Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (March 19, 2009): At its monthly meeting on Wednesday night, the AATA board approved fare changes, which starting May 3 will increase the basic cash fare to ride a bus in Ann Arbor from $1 to $1.25. The change authorized by the board includes a second increase in May 2010, from $1.25 to $1.50. [approved fare changes]
Although the fare increase was one focus of the meeting, the upcoming public interviews (March 25) of the two final candidates for the AATA’s executive directorship also occupied board members’ attention. The upcoming hire had an impact on planned consideration of the organization’s vision statement, which the board had been scheduled to work through as a full group Wednesday evening. That item was tabled in the interest of receiving the input of the new executive director, when he is hired.
For the same reason, another agenda item was pulled, which would have entertained the possibility of the AATA reforming itself under Act 196.
The interviews will take place starting at 7:30 a.m. at AATA headquarters on Wednesday, March 25. (Read previous Chronicle coverage of the executive director search here and here.) There’s also a social gathering of AATA board members and the two finalists at Mediterrano restaurant, 2900 S. State, on March 24 at 5 p.m. The event has been noticed according to the Open Meetings Act, in case any AATA-related matters arise.
Wednesday’s board meeting also included approval of a contract for unarmed security guard services, a wording revision to the FY2010 application to the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, an announcement of a meeting related to WALLY (the proposed north-south commuter rail) taken by the board chair, a pitch from a company touting its fueling robots, some upcoming events sponsored by the Center for Independent Living, and news about the local advisory commission – past and present.
Board chair David Nacht opened discussion on the fare increase by describing the full-cash fare of $1 as “what most people pay,” which led to clarifications from the manager of community relations, Mary Stasiak, seated at the back of the room next to the AATA’s controller, Phil Webb. The average fare that is paid per ride is 71 cents, she said.
The issue of how much the individual user of AATA’s services is charged for a ride versus how much money is received by the AATA to fund that particular ride is a theme that has run through some of the public commentary at board meetings over the last few months, as well as during the forums on the fare increases held by the AATA. For example, the AATA receives money from the Downtown Development Authority through the getDowntown go!pass program, which sponsors the rides of downtown workers (with $5 per year from those workers’ employers). Go!passes allow them to ride AATA buses without paying a fare themselves. And the AATA receives money from the University of Michigan and grants from the state that support the rides of UM affiliates, whose M-Cards allow them to ride AATA buses without paying a fare themselves. [The UM blue buses are free to university affiliates as well as to members of the general public. In computing the fare box recovery ratio, the money received from the DDA and UM to pay for these rides counts as part of the fare box component.]
During public commentary at Wednesday’s board meeting, two members of the public addressed parts of the fare increases related to aspects other than the basic $1 fare.
Susan Farley: Farley said she thought that the idea of making the fares free [for fixed route service, i.e., the regular bus] to Green and Gold Card holders was a “fabulous idea, and that’s all I wanted to say.” [The fare changes eliminate what is now a 25-cent fare for seniors and those with disabilities for rides on the regular bus. The changes also eliminate the cost of the corresponding monthly Liberty Pass, which is currently $10.]
Thomas Partridge: Partridge addressed the situation with rides provided by the AATA to those who are not physically able to ride the regular bus. [The AATA calls this para-transit service the A-Ride.] Partridge introduced himself as a para-transit rider with an A-Ride Green Card, who was also a senior citizen and a grandfather. He pointed out that the para-transit service provided by the AATA is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act requires that equivalent para-transit service be provided wherever there is regular bus service. Partridge said that there was other service in the county located beyond the AATA service area, including the People’s Express in Northfield Township, as well as WAVE (Western-Washtenaw Area Value Express), headquartered in Chelsea.
[Reached by phone, Doug Anderson, director of People's Express, explained that it's a 15-year-old program formerly funded by Northfield Township's human services, but is now an independent 501(C)3 nonprofit agency. As a transportation agency, as opposed to an "authority," the service crosses county lines and provides services in the near corners of Oakland and Livingston counties, as well as Washtenaw County. Within Washenaw they serve the townships of Ypsilanti, Pittsfield, Superior, Salem, Northfield, Ann Arbor, Bridgewater, and York. It's a dial-a-ride service, which in many cases means door-to-door service. In the context of an expansion of AATA's service to include a greater geographic reach, Anderson said that People's Express would continued to play a similar role – that of a connector to other services and to fill in gaps where no services exist. They cannot duplicate service already provided. To reserve a ride with People's Express, the number is 877.214.6073]
Asked by board chair David Nacht which agenda item he was addressing, Partridge cited the vision statement and the fare increases. Partridge called for the immediate expansion of countywide service as a part of the vision statement, and said that the fare increases were unnecessary. If revenues needed to be increased, he said, that could be achieved with surcharges on other segments of the AATA community like the University of Michigan. Partridge said that the fare increases were discriminatory, because the increases asked the members of the community least able to afford it – disabled people and seniors using the para-transit program – to pay 200-300% more than riders of the fixed-route service. [With advanced reservation, senior taxi rides will rise from $2 currently to $3 in 2010; same-day rides will rise from $3 to $4.]
At the conclusion of the meeting during time allotted for public commentary, Partridge again addressed the board on the topic of the fare increases they’d already passed, asking them to take back the increases.
After the clarification about the cost of rides, Nacht continued deliberations by the board by asking about the income requirements for reduced fares based on income-level. Stasiak clarified that the AATA itself does not “qualify” them (i.e., does not perform a check on income levels to makes sure those who receive reduced fares qualify for them.) The qualification of riders for reduced fares is handled by various government and nonprofit agencies, explained Stasiak, including the Veterans Administration, SOS Community Services, Co-occurring Disorders Treatment Services (CSTS), and Ozone House, among others.
In describing the change now from $1 to $1.25, and next year to $1.50, Nacht said, “That’s a significant increase.” For a “not poor, but not comfortably middle-class family who relies on transit day-in-and-day out,” Nacht said, “we’re talking about placing a substantial burden on a lot of families by increasing the fares this much.” But Nacht continued, “We offset this with a large number of reduced fares.”
Still, he said, it was incumbent on the board to address the question of whether they were comfortable making such a significant increase over the course of two years.
Nacht invited board member Rich Robben – of the planning and development committee, which made the recommendation for the fare change proposal – to explain the basic rationale. Robben said that (i) comparison to peer organizations showed that AATA’s fares were low, (ii) there had not been any fare increase in a long time ,and (iii) without a fare increase, a structural deficit was projected.
Board member Charles Griffith said that he’d like to see rapid implementation of some discounted fare passes for a limited number of days, without a need to purchase a pass for an entire month.
Nacht asked what the outcome of public feedback had been on the fare increase proposal. Stasiak said that the four public hearings had attracted a total of 25 individuals. She said that there were a very limited number of people who attended the forums in Ypsilanti. Asked about letters and emails that might have been received from the public that had not been included in the meeting packet already available on the web, Stasiak said there was more material that could be provided to the press. Board member Sue McCormick suggested that the responses to specific issues raised should be included, and that those responses needed to go out to the people who raised the issues as well. Nacht compared it to the suggestion board at Whole Foods: “I like it.”
Nacht asked the board: “Would anybody like to offer an amendment and garner support?” No one offered an amendment.
Nacht began his own comments by saying that he was comfortable with the process. He expressed a certain lack of comfort with the increase from $1 to $1.50 over the course of two years. But the increase was justified, he felt, because of how long AATA had waited to raise the fares. Riders needed to pay more than a token percentage of the cost it took to provide the service, he said, which was now 15%.
[For The Chronicle, Stasiak broke down the current 15.7% overall fare box recovery ratio as 21% for fixed-route service and 12% para-transit door-to-door service. The fare increase is projected to add an additional $314,000 in revenue in the first year with $226,000 more in the second year (for a total in the second year of an additional $540,000). In the second year, this would bring the overall fare-box recovery ratio to 17.9%. That projection includes a 5-10% loss of ridership, because demand could be slightly elastic. ]
Outcome: the fare increases and adjustments were approved unanimously.
Fare box revenue as compared to other funding of the AATA also came up during the meeting in the form of a wording change asked for by the Michigan Department of Transportation in the AATA’s application – a regular notification in which the AATA announces its intent to provide transportation services and to apply for state assistance.
MDOT had asked AATA to include the following clause, which the AATA has not included for the last five years without objection from MDOT:
Whereas, the AATA has reviewed and approved the proposed balanced budget and funding sources of estimated federal funds $2,383,200, estimated state funds, $6,681,400, estimated local funds $10,926,588, estimated fare box $4,517,000, estimated other funds $149,000, with total estimated expenses of $24,657,188.
Outcome: The revised application was approved unanimously.
At its last meeting, the adoption of the procurement manual had been postponed, pending further review with attention to clearer policies on potential conflicts of interest. Nacht asked that the performance monitoring and external relations committee continue to work on improvements to the manual with respect to various controls.
Outcome: The procurement manual was approved unanimously.
Unarmed Security Guard Services
Requests for proposals were sent by AATA to 29 different firms and they received responses from 11 of those. Advance Security was recommended for a contract anticipated to cost (based on hourly rates) around $137,000 annually. Queries by board chair Nacht indicated there seemed to be some unclarity about communications on whether Advance Security was the low bidder, and if there was a different low bidder, which firm that might have been.
Nacht cast a “no” vote on the contract, saying it was to express his desire in the future to have information about low bids included in the information provided to the board. Interim executive director Dawn Gabay assured him it would be.
Outcome: Contract approved with dissent from Nacht.
In the public commentary time at the conclusion of the meeting, Carolyn Grawi of the Center for Independent Living followed up on the unarmed security guard contract item by stressing the importance that employees of Advance Security be trained to understand the range of individuals who ride the bus and their range of needs. Nacht agreed that it was important that security guards be appropriately trained so that respect and dignity was preserved, and ventured that one example of the kind of thing that Grawi might have in mind would be the mis-analysis of someone with a mental illness as causing a disturbance when they were, in fact, just trying to catch the bus.
Grawi also mentioned the Let’s Get Moving day in Lansing, which will take place on April 21. She encouraged people from the Ann Arbor community as well as throughout Washtenaw County to go to the event to show state legislators their support for continued funding of transportation services. One of the goals of future transportation was the seamless public transportation from county to county. Ann Arbor, she said, could be a leader in that. She encouraged the board to think about how the stimulus funds might be best spent to bring the area’s transit from “middle of the pack” to a point of leading.
Grawi also made the board aware of two CIL workshops. The first, to be held on April 9, is called “Disability Awareness and Sensitivity Training for Business Owners and Employers.” The second is on April 23 and called “Disability Accommodations and the Law: What You Need to Know about Responding to Employee Requests.” More information on both events at 734.971.0277. Responding to Grawi’s suggestion that AATA staff take advantage of the workshops, Nacht said that the second of these was being handled by two of the attorneys from his own office, and expressed some concern about a possible conflict of interest. Grawi said that the cost of the workshop paid only for the lunch and that there was not a conflict of interest.
Pitches: WALLY and Robots
Board chair David Nacht, in his communications to the board, announced that he’d been contacted by a planner named Carlisle who’s a member of “a group with a numerical name, something like 301,” who was interested in expressing support for the WALLY project. [WALLY is a north-south commuter rail project connecting Howell with Ann Arbor. AATA has taken responsibility to be the authority for WALLY.] Nacht said that he was communicating to everyone that he’d agreed to take the meeting, that he was conveying what he’d heard from some very strong proponents of the WALLY project.
What they’d laid out, he said, was the fact that to add a lane to US-23 would cost around a half billion dollars. And whatever WALLY cost, they said, it would not come near that amount – more likely closer to a tenth of that. The additional people that an extra lane could carry, they said, would be comparable to what WALLY could carry. [see comment left below: http://208group.com/about/]
Making a pitch at the board meeting itself were two representatives of TransAmerican Robotic Fueling, a company based in Okemos, Mich., which is bringing technology already prevalent in Europe to the U.S. It’s currently capable of fueling diesel and bio-diesel vehicles, with liquid natural gas and compressed natural gas in development. The idea was not, they said, to eliminate jobs, but rather to make the fueling process more efficient.
Local Advisory Council
Nacht began the board’s meeting by noting the passing on March 15 of a former chair of the local advisory council, Sam Breck. Nacht had praise for Breck, who “said what he thought.” Funeral services would be sometime in April, he reported. Nacht concluded, “We will miss him.”
The local advisory council is described as follows on the AATA website:
The Local Advisory Council (LAC) provides scheduled monthly meetings for people with disabilities and senior citizens interested in AATA services. Meetings are open to anyone. Anyone who attends is welcome to participate.
All meetings are from 10:00 a.m. to noon on the second Tuesday of the month (except July) at the AATA main office, 2700 S. Industrial Hwy. in Ann Arbor. You can call to receive a meeting agenda or a meeting notice by calling 973-6500.
During public commentary time at the conclusion of the meeting, Rebecca Burke, who chairs the LAC, reported that little got done at its last meeting, and she had written a letter to the board asking that Thomas Partridge [who is a member of LAC] be asked to convey his thoughts in writing to the LAC, but no longer be welcome to attend meetings, as his presence could be disruptive. At this, Partridge interjected that Burke was making malicious comments about him, and raised the possibility of litigation. Nacht quickly restored order by declaring the two would not address each other. After the meeting Nacht briefly talked with Partridge and Burke, and the two also continued their conversation on their own. Outcome unknown.
Present: Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, David Nacht, Paul Ajegba, Rich Robben, Sue McCormick
Absent: Ted Annis
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave. [confirm date]
Special meeting (Executive Director Interviews): Wednesday, March 25 7:30 a.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave. [confirm date]