County Transit Governance Causes Concern

A tentative proposal for the governance structure of a countywide transit authority received strong disapproval from some Washtenaw County commissioners at their April 7, 2011 working session. A governance plan is being developed as part of a countywide master transit plan that’s been in the works for more than a year. [Chronicle coverage of AATA countywide planning to date: "'Smart Growth' to Fuel Countywide Transit"]

On Thursday, staff of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) and the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) presented a possible transit authority board structure that would administer a countywide system. The proposed board would include 15 members, seven of them from Ann Arbor. [.pdf of proposed board seats] The assumption underpinning such a structure is that Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti would keep their current transportation millages, in addition to whatever countywide transit millage might be approved by county voters to fund an expanded transportation system. Before any countywide transportation millage would be put on the ballot, a countywide governance structure would first need to be established. It’s the countywide transportation authority board – likely to be incorporated under the state’s Act 196 – that would then place a countywide millage on the ballot.

Commissioner Wes Prater expressed serious reservations about the governance plan, and was “flabbergasted” that it had been developed to such an extent without input from the county board. One possible approach to creating a countywide transit authority would require the county board to ratify membership of a transit authority board, though the county would not be responsible for funding it or for putting a transit millage on the ballot. Commissioner Kristin Judge was concerned about putting too much of a financial burden on residents.

Terri Blackmore, WATS executive director, stressed that the plans were still in the early development stage and they were seeking feedback from elected officials in communities across the county. Another work session for county commissioners is scheduled on the topic on June 2.

This brief was filed soon after adjournment from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, 220 N. Main St., Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]