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NRTA Profile

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The Wave Service Area


The Nantucket Regional Transit Authority, known as The Wave, provides seasonal fixed-route service and year-round demand-responsive service in Nantucket. Routes serve the eastern and western areas of the island, public beached, Nantucket Memorial Airport, mid-island areas and downtown Nantucket in close proximity to the ferry docks.


The Wave provides two types of services:

  • Fixed-Route service
  • Demand-response
The Wave Route Map

The Wave fixed-route service is comprised of nine routes that serve downtown Nantucket from various points of the island. Most service operates from mid-Mayto early October. Most WAVE routes begin operations at 7:15 am and end at 11:30pm, and fixed-route services operate seven days a week during the months that they operate. Headways tend to be shorter between June and September, usually 15-30 minutes, and longer in May and October, about 30-60 minutes on average.

The Wave's demand-response service, Your Island Ride, provides year-round transportation to persons with disabilities and seniors over 60. When The Wave provides fixed-route seasonal service, the Island Van also provides ADA complementary paratransit.


The Wave is limited in the number of regional connections it is able to offer. Routes serve the ferry terminals and the airport. Regional connections are possible via:

  • Year-round ferry service to Hyannis. Public transportation connections in Hyannis available via CCRTA.
  • Seasonal service ferry service to Harwich.
  • Seasonal ferry service to Martha's Vineyard. Public transportation connections in Martha's Vineyard available via VTA.
  • Direct airline service to Hyannis, Boston, Providence, and New York-LaGuardia, Martha's Vineyard, New Bedford, and Provincetown.


All but two of The Wave routes stop at or near the Greenhound Transit Center, located off of Washington Street, just south of Main Street. The other two routes stop a few blocks away.


NRTA has a tiered fare structure for its primary types of service:

  • Fixed-route for Loops/Routes: $1.00 (Mid-Island Loop, Miacomet Loop, Jetties Beach)
  • Fixed-route for Routes: $2.00 (Madaket Route, Sconset Routes, Airport Route, Surfside Beach)
  • Demand-responsive: $1.00 for in-schedule trips/$2.00 for out-of-schedule trips

A variety of discounts are available: on fixed-route, half-fare discounts are available to seniors 65 and older andpersons with disabilities, and on four of the routes, passengers pay half-fare when traveling for part of the route (to/from Crooked Land/Town on the Madaket Route and to/from Rotary on the Sconset Route). Children 6 and under ride free. One, three, seven, and 30 day passes, and season passes, are also available. Student and senior/disabled passes are also available. NRTA does not offer free or discounted transfers.

Demand-response customers may purchase a pass for unlimited trips for $50 per quarter.


2010 Annual Ridership

In 2010, The Wave carried nearly 240,000 passengers. Approximately 96% of these passengers used fixed-route services and the remainder used demand-response. As of 2010, The Wave carried the second lowest number of riders (only higher than FRTA). This is largely because The Wave only provides seasonal service.


In 2010, The Wave had 18 vehicles for fixed-route service and four vehicles for demand-responsive service. Compared to other RTAs, The Wave has the smallest fleet, with 22 total vehicles.


The Wave's total operating expenses are $1.3 million. Of this, $1.1 million or 84% was for fixed-route service, and 16% was for demand-responsive service. As of 2010, The Wave's operating costs were the lowest among all RTAs.

Fare revenue covers approximately 24% of The Wave's 2010 operating expenses. By type of service, fare revenues cover 28% of fixed-route costs and 4% of demand-responsive costs. Overall, The Wave has the third highest farebox recovery ratio.


From 2002 to 2010, The Wave's overall ridership has decreased. Over the same period, service levels have decreased, but to a lesser extent. Costs have also risen slightly for fixed-route and demand-responsive services.


Ridership Trends

Between 2002 and 2010, fixed-route ridership decreased from 304,000 to 228,000 riders, a decrease of 25%. Demand-responsive ridership decreased from 14,500 annual riders to 9,200.

(However, it should also be noted that although not reflected in the numbers presented above, The Wave rebranded itself from "The Shuttle" to "The Wave" in 2011, and this subsequently produced a 5% ridership increase.)

Revenue Vehicle Hours

Vehicle Service Hour Trends

Service hours decreased slightly for both types of service. Fixed-route hours of service decreased by 7% and demand-response decreased by 9%.

Operating Costs and Fare Revenue

Operating Costs and Fare Revenue

Operating costs increased slightly overall and by type of service by 3%. Over the same period, farebox revenues increased by 52%. The farebox recovery ratio for fixed-route service has increased, from 16% in 2002 to 24% in 2010. This indicates that even though The Wave is providing fewer hours of service and therefore has higher operating costs, fares have increased to help cover costs.

From 2002 to 2010, operating costs have slightly increased by 3%. Over the same period, farebox revenues have increased by about 52%. Revenues have increased for fixed-route service by 53% and for demand-response by 12%.

Operating Cost per Passenger

Operating Cost per Passenger Trends

From 2002 to 2010, fixed-route costs per passenger increased by about 37% from $3.56 to $4.88. The Wave's operating cost per passenger for demand-response service has increased to a greater extent, from $14.76 in 2002 to $23.69, or by 61%. In 2010, The Wave's costs were just below the average of all RTAs, ranking sixth lowest for fixed-route cost per passenger and seventh lowest for demand-response cost per passenger.

Passengers per Revenue Vehicle Hour

Passengers per Revenue Vehicle Hour Trends

Between 2002 and 2010, the number of passengers carried per revenue vehicle hours declined. For fixed-route service, 17.6 passengers were carried per hour in 2002, compared to 14.2 in 2010. This is a 19% decrease. For demand-response service, there were 4.2 passengers per service hour in 2002, and 3.0 passengers in 2010, for a decline of 30%. This indicates that fewer trips are being grouped and/or trip lengths are increasing. Most of the declines occurred between 2002 and 2005. Ridership per hour increased between 2004 and 2005, and has been relatively stable since that time.

In 2010, The Wave ranked about in the middle of all RTAs (eighth highest) for passengers per fixed-route service hours, and second highest for demand-response.

Operating Cost per Revenue Vehicle Hour

Operating Cost per Revenue Vehicle Hour Trends

Overall, The Wave's operating cost per revenue vehicle hour increased by 11% between 2002 and 2010. This represents an average annual increase of only 2.2%, which is very low.

By mode, fixed-route operating costs per hour have increased by 10%, or from $62.74 to $69.15. For demand-response, operating costs per service hour have increased by 13% from $62.01 to $70.09. Both rates of increase were low.

In 2010, The Wave's fixed-route operating cost of operating cost per hour of $69.15 was below average for RTAs. For demand-response service, NRTA's cost of $70.09 was above average and the third highest among RTAs.


  • The Wave has a high farebox recovery ratio, particularly for fixed-route service.
  • The Wave provides real time information on bus routes, available on the Internet or smart phone at
  • NRTA introduced "The Wave" branding in the summer of 2011, as well as a new look, new hybrid buses, and a new website. This resulted in a 5% increase in passenger boardings, as well as an increase in pass sales.
  • The Wave has a strong partnership with the Greenhound Foundation, which has helped it implement improvements such as the rebranding effort, purchase of a hybrid vehicle, purchase of a building to allow NRTA to use as its downtown bus stop and information center, and NRTA's real-time passenger information system.
1All cost and revenue data is presented in actual year values. Costs and fare revenues for 2001 are in $2001; operating costs and fare revenues for 2010 are in $2010.
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