Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Dec. 16, 2010): At their last meeting of the year, the AATA board unanimously approved a contract for janitorial services at the Blake Transit Center, which had been postponed from its November meeting amid concerns about how the new vendor was achieving its considerably lower cost.
Board member Rich Robben had raised concerns regarding whether appropriate wages were being paid, but was convinced to support approval of the contract in part because of another resolution on the agenda. That resolution, which the board also passed unanimously, directed AATA staff to explore the possibility of a living wage provision for its contractors that would be similar to the ordinance used by the city of Ann Arbor.
The board also approved adding an additional return trip for the AATA’s commuter express service between Chelsea and Ann Arbor. The trip will leave Ann Arbor for Chelsea at 7:10 p.m. It was added in part due to feedback from current riders, who would have greater flexibility to work later on days when they take the bus to work. Many of the riders are University of Michigan employees. Robben, who is executive director for plant operations at the university, reported that the value placed on the express service by riders had been “bludgeoned” into him by some of his coworkers. He voted for the additional trip, along with the rest of the board.
The board was also given a presentation on the AATA’s bus stop improvement program, which featured several before-and-after slides. And among the topics reported out by the board’s committees and CEO Michael Ford was the on-time performance of AATA buses.
At the start of the meeting, during the time for communications and announcements, board member David Nacht noted the passing of Rev. S. L. Roberson, whose memorial service was taking place that evening. Nacht described Roberson as a force for equality in Washtenaw County and an important person in the community. Board chair Jesse Bernstein recalled having worked with Roberson in the ’70s at Ford Motor Co., and described him as an excellent person.
Bernstein concluded the meeting by thanking the AATA staff and the board for all their hard work this year, and suggested that next year they’d be asked to work even harder.
Blake Transit Center Janitorial Service
Before the board was a request to approve a three-year contract at $72,000 per year with JNS Commercial Cleaning to provide janitorial services for the Blake Transit Center. The contract with the current vendor expired on Oct. 31 and was extended through Nov. 30, 2010. On a split vote, the board had postponed consideration of the contract at its November board meeting, amid concerns that the bid from JNS – a new vendor – had come in at a cost a bit more than half of what had been budgeted for the year: $72,000 compared to the budgeted $126,069. Board members had concerns about how the cost savings were being achieved.
During board deliberations, Rich Robben noted that he’d raised concerns about living wage issues and that some additional information had been provided to compare worker compensation levels between the previous vendor and the new vendor for non-supervisory positions. He said the comparison was difficult because of the different job classifications used by the two vendors. In any case, said Robben, he was withdrawing his objections because of the decision to begin exploration of some kind of living wage requirement for AATA vendors.
Outcome: The janitorial contract with JNS Commercial Cleaning was unanimously approved.
Living Wage Requirement
The resolution before the board did not establish a living wage requirement for its vendors, but rather expressed an interest in AATA staff exploring the possibility of establishing such a requirement. The city of Ann Arbor has an ordinance requiring that the city’s vendors adhere to living wage standards as set forth in the ordinance, but it does not apply to the AATA.
By way of background, the ordinance is contained in Chapter 23 of the city code and is available online in its entirety via the Ann Arbor city clerk’s city code gateway. The rationale for higher wages is included in the ordinance language:
According to economic research summarized in the Economic Policy Institute’s August 2000 issue guide, “Higher Wages Lead to More Efficient Service Provision,” payment of higher wages is associated with greater business investment in employee training, higher productivity, and lower employee turnover, [...]
In the near decade since it was first passed, the wages have been adjusted upward to $11.71 per hour for employers offering health insurance and $13.06 per hour for those who don’t offer health insurance. That upward adjustment is based on federal poverty guidelines and was stipulated as part of the original ordinance.
During the brief board deliberations, Roger Kerson noted that the idea behind the AATA’s exploration of the issue was to make sure that its vendors did not achieve their economies based on paying unreasonably low wages.
Board members agreed that was not possible to implement any such requirement in the middle of the current janitorial contract, and decided to explore such a policy for the future. From the resolution:
Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved, that the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority Board of Directors hereby empowers staff to investigate the institution of a living wage policy, and report findings to the Board along with any cost implications.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the resolution to explore the institution of a living wage policy.
Before the board was a proposal to add an additional return trip to its A2 Chelsea Express service. The additional trip would leave Ann Arbor for Chelsea at 7:10 p.m. The idea is to attract more riders by providing service to people who work longer shifts at the University of Michigan, as well as others who work late. The farebox recovery rate for the route is 25% – 7 points higher than the fixed‐route rate of 18%. Farebox recovery rate is the percent of the cost for operating the service that is covered by passenger fares. Estimated cost for the additional trip through the rest of the fiscal year is $24,300, with about half of that coming from the transit millage. The other half would come from fare revenues and state money.
By way of background, the AATA launched the A2 Chelsea Express using an outside vendor, Indian Trails, but switched the service in-house earlier this year. Some key dates for express commuter service – for Chelsea and Canton – over the last two years:
- May 15, 2008: AATA launches A2 Chelsea Express commuter service using Indian Trails as an outside contractor. For workers who commute to work in Ann Arbor from Chelsea, there are two morning trips, leaving at 6:10 a.m. and 7:16 a.m. There are two evening return trips to Chelsea leaving from Ann Arbor at 3:44 p.m. and 5:12 p.m.
- May 20, 2009: Review of the first year of A2 Chelsea Express service prompts board scrutiny. [.pdf of one-year milestone report] Ridership was not meeting expectations. At that month’s board meeting, David Nacht wonders if AATA has the expertise to experiment with this service. ["On the Bus to Chelsea, Ypsi, Arborland"]
- Aug. 24, 2009: AATA launches A2 Canton Express commuter service, also using Indian Trails.
- March 24, 2010: AATA board votes to move A2 Chelsea Express service in-house and to cut fares from $125 to $99. ["AATA on Chelsea Bus: Cut Fares, Add Wifi"]
- Aug. 10, 2010: AATA board votes to move A2 Canton Express service in-house and to make fare structure the same as for the A2 Chelsea Service. ["AATA Targets Specific Short-Term Strategies"]
In providing some rationale for adding the additional, later trip, Roger Kerson explained that the idea was to attract riders to the service who might feel more comfortable knowing that there is a later bus available, in the event they cannot take one of the earlier two buses on an given day.
Rich Robben said he’d be remiss in not voting for the additional trip, because a number of his colleagues at the University of Michigan, where he is executive director of plant operations, had “bludgeoned” him with the fact that they love the service.
In May of 2009, before the AATA had hired Michael Ford as CEO and was operating without a permanent director, David Nacht had expressed reservations about the experimentation the AATA was doing with express commuter bus service, especially in view of the poor ridership that the express service was showing. [See Chronicle coverage: "On the Bus to Chelsea, Ypsi, Arborland"]
On Thursday, however, Nacht noted that the AATA was still learning how to provide express commuter service and characterized the effort as a “healthy experimentation process.” He told the AATA staff that they should not worry about coming back to the board multiple times with different changes to the service.
Jesse Bernstein echoed Nacht’s sentiments that the AATA shouldn’t just quit on the service. Bernstein noted that when the AATA introduces a new service, people don’t adapt the way they live overnight.
For Anya Dale, it was important that the implementation of the additional trip had come from suggestions made by current and potential riders. Dale wanted to know how long the additional trip would continue to be offered. Ford indicated that they would monitor the ridership and continue the marketing and promotion of the service. From the staff analysis of the additional service, those marketing efforts include the following:
Accompanying the improvement in service would be a continuation of focused marketing efforts, working very closely with UM and the getDowntown program. A full description of the marketing program was provided in the November Status Report on this project. Highlights include:
- Attending UM new employee orientations every week and providing A2X information to those living in the service areas.
- Promotional inserts in City of Chelsea water bills.
- Inclusion of promotional materials in UM’s annual parking application process.
- Testimonial ads (newspaper, electronic, billboards) featuring A2X riders.
Establish a new goal for this service: maintain or exceed current fare box recovery ratio of 25%.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the addition of a later return trip for the A2 Chelsea Express.
Bus Stop Improvements
The presentation on bus stop improvements was given by Jeff Murphy, AATA’s bus stops and zone foreman.
Bus Stop Improvements: Public Commentary
During her public commentary time, which came after the presentation and board discussion of the bus stop improvements, Carolyn Grawi of the Center for Independent Living thanked the AATA for the stop that had been installed near their facility on Research Park Drive. In response to a board member’s suggestion that heat could be provided as an amenity at some bus stops, Grawi volunteered the CIL stop to serve as a pilot location.
Bus Stop Improvements: Presentation
Murphy began giving an overview of the process used by the AATA to make improvements at bus stops:
- Identify Opportunities to Make Improvement
120 bus stops have been identified for concrete improvements over the next three years.
- Selection Criteria
Passenger Activity Data (20+ daily riders).
Demand (requests by agencies/customers).
Bus Stop Placement Guidelines
Surveys with city inspector and schedule work.
Meet project managers on site as needed.
Input data in Trapeze [an AATA database].
Murphy showed the board several before-and-after photos of stops that had undergone improvements, some of which highlighted collaboration and coordination with various other agencies, like the Ann Arbor District Library, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, Pittsfield Township, the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan Dept. of Transportation, and Eastern Michigan University.
Murphy told the board that the AATA was close to meeting or had well exceeded many of its 2010 goals for improvements of its bus stops. Those included:
- Goal: Install new shelters at 6 bus stops – 10 were installed.
- Goal: Add lead walks at 15 bus stops – 38 bus stops completed.
- Goal: Install benches at 10 bus stops – 20 were installed.
- Goal: Increase Adopt-A-Stop participation from 83 to 100 – 95 signed agreements.
- Goal: Solar lighting for 5 installations – 2 locations are being tested.
Murphy explained how the criteria for undertaking improvements were not necessarily rigid – a willingness on the part of someone to adopt the stop could result in an improvement at a stop that doesn’t meet all the criteria. [Volunteers in the AATA's Adopt-a-Stop program help to pick up litter and to clear snow around the stop.]
Bus Stop Improvements: Board Discussion (On-time Performance)
After the presentation, in response to board questions, Chris White – the AATA manager of service development – also explained that the ability to coordinate with existing projects already planned by other agencies can also factor into which bus stop improvements are actually made. This helps save on cost, he said, because the cost of the concrete is much less than the cost of the set-up for pouring it.
Jesse Bernstein waned to know if site plans for new developments that are submitted to municipalities where the AATA operates are automatically sent along to the AATA. White confirmed that for some municipalities this is the case, but not for all. For example, the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, as well as Ypsilanti Township, automatically send proposed site plans to the AATA, but Pittsfield Township does not.
Roger Kerson wanted to know why some of the stops, which were deemed to be poorly located and moved as a part of the program, were located there in the first place. The explanation was that many of the stops have been in their current location for many years.
David Nacht identified two issues connected to bus stops that he wanted to see explored. The first is the idea of providing some kind of heat at certain locations. He noted that there are some people who may not be willing to stand outside waiting for a bus in 10-degree cold, and it’s important for the AATA to explore heating, if it wants to try to get people to choose to ride the bus.
The second idea Nacht floated was some way of getting on-time information to people at the bus stops so that when a bus is late they are aware of it. He alluded to the the issues that have recently been raised about AATA on-time performance. [See previous Chronicle coverage: "Community Forum Attendance, On-Time Performance 'Abysmal'"]
Bernstein advised that the on-time performance was actually such that 97.6% show up within 10 minutes of when they are supposed to be there. Bernstein allowed that the AATA shouldn’t necessarily accept that as good enough.
Nacht countered that in October 2010, on Route #4, there had been 108 cases when a bus had been more than 21 minutes late, and when added to the number of times when a bus had been more than 15 minutes late, it totaled 236 cases. In the same October period, Nacht continued, the Route #5 bus had 150 cases when it was late by 15 minutes or more. [.pdf of memorandum on late buses, including October data for time-point crossings]
Bernstein told Nacht he agreed with Nacht’s concern, but that they needed also to look at the other end of the spectrum. During the same October period, the AATA had 142,000 cases of buses arriving at their destinations within 10 minutes of the scheduled time.
The exchange between Bernstein and Nacht about on-time performance concluded with Nacht indicating agreement with Bernstein, saying that it is Bernstein’s job as chair of the board, speaking for the organization, to talk about how the AATA was functioning very well. Nacht said that his job as a board member was to say, “We can do better.”
During his communications to the board, Michael Ford – CEO of the AATA – reported that some of the worst on-time problems would be addressed through January service changes to Route #18. The cause of very late buses was generally due to construction or congestion, he noted. Ford reported that conversations had taken place with the city of Ann Arbor about traffic signal prioritization, and about having the police officer who’s contracted to police the Blake Transit Center help in directing bus traffic out of the BTC. Ford noted that the upcoming year would include more construction – work on the East Stadium bridges will start next season – which would bring new challenges.
In his report from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, board member Charles Griffith said the focus was on identifying the reasons why buses were very late. He said their committee discussion had included ways to provide real-time information about the on-time status of buses. The AATA’s current system allows riders to check on-time status, he observed, but a messaging system that pushed information to riders, with an explanation for the delay, would be even better.
Communications from Committees, CEO
The board entertained its usual reports from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, the planning and development committee, as well as from the CEO, Michael Ford. Here are some highlights.
Communications: Blake Transit Center
Ford reported that a formal request had been made to the city of Ann Arbor for a six-foot parcel at the southwest corner of the BTC site, to facilitate the design of the new transit center. In his communications from the planning and development committee, Rich Robben reported that the design for the new center was coming along for a nice-looking functional building that would be LEED-platinum certified. During question time for the board, Roger Kerson inquired whether there is a plan in the current new BTC design for a place where bus riders could buy coffee and a newspaper. On hearing that this is not currently a part of the design, Kerson allowed that there would be janitorial issues associated with a coffee/newstand, but still wanted to encourage the AATA to look at that option.
Communications: Airport Bus Service
Ford reported that he’d met with officials from the Detroit Metro Airport, SMART – the metro Detroit public transit agency – and the visitors and convention bureau about providing service between Ann Arbor and the airport.
Communications: Meeting with Legislators – East-West Commuter Rail
On the topic of east-west commuter rail, Ford reported that in the course of the last month he’d met with Mark Ouimet, Jeff Irwin and David Rutledge. The three men were elected this past November to the state House in districts 52, 53 and 54, respectively. Ford also said that staff from U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin’s offices, as well as staff for U.S. Congressman John Dingell, had been in attendance.
Communications: Van Pool Service
Reporting out from the planning and development committee, Rich Robben described their meeting as filled with presentations. Among them was a report from URS, a consultant tapped to provide an analysis of how the AATA might provide a van pool service. The idea of AATA getting into the van pool business was discussed at the AATA’s retreat held in August 2010. Robben reported that URS had provided three options: (1) contract out for a turn-key contractor, (2) use a service component contracting model, or (3) operate the service in-house. The URS recommendation, he said, was for (2).
During her public commentary, Carolyn Grawi of the Center for Independent Living noted that it is important that the van pool service be accessible to everyone.
Communications: Ypsi-Ann Arbor Enhancements
During question time, Charles Griffith noted that service enhancements to routes between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti had not been mentioned in any of the reports. He noted that the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority had recently made a challenge grant to help fund such service enhancements.
Chris White, the AATA manager for service development, described how the AATA was planning to extend the geographic reach of the Night Ride service to Golfside Road, with the goal of eventual expansion to Ypsilanti.
During her public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Carolyn Grawi cautioned against expanding the service given that the current contractor [Blue Cab] is not providing adequate service for the current area. She said there are not enough vehicles on the road, and that wait times in her experience could be over an hour.
Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Jesse Bernstein, Rich Robben, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale
Absent: Sue McCormick
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Jan 20, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]