AATA Responds to Ann Arbor Council

An uneven reception from the Ann Arbor city council on Jan. 9, 2012 about a proposed four-party countywide transit agreement has prompted a response from the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. That response was released on Jan. 17, and includes three documents: (1) a “myths and facts” sheet; (2) a set of answers to councilmember questions; and (3) a description of the transit services to be provided in the first five years of implementing the AATA’s transit master plan. [.pdf of myths and facts sheet] [.pdf of answers to Ann Arbor councilmember questions] [.pdf of first 5-year service descriptions]

At its Jan. 9 meeting, the city council postponed action on the four-party agreement until its next meeting on Jan. 23, and set a public hearing for that same meeting. An email sent Jan. 17 to Ann Arbor residents and business owners by AATA CEO Michael Ford encouraged them to attend the Jan. 23 public hearing and express their support for the countywide governance framework. [.pdf of Ford's Jan. 17, 2012 email]

The proposed agreement is a four-way accord between the city of Ann Arbor, the AATA, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County. The agreement among the four parties would set up a framework for, and contingencies on, the transition of the AATA to a countywide transit authority, incorporated under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986. AATA currently operates under Act 55 of 1963. [For a discussion of the key differences between the two pieces of legislation, see Chronicle coverage: "AATA Gets Advice on Countywide Transit"]

If approved, the four-way agreement would assign specific conditions and responsibilities to each of the parties as part of the transition to a countywide transit authority. The role of approving, signing and filing the articles of incorporation for the new transit authority would fall to Washtenaw County. [.pdf of draft articles of incorporation]

The transition to a countywide funding base is intended to (1) ensure the stability of funding for transit connections outside of the city of Ann Arbor, which has up until now depended on purchase-of-service agreements; (2) provide a higher level of transit service inside the city of Ann Arbor; and (3) expand the area where transit service is provided. The service plan is laid out in two volumes of the transit master plan. [.pdf of "Volume 1: A Transit Vision for Washtenaw County"] [.pdf of "Volume 2: Transit Master Plan Implementation Strategy"]

A two-volume document on funding options forms the third part of the transit master plan. [.pdf of Part 1 of Vol. 3 Transit Master Plan Funding Options] [.pdf of Part 2 of Vol. 3 Transit Master Plan Funding Options]. A financial advisory group, led by McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and retired Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel, has met since late 2011 to analyze those funding options.

The role of the two cities – Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – would be to pledge their current transit millages to the new authority, contingent on identifying a countywide funding source. The two cities currently levy millages that are designated for public transit and are passed through to the AATA. For Ann Arbor, that’s currently just over 2 mills. For Ypsilanti, which uses the proceeds of the tax – approved in November 2010 – to fund its purchase-of-service agreement with the AATA, the levy is just under 1 mill. [One mill is $1 for each $1,000 of a property's taxable value.]

As part of the four-party agreement, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor would agree that AATA’s existing assets would be assumed by the new Act 196 transit authority, and they’d also agree to assign their existing millages to the new Act 196 authority. But the asset transfer and the millage assignment would be contingent on identifying a countywide funding source for the new Act 196 authority.

[For general background on a variety of transportation issues, see recent Chronicle coverage: "Washtenaw Transit Talk in Flux" and "AATA Preps Stage for Future Transit Choice"]