Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Aug. 10, 2010): The AATA is currently engaged in a public outreach process to gauge the consensus view of what kind of public transportation county residents would like to see in 30 years. The process is due to culminate early next year with the creation of a transportation master plan (TMP).
But at a special board meeting and retreat held on Tuesday at Weber’s Inn on Jackson Road, the board discussed a variety of specific strategic initiatives that have a somewhat shorter time frame for implementation.
In a four-hour session stretching from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the board discussed and passed resolutions aimed to improve transportation between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, to the University of Michigan East Medical Center, and between the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Ann Arbor.
In addition, the board authorized a lowering of the fare for the express commuter service between Canton and Ann Arbor. That fare change includes a decision to move the service in-house, instead of contracting the service out to Indian Trails. A similar change was made earlier this year for the Chelsea-Ann Arbor express bus service. [Chronicle coverage: "AATA on Chelsea Bus: Cut Fares, Add Wifi"]
Two resolutions that were not moved or voted on by the board – but which received animated discussion – involved the possible provision of vanpool services in the county by the AATA and the future of the Washtenaw-Livingston Line (WALLY) rail project.
In the area of capital improvements, the board also authorized a contract with DLZ Michigan to address a variety of infrastructure projects at the AATA headquarters on South Industrial Highway: installation and in-ground bus hoist; re-landscaping of the detention pond; expansion of the bus storage area; upgrades to the training room. The RFP for the contract also covered a potential park-and-ride lot at Glencoe Crossing Shopping Center on Washtenaw Avenue.
Board chair Jesse Bernstein also announced a Blake Transit Center advisory committee – which will include other community members – to provide input on the redesign and reconstruction of the downtown Ann Arbor transit center, located on Fourth Avenue south of Liberty. Bernstein will represent the board on the committee.
The various strategic initiatives will need to be explored in the context of the next budget year, which begins Oct. 1. So the board also received a budget overview at Tuesday’s meeting. They’ll sign off on the budget in September.
Against the Background of the TMP
The AATA is currently engaged in an extensive public engagement process to determine some kind of countywide community consensus for the kind of public transit residents would like to have in the long term – 30 years or more. The result of that process is expected to be a transportation master plan (TMP), which should be completed in early 2011. The AATA board was briefed on the status of that initiative at its June 23 meeting. [Chronicle coverage: "AATA Moves Engagement Process into Gear"]
At a June 23, 2010 media roundtable, AATA CEO Michael Ford addressed the issue of a risk that other shorter-term initiatives might be paused while the TMP is being developed. From The Chronicle’s report of that roundtable [emphasis added]:
Michael Ford indicated that the question of Ypsilanti service was on the agenda for the board retreat coming up in July. [Editor's note: The retreat/meeting was subsequently re-scheduled for Aug. 10] They’d be looking at options for Ypsilanti, he said, but not in a vacuum – the topic would be considered in the context of the city, county, and the DDA. The idea was not, Ford stressed, to put everything on hold until the TMP was complete.
The various initiatives addressed at Tuesday’s retreat/meeting at Weber’s Inn can be seen as the kinds of shorter-term efforts that will not be put on hold until the TMP is completed.
Service to East Ann Arbor Health Center
The question of service to the University of Michigan Health System’s East Ann Arbor Health Center, located on Plymouth Road, as well as to Domino’s Farms, has received comments at public meetings by residents for over a year.
From The Chronicle’s report of the July 16, 2009 University of Michigan Regents meeting:
Jim Mogensen: Mogensen said that the transportation report had been a “Cliffs Notes” version, and doesn’t give a full representation of the community’s transportation picture. [...] He noted that it’s difficult to get bus service to UM’s medical campus on Plymouth Road in northeast Ann Arbor, and he urged the university to make sure they provide basic transportation access to their health facilities when they renegotiate their M-Ride contract with AATA later this year.
From The Chronicle’s report of the July 21, 2009 AATA board meeting:
Jim Mogensen: Mogensen spoke to the issue of the M-Ride contract extension. He stated that it was exciting that options were being explored like having the University of Michigan Medical Center participate in paying for M-Ride. He said that he hoped that the future negotiations will include public transit access to the UM East Medical Campus on Plymouth Road near Dixboro Road.
More recently, at the March 24, 2010 AATA board meeting, Sandra Holley and Carolyn Grawi both commented on service to Domino’s Farms, where the UM currently also has medical facilities.
Sandra Holley said she wanted to draw the board’s attention to the new Plymouth Road park-and-ride lot and the impact it had on routes. To get from the north side of town to Domino’s Farms on a public route – which should be a 15-minute trip – took two hours. First you have to go down Pontiac Trail to downtown Ann Arbor, transfer at the Blake Transit Center, ride to the UM hospital, then take the shuttle. She also noted that A-Ride, the AATA paratransit service, does not consider Domino’s Farms to be inside Ann Arbor, so the fare was $9 each way, not the $2.50 fare inside the city.
In support of Holley’s depiction, Carolyn Grawi, of the Center for Independent Living, said it took a good hour spread over three routes to get from CIL to Domino’s. [...]
At Tuesday’s retreat, Mogensen suggested that UMHS really should have planned for patient transportation when the facility was built. Putting the costs in perspective, he said the UMHS had an operating budget of roughly $1 billion a year, or around $3 million every day. In three days, he said the UMHS spent as much money as the AATA collected for the year in its city transportation millage [roughly $9 million]. He would later characterize the amount it would take for the UMHS to provide public transit to EAAHC as so much “budget dust” for UMHS.
East Ann Arbor Health Center: Staff Presentation
The issue considered by the AATA board on Tuesday was phrased as a question:
Should The Ride pursue a partnership with UM to improve public transportation between Ann Arbor and the East Ann Arbor Health Center (EAAHC)/Domino’s Farms located north and south of Plymouth Road, just east of US‐23 in Ann Arbor Township?
The presentation to the board was given by Chris White, who is the AATA manager of service development. By the numbers, EAAHC has four separate entrances, 54 clinical units, and had 250,000 patient visits in 2009. Domino’s Farms has three separate entrances, 19 clinical units, and had 145,000 patient visits in 2009.
The patient visit numbers reflect a 33% increase in patient visits since last year and a 234% increase since 2005, White said. The University of Michigan bus route serving the EAAHC, operated by UM transportation services, is called the UM Intercampus Route. It’s a long, circuitous trip, he said. He explained that this was due in part to the fact that the route was originally designed as a circulator route for the central medical campus and the Wall Street/Maiden Lane area. It includes stops at Arbor Lakes, which is an administrative facility with 300 staff, but it’s not a location where patients are treated. That reflects the original conception of the Intercampus Route as primarily for staff transportation.
UM’s Intercampus Route currently serves a stop at EAAHC and three stops at Domino’s Farms. UM doesn’t keep records, but ridership is low. Service is every 20 minutes from 6:55 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. It requires four buses and costs UMHS about $700,000 a year. The stops and service level are determined by UMHS, not UM Transportation.
On the paratransit side, UM provides no service to EAAHC. The AATA’s A-Ride paratransit service – a demand-response service where riders need to call to make an appointment to be picked up – ends at the city limits. That’s one of the challenges, White explained – and a point made by Sandra Holley at the March 24, 2010 board meeting.
Since 2007, AATA has allowed A-Ride service to continue to Turner Geriatric Clinic within EAAHC, with UM paying cab fare for the portion of the trip east of US-23. Last year there were 1,980 A-Ride trips to Turner, 1,080 of them by a person with a disability. Of those, 340 required a non-taxi accessible vehicle. A-Ride trips are increasing in frequency to Turner Geriatric Clinic.
White said that UMHS didn’t consider patient transportation when designing the EAAHC. Why is there A-Ride service to Turner – within the EAAHC – but not to the rest of EAAHC? It’s because Turner Geriatric Center was previously located in the city of Ann Arbor. When it was moved to EAAHC, that created concerns among seniors over the loss of A-Ride service, and at that time UMHS simply wanted a solution for Turner Geriatric, not the rest of the complex.
East Ann Arbor Health Center: Staff Presentation – Options
One option not recommended by AATA staff would be to end A-Ride trips to the Turner clinic and move an A-Ride transfer point to the Green Road park-and-ride lot, where the A-Ride service could connect with the Intercampus Route. That approach would provide no access for wheelchair users, though it would reflect a cost reduction to AATA of $15,ooo to $20,000 a year.
A second option also not recommended would be to extend A-Ride service to the entire EAAHC complex instead of limiting it to Turner Geriatric. UMHS would pay for the cost of the trip beyond the city limits. That would cost the AATA about $120,000 in the first year.
The third option, which was recommended by AATA staff, is to work with UMHS leadership to make a business case that they have a financial stake in transporting patients efficiently to EAAHC. That business case is based on the cost of missed appointments, the cost of the taxi portion of A-Ride trips, and the cost of operating the Intercampus Route. The idea would be to negotiate a comprehensive solution that includes demand-response and fixed-route service, with UMHS shouldering the additional cost. The approach would include joint promotion of the use of fixed-route service as the main way that patients reach the center who don’t drive.
White indicated that St. Joseph Mercy Hospital had estimated the cost of missed appointments last year at $1 million.
East Ann Arbor Health Center: Board Deliberations
Roger Kerson, a recently appointed board member attending just his second full board meeting, asked for more specifics about what the business case for UMHS is. He noted that with almost 0.5 million patient visits, only a couple thousand patients use the service. White indicated that if you’re talking about 2% of the patients, that itself is significant.
Kerson wanted to know if the idea was to create a direct AATA route from downtown Ann Arbor to EAAHC. White said that this was not necessarily the solution, but noted that there is significant overlap between the UMHS Intercampus Route and the AATA fixed-route service.
Charles Griffith wondered if it might still be necessary to operate a circulator service. White allowed that it would be inefficient to try to hit each entrance of the EAAHC facility, but that UMHS might take responsibility for a circulator.
Sue McCormick characterized the approach as a worthwhile endeavor to forge a partnership to look at the situation now, while the trip traffic is still building. She stated that there are “two bus companies in town” – AATA and UM. It was appropriate that they look at ways to cooperate, she said.
Jesse Bernstein wanted to know what the relationship was of this initiative to the connector study. That study, currently underway, contemplates enhanced transit service in the Plymouth-State street corridors. White said that it hadn’t been determined on which side of US-23 that potential signature corridor connector service would end.
McCormick asked if the local unit of government outside of the city had been engaged – that’s Ann Arbor Township. Michael Ford, AATA’s CEO, indicated that he’d met with Michael Moran, the township supervisor.
The board considered a resolution that essentially answered the question, framing the issue in the affirmative.
Outcome: The board voted to approve the resolution expressing an intention to develop a partnership with the University of Michigan to expand transportation service to the EAAHC and to check for consistency with the transportation master plan (TMP) as that work is completed. Rich Robben, who’s employed by UM, abstained from the vote.
At the University of Michigan regent’s meeting on Dec. 17, 2009, Terry Alexander, executive director of the university’s office of campus sustainability, reported that more than 3,000 people have signed up to use the university’s GreenRide program, a system to help people find others interested in using carpools or vanpools. There are 86 UM vanpools, he reported, used by 527 people.
The van pools are operated by VPSI Inc. via a series of contracts with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) through the MichiVan program. On Oct. 1, 2010 the state of Michigan is discontinuing its funding for MichiVan, but is providing an additional buffer period through September 2011. The state funding had depended on federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) funds, which will no longer be available.
The MichiVan vanpool program allows 7-15 people who live in a close enough cluster to share a ride to work in a vehicle provided by MichiVan, stored and driven by one of the commuters. UM pays 80% of the cost of the fare for its employees, so the actual cost to employees is $25 per month.
With the expiration of the MDOT contract with VPSI, the AATA sees an opportunity to get into the vanpool business and provide that as an additional mode in its transportation offerings. AATA is looking at RapidVan in Grand Rapids as a possible model, which has operated outside of the MichiVan program at a lower cost than MichiVan.
Vanpool: Staff Presentation
The staff presentation on vanpooling was made by Mary Stasiak, AATA’s manager of community relations. The framing question was this:
Should The Ride begin to incorporate vanpool services for Washtenaw County into AATA operations in FY2011?
The existing market for the vanpools is one key argument for AATA to take over the service. The 88 total vanpools currently operated by MichiVan carry 538 passengers, with origins all through southeastern Michigan and northern Ohio. What’s common to all of the vanpools geographically is that their destination is inside Washtenaw County. Compared to a scenario where all 538 passengers drive their own car, vanpooling takes 450 cars off the road every day.
The estimated cost of operation, based on the RapidVan model, is $7,912 per van or a total of $696,228. Stasiak estimated the cost to purchase 88 vehicles at $23,800 per vehicle or $2.094 million total. The estimated operating revenues, assuming the existing vanpools and UM subsidies continue, would be $696,228. Based on National Transit Database formula funds, the operation of the 88 vans would yield an additional $400,000 per year in federal funds, due to the additional passenger service miles provided by the vans.
As part of the initiative, the AATA is contemplating the hire of a full-time vanpool coordinator at a salary of around $70,000.
Vanpool: Board Deliberations
Jesse Bernstein clarified several of the particulars of this scenario. He wanted to know if the vans would be leased or bought. The answer from AATA controller Phil Webb was they’d be bought. Bernstein also wanted to know what the average service life of a vehicle would be. The answer he got was around 4-5 years, based on the accumulation of around 100,000 miles.
Sue McCormick picked up on the 4-5 year lifespan of the vehicles, the roughly $2 million capital start-up costs to purchase them, and the $400,000 additional NTD formula funds, and concluded that the additional federal funds would roughly cover the cost of the van fleet replacement, meaning that vehicle cost to the AATA would be “a wash,” leaving just the $70,000 for the vanpool coordinator.
David Nacht wondered if it was a risk that the NTD formula funds might be discontinued. Chris White, AATA’s manager of service development, indicated that the formulas have been in place for more than 25 years and he didn’t anticipate they’d be discontinued.
Rich Robben wanted to know if the current provider of vanpool services, VPSI, would become a competitor to AATA. Stasiak indicated that VPSI’s costs haven’t changed – for them to drop their costs down as low as RapidVan in Grand Rapids would be unusual, she said. AATA is looking at the RapidVan model as the key to its implementation. Throughout the state, she said, transit agencies are looking at operating vanpools themselves.
Stasiak clarified that VPSI would have a sole-source contract with MDOT from October 2010 through September 2011. Charles Griffith wanted to know why AATA would transition before October 2011. The idea seemed to be that AATA would use the coming year to position itself and to have people lined up.
Roger Kerson sought to understand what competitive advantage AATA had versus other potential suppliers of vanpool services. The answer was that AATA, as the local transit authority, has eligibility for NTD forumula funds. Kerson clarified that the NTD formula funds represent “money on the table” that VPSI is currently not capturing.
Jesse Bernstein wanted staff to explore the question of possibly buying the current vans that are in use. He also asked if the current fleet was accessible for wheelchairs – the answer was no. During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Carolyn Grawi of the Center for Independent Living thanked Bernstein for his awareness of that as an issue and encouraged the board to make its vanpool services accessible to those with disabilities.
McCormick indicated that she wanted the staff to look at cost efficiencies related to coordination, but she thought vanpool services were appropriate for the AATA to consider as “the transit provider” in Washentaw County.
Kerson wanted to know if it was possible to brand the vans as AATA vehicles – the answer was yes.
Rich Robben expressed some concern about the assumption that AATA would be able to operate vanpools as inexpensively as Grand Rapids – AATA costs were typical not as low as in Grand Rapids. Stasiak indicated that one possibility was that AATA could join Grand Rapids’ contracts.
Kerson returned to the question of competition – would the AATA be the only game in town? The answer seemed to be yes. Bernstein indicated that part of the negotiation would be for the vanpool to have a dedicated parking spot at the destination.
David Nacht indicated that he’d feel more comfortable seeing a real financial calculation and to run the proposal through the board’s planning and development committee before spending $2 million.
Kerson also suggested fleshing out what it means to take 450 vehicles off the road in terms of carbon footprint. McCormick asked when the vanpool coordinator needed to be brought on board – the answer seemed to be way sooner than October 2011. Bernstein also asked staff to provide some additional information on what kind of qualifications a vanpool coordinator needs.
Outcome: No resolution on vanpool services was moved by the board or considered at the Tuesday meeting. The matter will be reviewed by the board’s planning and development committee.
Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Service
The idea of improving service between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti has received increasing discussion in the community, including by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. DDA board members Newcombe Clark and Sandi Smith have both spoken recently about the need for better Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti service.
The topic was also addressed at a Friday, July 30, 2010 meeting among the DDA’s transportation committee and representatives from the AATA. In attendance were AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein, AATA board member Charles Griffith and CEO Michael Ford, along with executive director of the Ann Arbor DDA, Susan Pollay, and DDA board members Newcombe Clark, Sandi Smith, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat and Roger Hewitt.
Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Service: Staff Presentation
The staff presentation on Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti service was made by Chris White, AATA’s manager of service development, who described it as “the main event!”
The framing question for the presentation was:
Should AATA pursue partnerships to fund improvements to worker transportation between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor? If so, does AATA have priorities for the type of service improvements?
White reminded the board of the fiscal constraints faced by Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township that have prevented AATA from making improvements to bus service between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. [Chronicle coverage: "Buses for Ypsi and a Budget for AATA." A non-binding proposal for a transit millage for Ypsilanti received approval from 70% of voters on Aug. 3, 2010.]
White reported that the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority had indicated a willingness to consider providing funding for improved service and that other employers and organizations had also expressed a willingness to discuss funding.
The current routes serving the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti connection are routes #3, #4, #5, and #6. Ypsilanti local service is provided by routes #10, #11, and #20. During his presentation, White drew out the relationship between the local Ypsilanti service and the connector service to Ann Arbor. Improvements on the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti corridor might not realize their full potential without corresponding improvements to Ypsilanti’s local service.
Ridership on existing routes are as follows:
A2-Ypsi Routes Avg Daily Pssngrs/ Boardings Srvc Hr #3 Huron River 352 29 #4 Washtenaw 842 60 #5 Packard 333 30 #6 Ellsworth 334 28 Local Ypsi Routes #10 Ypsi NE 472 39 #11 Ypsi S 331 39 #20 Ypsi Grv-Ecrs 558 51
The current “productivity” of the Ypsilanti routes, said White, is actually very good compared to the system-wide average of around 30 riders per service hour.
The main focus of the improvement to Ypsilanti service is Ann Arbor workers who live in the Ypsilanti area. Numbers of Ann Arbor workers who reside in areas that might be served by better Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti service are distributed among key surrounding areas as follows (2008 data): Ypsilanti, 2,015; Ypsilanti Township, 5,122; Superior Township, 1,319. That’s a total of 8,459 workers, or about 8.5% of Ann Arbor’s workforce.
White then walked the board through various scenarios for improvements to Ypsilanti service, with estimates of the increase in riders, based on computer modeling using data from the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS).
For example, by increasing the weekday service on Route #4 from once every 15 minutes to once every 10 minutes, it’s estimated that there would be 1,566 more daily rides at an annual cost to the AATA of $125,460 or $0.31 per rider. Another example of an option is to create a peak-hour express service between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti with an estimated travel time of 30 minutes – compared to the current 45 minutes. That express service would operated every 15 minutes. That would cost the AATA an additional $734,400 annually to operate, plus six new buses. That express service would generate an estimated 1,088 additional daily rides, which works out to $2.65 per rider.
White also presented evening and weekend options. For example, the extension of evening service on Route #4 to include an additional eastbound trip at 11:45 p.m. could be accomplished with an AATA annual investment of $28,560, projected to increase daily rides by 35, or a cost of $3.25 per rider.
Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Service: Board Deliberations
Roger Kerson wanted to know whether the additional riders reflected people getting out of their cars and into a bus, or if they reflected people just deciding to travel at all. White said that the numbers could include both – availability of transit, he said, can also induce people to travel.
About the estimated additional riders, White allowed that he would “not take the numbers to the bank” but that they were useful for comparing various options.
Charles Griffith wanted to know why the focus was on the Washtenaw Avenue routes as opposed to the local Ypsilanti routes. White explained that these routes were already the most productive, and it’s been identified as a signature corridor.
Sue McCormick was interested in managing expectations of when these route changes might be implemented. She asked that the board be provided periodic updates on them.
Jesse Bernstein recalled the express trains from his youth that were not simply point A to point B with literally no stops in between, but rather with a limited number of stops. White explained that this kind of express service was possible to implement but there is always pressure to add just one more stop. Against that, White allowed that there was a lot of frustration for a rider who is standing at a bus stop waiting for a bus and the express bus rolls by without stopping. Bernstein suggested that the express buses be clearly marked as such.
White explained that there were some time savings that come from eliminating stops, but the real time savings comes from skipping the area of the UM medical center. Anya Dale indicated that if 10 minutes could be saved off the trip from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti by omitting stops at the medical center, then it is important to know how relevant that destination is to people riding that route.
David Nacht wanted to know if it would be possible to charge an extra 50 cents for the express.
Roger Kerson reiterated a point he’d made earlier in connection with vanpooling – it would be useful to express the benefit from the route changes not just in terms of additional riders, but also to express it in terms of improvement to the carbon footprint as a result of those riders not driving a car.
With respect to the few numbers of extra riders involved with extending service to the later hours, Griffith said it might involve fewer people, but that the need was stronger – and that’s a policy issue, he said.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved a resolution to explore partnerships that could lead to improved service to Ypsilanti that is flexible enough to accommodate the eventual transportation master plan (TMP).
Ann Arbor-Detroit Metropolitan Airport
There’s been some frustration expressed by board members, in particular by David Nacht, that the AATA does not offer service to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. From the Feb. 18, 2009 Chronicle report of the AATA board meeting:
Part of what had prompted the east-west rail conversation was Nacht’s introduction of the topic of AATA service to the Detroit airport. In response to a query from Nacht, [Dawn] Gabay said that in 2002-03, they had approached the airport for consideration of east-west service and determined that it was at that time not feasible. Nacht asked if it had to do with a charge for entry to the airport facility. Gabay said there would be no charge for entry. What was the barrier then, wondered Nacht. Gabay said there was a possible lack of a state match, because operating east-west service to the airport might be taking business from a private operator already providing that service.
Nacht then noted that AATA routes had been altered to support a private service, and Gabay confirmed that the AATA routes had been changed to go closer to Wolverine Tower.
Nacht then declared that he would like to have active consideration of providing the Ann Arbor community with bus service to the airport. He said that he didn’t want to hear back simply, “It’s too expensive,” which prompted [Paul] Ajegba to observe that this seemed contradictory to the mission statement to provide service in a cost-effective manner. Griffith said Nacht wasn’t saying the cost doesn’t matter, which [Rich] Robben agreed with, saying that it was a question of not wanting to dismiss it out of hand. Gabay said that the timing of such a service needed to be coordinated with east-west rail that might be going in.
Airport Service: Staff Presentation
The staff presentation was delivered to the board by Ed Robertson, AATA’s head of human resources. The framing question for the discussion was this:
Should The Ride provide regularly scheduled bus service between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metropolitan Airport?
In discussions with the airport, Robertson said, they’d been told that AATA would be assigned to the same drop-off spaces as SMART, which is Detroit’s public transit system. Although the airport charges a per-vehicle entry fee, as a public transportation authority, he said, AATA would be exempt from that charge. If AATA were to subcontract for the airport service, it’s not clear whether that same charge would be applied.
In sketching out the history of the AATA’s exploration of the issue, Robertson noted that the alternatives [to simply driving oneself or getting dropped off by a friend or family member] for travel between Ann Arbor and the airport consists of taxis and limos or rides on Michigan Flyer, which operates a regularly scheduled service between Lansing and the airport. Michigan Flyer had extended its service to include one stop in Ann Arbor – at the Sheraton Hotel at 3200 Boardwalk – and had also added extra trips just between the airport and Ann Arbor.
Much of the data from a previous carrier, Robertson said, is not useful because it predates the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York City, which led to increased airport security measures and different protocols, as well as predating the Detroit airport reconstruction and the current economic downtown.
Certain key facts, however, are the 70-mile round trip. Current fares are: Michigan Flyer, $20, or $30 round trip; SelectRide taxi, $29.50, or $49 round trip; Metro Cars limousine service, $50 each way.
Service that is not door-to-door almost always includes a parking component, and Robertson reported that the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has offered reduced-cost long-term parking at the Fourth & William parking structure. When that topic was brought up at the Friday, July 30 meeting between AATA board members and members of the DDA board, a point of emphasis was the fact that if parking were anything but nominal, people would simply drive to the airport and pay for parking at the airport.
According to Michigan Flyer, about 27.5 passengers a day ride the service between Ann Arbor and the airport. AATA estimates that it would need three buses to operate hourly service from 2 a.m. through 10 p.m. – two on the road plus one spare. Robertson’s math was as follows: There would be 44 service hours per day, 365 days a year at $105 per service hour for an annual operating cost of $1.686 million a year. Subtracting $0.506 million in state operating assistance would leave $1.180 million.
Charging $15 per passenger, they’d need 78,700 passengers to break even. Dividing that total number of passengers by the 7,665 trips gives 11 passengers per trip, or 230 passengers a day to break even.
AATA would thus need to increase the ridership that Michigan Flyer currently enjoys – 27.5 per day – by 20-fold, in order to break even.
Airport Service: Board Deliberations
David Nacht said he appreciated the work that had been done. He noted that part of the problem in ridership might be the need to pay to park at the Sheraton – riders might feel like they might as well just drive to the airport where they can also pay for parking.
Nacht’s main theme during deliberations was not just getting people who live and work around Ann Arbor to the airport. He wanted to focus on getting people into Ann Arbor who were flying into Detroit. When you land at the airport, everybody learns you can gamble in Detroit, he said, but nobody knows Ann Arbor. He stressed the importance of forging partnerships with the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Nacht stressed that in thinking about costs for AATA to provide the airport service, it is important to note that the AATA collective bargaining agreement explicitly stipulates that the AATA would not need to use union drivers for that kind of service.
Sue McCormick observed that a popular way to provide door-to-door service in other communities is to provide collector-van-shuttle services.
Nacht declared that he was a little frustrated. He said he was willing to spend a little money on things that Ann Arborites might actually use. Airport service, he said, is one thing that people might actually use, but what he gets, he said, is constantly such “pushback” with proposals that are slow and unimaginative. “I can’t begin to express my frustration!”
Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, assured Nacht that staff were, in fact, pursuing other partnerships. He allowed that the resolution language was perhaps not as clear as it could be.
Rich Robben said he agreed with Nacht, but wondered if the market was being satisfied with the current combination of methods, why does AATA need to enter the market? He wondered if a $5 savings was really going to move someone to switch their service option.
Nacht said he wanted the resolution to address the development of partnerships on the demand side.
Roger Kerson noted that in order to break even, there would need to be huge increase in ridership over Michigan Flyer’s numbers. He agreed that there needed to be a bigger marketing effort – he flies frequently yet had never heard of Michigan Flyer. He also agreed on the importance of parking being provided essentially free – otherwise, people will just drive to the airport and pay for parking there.
Kerson also suggested that the AATA tap into UM’s frequent booking of flights – every time someone books a flight, they could get a coupon for the AATA airport service, he suggested.
A general consensus seemed to be that it might make the most sense to partner with Michigan Flyer to help expand and promote its provision of service, instead of the AATA trying to provide its own direct service to the airport.
Jesse Bersnstein, noting that the resolution before the board did not require any actual expenditures at that moment, suggested it could do no harm to pass it.
Nacht wanted the resolution amended so that the kind of partnerships to be developed were not restricted to those providing transportation and could include partners that could increase demand.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved a resolution to develop partnerships to expand the frequency and coverage of airport service.
Washtenaw Livingston Rail (WALLY)
On Oct. 28, 2008 at a special meeting, the board adopted a resolution stating that AATA would take a leadership role for the Washtenaw Livingston Line (WALLY) project. Staff member Tom Cornillie was assigned to the project, which envisions commuter rail service from Howell to Ann Arbor along existing tracks owned mostly by Great Lakes Central Railroad. Cornillie left the organization to take on different employment, and Michael Benham was hired to replace him.
WALLY: Staff Presentation
The framing question for the staff presentation was this:
Under what conditions do we continue our support for WALLY Commuter Rail?
Benham began by ticking through some of the improvements that had already been funded by MDOT: track work and train layover facilities, $5.5 million; rehab of 15 railcars, $4 million; lease of railcars and locomotives – responses to RFP under review with costs not yet known. Grade crossing and signal improvements have been engineered by MDOT staff, but the funding and source of that funding have not yet been determined.
Funding for stations – platforms, parking, linkages – is still needed. Total cost for that, which is expected to be the responsibility of local communities, is estimated at around $4.3 million.
Annual operating cost for WALLY is estimated at $7.1 million, with $1.5 million of that to come from the Michigan Comprehensive Transportation Fund, $2.1 in passenger fares (assuming 1,300 riders a day), and $1.3 million in railcar and locomotive lease covered by MDOT. An annual operating subsidy has not yet been identified to cover the unfunded $2.2 million balance.
Among the risks identified by Benham were the possibility that other local communities might not want to take on responsibility of building stations, and that MDOT would identify other priorities. He also identified a political risk – if there is diminished public support for the WALLY project, it might have a negative effect on support for an eventual countywide transit millage.
The major risk, however, is that Ann Arbor Railroad might not cooperate. Ann Arbor Railroad owns the key piece of track, from mile marker 47.5 near Barton Drive to points south. Even to end the WALLY service at that point, Benham said, it would require use of 500 feet of track past the 47.5 mile post. What they’d like ideally is to be able to go further south two more miles to the football stadium, and even better would be to go all the way to Toledo.
He noted that the tracks in question do cross those planned for the east-west commuter rail, but that it’s not possible to engineer a direct transfer for passengers.
WALLY: Board Deliberations
After getting clarification from AATA controller Phil Webb that AATA had spent $50,000 per year for the last three years on the project, David Nacht noted that the AATA had previously passed a resolution accepting a leadership role for WALLY and said he saw no reason to go on record today about it. He said he didn’t think they had any new information.
Sue McCormick noted that what was missing from the resolution was any “carrot” that would provide anyone with an incentive to keep AATA on board with the project. The proposed language read in part “AATA will continue its support of the WALLY project as long as MDOT is supportive and as long as there continues to be a reasonable level of support from the WALLY host communities.” She expressed that staff might feel hamstrung if the resolution were not passed.
Michael Ford, AATA’s CEO, indicated that they would love to see the resolution passed, which expressed qualified support.
Jesse Bernstein picked up on Nacht’s comment that there was no new information by saying that no more information is actually information. It’s only verbal support, he said, and it is important to put a time limit on this – if in six months these things haven’t happened, “we’re done!” Bernstein said he’d heard that Ann Arbor Railroad might now be interested in talking – their freight business wasn’t what it used to be, with cement plants closing and the like. There is some interest in offloading shipping containers in Toledo, he reported, and moving them by rail northwards.
“It feels to me like we’re stymied,” Bernstein said. “We’re not moving forward … We need to have an end in sight or it will just drag on and on.” He allowed that he was just one person and didn’t speak for the whole board, but “we just have to say…” – however, instead of finishing the sentence, Bernstein concluded by saying, “I can’t say what I just thought!”
Roger Kerson responded to Bernstein by saying that he understood the frustration, but noted how important a project WALLY could become if it were a success. So he did not want to pull the plug on it, he said. The lead agency should not convey that it’s ready to give up on the project, he said.
McCormick concurred with Kerson, saying it was a matter of phrasing the resolution so that it expressed as milestones what the AATA’s partners need to accomplish in order for AATA to continue with its efforts.
Rich Robben also advised against “drawing a line in the sand,” saying that it overlooked the work that its partners had already done. That approach would give strength to people who don’t want to participate, he cautioned.
Nacht said it was helpful that Bernstein had made his statement and that others had made their statements, and that he didn’t see the need for the board as a group to make a statement that day. He acknowledged the work done by the staff and recalled that he’d sat at the same table with Congressman John Dingell when he’d served as chair of the AATA board [two years ago] and he’d told Dingell that the AATA would move the project forward. He concluded that the project makes sense and that he hopes the project will make sense to those who have money.
Outcome: The board did not move or vote on a resolution on WALLY.
On a pilot basis, the AATA has operated commuter bus service from Chelsea to Ann Arbor since May 2008, and from Canton since August 2009. Neither service has met hopes for ridership. In March, the board voted to bring the Chelsea service in-house using AATA buses and to cut fares from $125 per month to $99. Previously the service had been contracted out with Indian Trails. Riders are primarily University of Michigan employees and their fares are subsidized by the university.
Canton Express: Staff Presentation
The framing question on Canton express service was this:
Should AATA bring the fare structure of the Canton Express Service into line with the fare structure for the Chelsea Express Service?
Michael Benham walked the board through arguments for taking the service in-house and reducing fares that were similar to those they’d heard back in March when the fares for the Chelsea service had been reduced. AATA estimated that they could save roughly $94,000 a year in operating costs, compared to what it cost to contract out the service to Indian Trails.
Their goal is to double the ridership on the service – that would bring them to a break-even point, Benham said.
Canton Express: Board Deliberations
David Nacht wondered if by using a smaller vehicle to deliver the service it might be possible to charge as little as $75 instead of $99. He encouraged the staff not to be wedded to one model of service delivery.
Roger Kerson questioned whether doubling ridership was realistic. He asked what the universe of potential riders is. Chris White replied that a lot of that was tied to what people’s work schedules are.
He reported that one of the express buses would be included in the Chelsea Festival Parade.
Rich Robben wondered if by using an AATA bus, the authority was in effect subsidizing operations by providing the bus. Jesse Bernstein concurred that it was a question that is relevant and needs to get an answer.
Nacht said it was okay that the AATA was learning how to provide this kind of commuter bus service. In contrast to the train business – which the AATA may or may not get into, he said – commuter bus service was something they needed to stay committed to.
Kerson asked if there was any information available on the impact of the fare reductions on the Chelsea route since March. Not yet, was the answer.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved a resolution to reduce fares on the Canton express route.
Other Public Commentary
In addition to the remarks of Jim Mogensen and Carolyn Grawi, which are reflected in the body of this report, two others addressed the board during public commentary time.
Vivienne Armentrout thanked the board for making the meeting accessible to the public – by providing the audience with copies of the many different handouts that accompanied the presentations.
Thomas Partridge spoke at the start and at the end of the meeting. He called on the board to make their meetings accessible to the public by holding them in a location where they could be taped on CTN.
Board chair Jesse Bernstein followed up on Partridge’s remarks by noting that starting with the board’s next meeting on Aug. 19, the meetings would be recorded using facilities at their new meeting location – the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library.
Board members present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Jesse Bernstein, Sue McCormick, Rich Robben, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale
Next regular meeting (NOTE NEW LOCATION): Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]