing rides to all in Western Washtenaw,” and the focus on expanding services to youth and families. Gress spoke of partnering with schools for after-school activities and being more present at community events. She emphasized the need for improved safety measures, including additional driver training and upgrading vehicle equipment.

A striking point of Gress’s presentation was the focus on affordability and accessibility. “If we can bring fares down to even $1, that would go a long way for many riders,” Gress remarked, referring to the financial challenges many of WAVE’s users face.

The session concluded with Gress announcing a “Free Fare February” initiative, encouraging more residents to try out WAVE services. This initiative aligns with WAVE’s goal of expanding its user base and providing accessible transportation options for all residents in the area.

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