Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Oct 21, 2009): Some news of significance announced at the AATA‘s board meeting last Wednesday received relatively brief mention and discussion: There will be a special meeting of the AATA board at Weber’s Inn, on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 at 5 p.m. in the Varsity Room.
The topic of the meeting will be the possibility of reorganizing as a regional authority under Act 196. That meeting will be a precursor for the conversation about countywide service – and a countywide millage.
As far as the board’s business as reflected on Wednesday’s agenda, the item receiving by far the most discussion was one authorizing a contract for $171,704 for facility camera upgrades. Board member Rich Robben got an animated conversation rolling when he pointedly asked, “Was the bid spec written around a product line??” The board wound up authorizing the contract, with dissent from Robben and fellow board member David Nacht.
Putting a punctuation mark on the past year’s activity was the board’s new chair, Paul Ajegba, who presented the former chair, David Nacht, with a ceremonial gavel in appreciation of his service. Ajegba also presented deputy CEO Dawn Gabay with a plaque in appreciation for her service as interim director of the agency.
Reorganization as Act 196 Regional Authority
Ted Annis gave his final bit of “headline news” from the planning and development committee – “final” because board member Rich Robben will be taking over as chair of that committee. The news was that the committee recommended outsourcing the design of a countywide bus system. A request for qualifications (RFQ) should be issued for that design, rather than having AATA staff prepare it in-house, Annis said, because of “bandwidth,” which is to say that it’s a question of staff having adequate time.
By way of background, the AATA is currently funded for service inside the city of Ann Arbor by a transportation millage levied at just over 2 mill. Service to areas outside the city is funded by purchase of service agreements (POSAs) with specific muncipalities.
In October of 2008, the AATA board actively discussed the possibility of reorganization as a regional authority under the Public Transportation Authority Act 196, with the planning and development committee bringing a recommendation to the board that the AATA reconstitute itself as a regional authority according to the act. Discussion of a possible countywide transportation millage for the fall of 2009 was also active, but the planned WISD school millage, which is actually appearing on the Nov. 3 ballot, was seen as diminishing the prospects for approval.
Then, in March 2009, an item was placed on the board’s agenda to reorganize the AATA under Act 196, but was pulled. As The Chronicle previously reported ["Bus Fares Will Increase"]:
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. [emphasis added]
For the same reason, another agenda item was pulled, which would have entertained the possibility of the AATA reforming itself under Act 196.
Now that the Michael Ford has been hired as CEO of the AATA, the transportation authority is again taking up the matter.
During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Jim Mogensen asked the board to make sure that the Oct. 29 board meeting at Weber’s was open to the public. Annis, for his part, established that the nature of the discussion would be broad and wide-ranging.
Security Video Cameras for Facilities
An agenda item asked that the board authorize a contract for Security Corporation for security camera upgrades at the AATA’s facilities: Blake Transit Center, Ypsilanti Transit Center, and the AATA headquarters on South Industrial. There are already cameras at those facilities. The recommendation to accept the bid – from Security Corporation – came to the board from the performance monitoring and external relations committee (PMER – pronounced “PEE-mer” at the AATA), which is now chaired by Jesse Bernstein.
Bernstein introduced the resolution, summarizing Security Corporation’s proposal as a great leap forward in technology, offering the best cameras, the most storage and the best price.
The staff memo describes Security Corporation’s proposal as follows:
The security system upgrade proposed by Security Corporation will not only modernize AATA’s system, but will improve the effectiveness of its surveillance capabilities by more than 50% and the ability to retain, recall, and replay incidents by as much as 75%. The upgrade transforms AATA’s system from being primarily analog-based to a high resolution digital system, meaning images can be quickly retrieved and reviewed, or transmitted and shared with law enforcement agencies and insurance carriers.
As a bonus, the system will greatly enhance monitoring of both the BTC and the YTC. The system is robust and flexible enough to accommodate future satellite facilities, including the Plymouth Road Park and Ride lot now under construction.
New low-light, high pixel digital cameras will provide the ability to “zoom in” on areas of interest without limiting the camera’s field of vision. (The old pan-tilt-zoom cameras capture only the camera’s immediate field of vision, and as that field narrows during the zooming process, less and less of the surrounding area is observed.)
Dollars on technology or people?
The questions came first from board member David Nacht, who wanted to know if the $171,704 was actually best spent on technology as opposed to people to provide security. Bernstein replied that the new camera system would provide a record of behaviors in real time that people could not, and that if something goes wrong, the AATA would have a record of that behavior.
Board member Ted Annis put the expenditure in the context of the roughly $120,000 spent on security personnel each year at the Ypsilanti Transit Center, with roughly half again that amount spent at Blake Transit Center in Ann Arbor. Annis wanted to know if the technology investment would reduce the security personnel cost.
CEO Michael Ford clarified that the proposal was not thought of as a way to reduce security personnel cost, so much as an upgrade to current technology – the old technology was 10 years old, he said. Ford also clarified that the old system did have a means of retrieving old footage, but that the new system was much better in that respect.
Bernstein suggested that down the road it might be possible to reduce some security personnel.
Annis suggested that the resolution be tabled until AATA staff had a chance to look into the possibility of reducing security personnel in connection with the camera enhancements.
How were the bid specifications written?
Board member Rich Robben then observed that the winning bid was the only one out of five bids that was judged to “adequately address” the specification. “Was the bid spec written around a product line??” he wondered. Here’s an excerpt taken from the staff memo, which was included in the meeting board packet, which had prompted Robben’s query:
AATA prepared specifications for upgrading its facilities camera security system and requested proposals from companies recognized as leaders in the security camera field. Five responses were received and analyzed by Staff. The summary of that analysis is as follows:
Wiltech Technologies: $143,492
ANALYSIS: Wiltech did not adequately address AATA’s specifications. They provide 15 new cameras with no accompanying drawings or diagrams showing the areas of coverage. (Drawings were required in AATA’s specifications to facilitate the analysis of the area being monitored.) Wiltech’s surveillance software for controlling their new cameras will not integrate with AATA’s existing access control system. This incompatibility will result in having to manually make changes in some camera settings rather than making them quickly via software. Wiltech does not identify the storage capacity of their recording system so that AATA can assess the recording time at varying frames-per-second and at varying degrees of resolution. Wiltech does not include racks or mountings for network hubs and switches. The wiring Wiltech intends to use will not guarantee the highest resolution for images being captured. Wiltech proposes an extra charge (over and above their bid price) for three years of warranty protection. The computer hardware Wiltech proposes will be purchased separately and assembled by Wiltech with no apparent ongoing support. Wiltech identifies no service capabilities for any existing AATA equipment that will be integrated into the upgraded system.
Security Corporation: $171,704
ANALYSIS: Security adequately addresses all aspects of AATA’s specifications. Security provides 26 new cameras along with detailed drawings clearly showing the areas of coverage the cameras will provide. New storage cabinets in the Dispatch area necessary to replace existing cabinets that must be removed in order to accommodate larger LCD monitors are included as part of its bid. Security guarantees (in writing) the compatibility and integration of their new components with existing AATA units being retained as part of the upgrade. Security’s bid includes the replacement of upgraded monitoring equipment at facility gates. The storage capacity of the recording system is clearly identified to enable AATA to calculate the storage time of the system at various frames-per-second and at varying degrees of resolution. Security guarantees that any new wiring used in the maintenance or vehicle storage areas will be placed in industry standard conduit. Security will provide industry standard Dell computer hardware with ongoing support provided by Dell. Security’s bid includes the installation of new security system work stations at both the BTC and the YTC. Their bid also includes three years of warranty protection at no additional cost. Security’s bid price includes joy-stick control units (for increased ease and speed in monitoring and adjusting cameras), along with additional monitors to accommodate future system expansion.
Edwards Service: $173,667
ANALYSIS: Edwards Service does not adequately address all aspects of AATA’s specifications.
Simplex Grinnell: $177,456
ANALYSIS: Simplex Grinnell does not adequately address all aspects of AATA’s specifications.
D/A Central, Inc.: $210,846
ANALYSIS: D/A Central does not adequately address all aspects of AATA’s specifications.
The answer from AATA staff: No, the bid specifications were not written with Security Corporation’s product line in mind. The lowest bid, from Wiltech, was described as “the least responsive.”
Annis then shifted the conversation to the zooming-in capability. He suggested that it would make sense to connect the cameras in the Ypsilanti Transit Center to the Ypsilanti Police Department. CEO Michael Ford replied that this was something that could be explored after the cameras were installed. Annis asked, “Why not before?” Ford did not disagree, saying, “You’re spot-on on that, and there’s some things we could have done differently.”
Board chair Ajegba drew out the fact from staff that there’d been an incident where the existing cameras weren’t able to capture an adequately high resolution image to allow identification of a suspect by the police.
Nacht then acted on Annis’ suggestion and actually moved to table the resolution, saying that it was important to make sure that the board was not spending money on technology in a casual way, saying that “These are not casual times.”
Annis then noted that the new park-and-ride at Plymouth Road needed some kind of equipment anyway – it was getting the same equipment from the same vendor – and that the police department needed higher resolution cameras. He characterized the situation as: “We need the stuff, but can we take it a step further?” Here Robben inserted what would become a salient fact: The proposed contract didn’t cover the park-and-ride facility, because that facility was covered under a different contract.
Board member Sue McCormick, who’s director of public services with the city of Ann Arbor, drew out from staff the fact that tabling the resolution had consequences for the bid – it had a 30-day window, which ends on Nov. 1. In response to Nacht’s concern that the company that had made the winning bid might have a legal claim if their bid was not accepted within that time frame, McCormick explained that typically there’s a right to reject all bids associated with an RFP.
Nacht clarified that he was not against security: “Who could be against security?” Bernstein assured Nacht that the proposals had been scrutinized at PMER.
Board member Charles Griffith weighed in saying that the expenditure was not a big expense in the scheme of things, and that it was an expenditure that came once every 10 years. More was spent on the engineering study for the park-and-ride lot, he said. It would be good to improve security, he said, but stalling the purchase was not the right way to go.
Nacht then relented somewhat, saying that his inclination was to ratify the decision of the committee (PMER). He then withdrew his motion to table the resolution.
CEO Michael Ford suggested that the legitimacy of the process could be re-checked.
Two bidding processes, same outcome
Chris White, who is AATA’s manager of service development, clarified that the specifications for the Plymouth Road park-and-ride video equipment were the same as for AATA’s three other facilities, although the bidding for the Plymouth Road park-and-ride had been a process handled by OHM, AATA’s prime contractor for the park-and-ride project, which is currently under construction.
At this, Nacht expressed skepticism that two completely different bidding processes would lead to the same vendor.
McCormick then systematically queried staff to elicit when the selection of Security Corporation as OHM’s sub-contractor was known to staff. White explained that the bids came in in August and that OHM did the review. As for the AATA’s RFP, the bids were due by the end of August. To Ford, there seemed to be enough unclarity that he suggested a postponement: “We don’t seem to have our stuff together.”
Nacht then declared his intention to vote against the resolution, saying, “I don’t have confidence in the procurement process as staff has explained it.”
Bernstein then defended the recommendation of his committee, reminding his colleagues that the AATA had a procurement manual and that from what he could tell, the bidding process for the cameras adhered to that procurement manual.
McCormick expressed the view that it was an appearance issue having to do with the fact that of the five companies that had submitted bids, only one was responsive. That appearance issue, she concluded, had no basis in fact. Staff clarified that the compatibility of systems between the park-and-ride facility cameras and the AATA’s other three facilities was not a function of the same vendor being selected for both installations, but rather the requirement that the system have open architecture.
Outcome: The board approved the contract with Security Corporation, with dissent from Nacht and Robben.
M-Ride is a University of Michigan program in which UM affiliates do not pay a fare on boarding – instead, their fare is a paid by UM and supplemented with a federal grant for which UM qualifies. The contract was given a one-year extension at the July AATA board meeting. Board member Sue McCormick reported that the negotiating team had not been back to the table since that time.
David Nacht reported that he had talked to Jim Kosteva, the UM director of community relations, at the reception for Michael Ford as the new CEO in September. Nacht said he’d mentioned to Kosteva that UM’s idea of passing some of the cost on to students and other affiliates could result in a reduced level of ridership.
Board member Ted Annis asked AATA staff to break out M-Ride ridership on a monthly basis in the ridership reports.
The board considered a resolution to award a three-year contract for its Night Ride service to the Blue Cab Company.
Night Ride is a late-night, shared-ride taxi service offered by the AATA within the city of Ann Arbor. Night Ride trips are scheduled by phone reservation, like a taxi: 734.528.5432. The fare is $5 per person, regardless of the length of the trip.
Board member Ted Annis questioned whether the contract needed to be awarded for three years and wondered if it could be shorter. Deputy CEO Dawn Gabay clarified that the concerns that he might be having about issues surrounding Night Ride were actually associated with A-Ride. A-Ride is a shared-ride, door-to-door transportation service for people who can’t use regular AATA bus service because of a disability. After being satisfied that it was “another story for another day,” the contract was voted on.
Outcome: The resolution awarding a three-year contract for the Night Ride service to the Blue Cab Company was unanimously approved.
Year-End Performance Monitoring Report
Jesse Bernstein ticked through a number of year-end performance figures as a part of his performance monitoring and external relations committee report. Here are some highlights:
- The AATA had budgeted a cost per bus service hour of $110/hour, but had come in at $106/hour.
- The coverage goal of having 90% of residents served by a route with a bus stop no more than 1/4 mile from their residence was met – 91% of residents live within the goal distance.
- The 95% on-time goal needed work – on-time performance stood at 83-87%.
- The number of accidents of 1.6 to 2.9 per 100,000 miles was below the goal of no more than 3.5 accidents per 100,000 miles.
- The goal of 20 passengers per service hour was exceed by the 31-34 passengers per service hour that had been achieved.
Bernstein concluded that the expectations in areas where goals were being met might need to be adjusted upward.
A bit later in the meeting, David Nacht asked for some clarification on the better-than-budgeted financial performance, saying that he had concerns about how the “preventive maintenance” fund was used. It seemed to him, Nacht quipped, that it was almost like, “We use it to prevent maintenance.” It still wasn’t clear to him, Nacht said, even after five, six, or seven years on the AATA board, just how that fund worked – it seemed in some respects like a bank account or a reserve level. He said that the expenditures out of the fund made it difficult to see how aligned the AATA was in other areas.
Jim Mogensen: In addition to highlighting the Oct. 29 meeting on Act 196, which is reported in detail above, Mogensen urged the board to look at local service as the core of AATA’s service and then to layer any commuter service on top of that. That approach contrasts with one where low-ridership local routes are sacrificed, with the funding for those routes reallocated to commuter routes.
Thomas Partridge: Partridge urged the board to have all of its activities, plans and proposals scanned and placed on the AATA website. He also asked that the committee meetings be made more accessible to the public. He suggested that the meetings of the full board be scheduled at a time that did not conflict with meetings of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners’ meetings.
Sandra Holley: Holley reminded the board of the security issues at the Ypsilanti Transit Center – there was a series of “snatch and grab” theft incidents as people got off the last bus. She suggested emergency, blue-light call boxes as a way to improve security – they would be linked directly to the Ypsilanti police department.
Carolyn Grawi: Grawi gave the board some petitions signed by employees of businesses along Research Park Drive, supporting the installation of a stop light where Research Park meets Ellsworth. [Background: The drive is a large circular loop nestled in the northwest corner of State and Ellsworth. It has entrances off of State as well as off Ellsworth. The Center for Independent Living, where Grawi works, is located on Research Park Drive, and CIL is advocating for AATA bus service to come through the drive. A condition on bus service into the drive from the point of view of the AATA: Installation of a stoplight at Ellsworth, so that buses exiting the drive, heading east to Ypsilanti, can turn left.] Grawi also reminded the board that Investing in Abilities Week started on Oct. 21.
Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Ted Annis, Jesse Bernstein, Paul Ajegba, Sue McCormick, Rich Robben.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]