Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (April 19, 2012): Recently appointed to the board, Sue Gott’s first AATA board meeting was marked by three action items.
First was the election of a new board treasurer, David Nacht, in the wake of two relatively recent resignations from the board – former board treasurer Sue McCormick and Rich Robben. Nacht was elected treasurer though he was absent from the meeting; however, based on remarks from board chair Jesse Bernstein, Nacht had agreed in advance to serve in that capacity.
The board also formally received the report from a financial task force on funding for an expanded, countywide governance and service area. The task force is currently “on hold” following its Feb. 29, 2012 meeting, when it made its recommendations to the AATA. A few days after that task force meeting, the Ann Arbor city council ratified its part of a four-party agreement – between the AATA, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – that provides a framework for possible transition to a new governance structure for the AATA.
Both the resolution to receive the report, as well as remarks at the board table during the meeting, made clear that the AATA board isn’t committing to an unconditional acceptance of every recommendation made by the task force. Rather, the task force’s recommendations will inform the board’s decision-making.
Also related to possible countywide expansion, at the April 16 meeting, the announcement was made of a special board meeting set for Thursday, April 26 at AATA headquarters, 2700 South Industrial Highway. The purpose of the meeting will be for the board to vote on adoption of a five-year service plan. The plan would be part of a proposal that is eventually put before the general electorate, who must ratify whatever funding plan is used for an expanded transportation authority.
AATA CEO Michael Ford indicated that the working name for the new transportation authority, if one is formed through the four-party agreement, is “Washtenaw Area Transportation Authority.”
The board also made a decision on an unarmed security guard contract that was impacted by the AATA’s adoption of a living wage standard. The hourly wages in the contract now meet the city of Ann Arbor living wage standard, adopted by the AATA board at its June 16, 2011 meeting. The need to bring the wages up to the living wage standard resulted in an increase that met the threshold requiring the board to approve it.
The board also received its usual range of updates and reports from its CEO and committees. Those included recent ridership numbers, an update on the lawsuit that was filed last year against the AATA over advertising issues, the proposed north-south commuter rail known as WALLY, and the AATA’s response to the auditor’s report.
During the meeting, Ford reported on discussions between AATA and the Ann Arbor Public Schools that have led to a preliminary agreement to replace three high school bus routes with existing AATA service – one route each for Huron, Pioneer and Skyline high schools. According to Ford, the change would allow AAPS and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District – which currently handles bus services for AAPS – to eliminate three buses and reduce costs.
Board Treasurer Election
As one of the first items handled by the board at its April 16 meeting, chair Jesse Bernstein asked for a motion to elect David Nacht as treasurer. The position had remained unfilled since the resignation of Sue McCormick from the board. She served through the Dec. 15, 2011 meeting. Shortly after that, Rich Robben also resigned from the board.
McCormick was replaced by Eli Cooper, city of Ann Arbor transportation program manager. And Robben was replaced by Sue Gott, university planner at the University of Michigan. Gott was unable to be present at the board’s March meeting, so the April 19 meeting marked the first meeting she attended. At the meeting, she received welcoming remarks from Bernstein and others.
Offering his support for Nacht’s nomination as treasurer, Charles Griffith took an initial humorous tack, based on the fact that Nacht was not present at the meeting. However, saying that he didn’t think his remarks were getting any funnier, Griffith quickly wrapped them up. Bernstein expressed his appreciation to Nacht for being willing to serve in the capacity of treasurer.
Outcome: The board unanimously elected David Nacht as treasurer.
With the election of Nacht as treasurer, the board is again settled into a complete committee and officer structure. Officers are now: Jesse Bernstein (chair); Charles Griffith (secretary); and David Nacht (treasurer). The planning and development committee consists of: Anya Dale (committee chair); Sue Gott; and Eli Cooper. The performance monitoring and external relations committee consists of: Charles Griffith (committee chair); David Nacht and Roger Kerson. The governance committee consists of the board chair and the two committee chairs. [See also previous Chronicle coverage: "AATA Resets Committee Membership."]
Financial Task Force Report
The board was asked to vote on a resolution that accepted for further consideration the recommendations of a financial task force on funding for an expanded, countywide governance and service area.
The task force is currently “on hold” following its Feb. 29, 2012 meeting, when it made its recommendations to the AATA. A few days after that task force meeting, the Ann Arbor city council ratified its part of a four-party agreement – between the AATA, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – that provides a framework for possible transition to a new governance structure for the AATA.
The April 19 board resolution addresses part of the reason that the task force was reluctant to make a specific funding recommendation: Pending currently is state legislation on (1) transportation funding through vehicle registration fees, and (2) the establishment of a regional transit authority for a four-county area in southeast Michigan (including Washtenaw County). From the board’s April 19 resolution: “… the AATA will monitor proposed legislation and other conditions affecting transit funding, and reconvene the FTF as needed to consider amendments to their recommendations…”
The financial task force had calculated that there’s a roughly $32.9 million gap between existing funding and what would be needed to fund the first five years of expanded services. To cover that gap, the task force calculated that a countywide millage of 0.5 mill would be needed – if the mechanism of funding were to be a countywide transit tax. But the task force declined to identify a millage as the solution to that funding gap, in light of pending legislation at the state level that might make other mechanisms available. [.pdf of Feb. 29 report draft approved by the financial task force]
The categories of service recommended as part of the first five years of the program include ongoing bus replacements, urban bus network enhancements (including enhancements to the WAVE, a western Washtenaw express), countywide door-to-door and flex services, express bus services, local community circulators, park-and-ride lots, vanpool services, and “superstops” in the Washtenaw Avenue corridor.
The subcommittee also recommended an average increase for fixed-route fares of 50 cents, with the possibility of fare increases for paratransit services as well. Higher fares should be charged for express bus services, with the possibility of distance-based zone fares.
Also significant in the financial task force report was a recommendation that certain projects – like the north-south high-capacity connector, high-capacity service along Washtenaw Avenue, as well as the east-west and north-south commuter rail service – be considered separately. Those projects are not recommended for inclusion for local expenditures in the first five years. It’s also recommended that the Ann Arbor downtown circulator service (previously called The LINK) should be discretionary and should rely on private investment.
The language of the resolution passed by the AATA board on April 19 does not accept the task force recommendations unconditionally. The resolved clause reads [emphasis added] “… accepts the recommendations of the Financial Task Force for consideration by the AATA and the community.”
And the minutes from the April 10 meeting of the planning and development committee indicate that there may not be universal agreement on the AATA board with at least one of the task force recommendations – to exclude rail projects from expenditures of local funds in the first five years of the plan, and to spend local money only on local projects.
From the minutes: “Eli Cooper was assured by Michael Benham [AATA strategic planner] that the FTF is an advisory task force, with the board having ultimate authority to accept, decline, or modify their recommendations. Eli expressed concern with only using local money for local projects for the first 5 years. If this was to occur, then the Board may not be in alignment with their overall priorities (for expansion of services). Other than that, Eli was interested to hear more about the FTF and staff opinions as to how they see the first 5 years playing out.”
In reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee at the April 19 board meeting, Charles Griffith noted that the committee had received the report on the financial task force recommendation.
Eli Cooper summarized the work of the task force and the subcommittee that had formed within the task force, by saying the group went above and beyond expectations, by providing models that AATA staff could continue to use to evaluate the implications of different strategies. He said it was with great pleasure that he was putting forward the motion to accept the report and allowing it to inform the board’s deliberations. He appreciated the work that the task force had done.
Board chair Jesse Bernstein added his thanks to the task force, saying that they were very busy people who volunteered – two of whom lead billion-dollar companies. [He was referring to Albert Berriz, CEO of McKinley Inc. and J. Patrick Doyle, CEO of Domino's Pizza.] It was a joy to see those people get together and roll up their sleeves and get the work done, he said.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the resolution accepting the task force recommendations for further consideration.
Unarmed Security Contract
The board considered a one-year, $205,000 contract with Advance Security to provide unarmed security guard services. It will be for the fourth year of a contract first authorized by the board on March 19, 2009 for one year.
The contract came before the board because it increased the amount of the contract from the previous year by more than 10% – from $150,000 to $205,000, or 36.7%. The AATA procurement policy requires board approval for increases of contracts over 10%. The new contract is based on hourly wages between $14.33 and $19.67 per hour for a regular shift, and between $21.50 and $29.51 for extra hours and holidays.
The hourly wages in the contract now meet the city of Ann Arbor living wage standard, recently adopted by the AATA board at its June 16, 2011 meeting. The need to bring the wages up to the living wage standard was the reason for the revision to the contract. The living wage standard for the city of Ann Arbor is set to increase slightly starting May 1, 2012 – to $12.17/hour for those employers paying health insurance and $13.57/hour for those employers not paying health insurance.
The original contract, authorized by the board in 2009, was met with one vote of dissent at the time – from David Nacht, who wanted his no vote to express his desire in the future that clearer information be provided about low bids. The staff memo accompanying the April 19 resolution indicated that the original contract was sent to 29 firms for bid and that 11 responses were received.
In reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, which had reviewed the contract, Charles Griffith described the revisions as based on getting the contract in compliance with the new living wage policy.
When the board came to the item on its agenda for a vote, board chair Jesse Bernstein asked for a verbal overview, which AATA controller Phil Webb gave. From a back-and-forth between Griffith and Webb, it emerged that the board would almost certainly not need to approve the contract again next year, because the need to increase it was already being addressed this year.
AATA CEO Michael Ford alerted the board to the fact that other contracts impacted by the living wage policy would likely be coming to the board for approval, when they were renewed.
Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the new contract with Advance Security for unarmed security guard services.
Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary
At its April 16 meeting, the board entertained various communications, including its usual reports from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, the planning and development committee, as well as from CEO Michael Ford. The board also heard commentary from the public. Here are some highlights.
Comm/Comm: WALLY Update
As part of its meeting information packet, the board was provided with an eight-page update on the status of WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway), which is envisioned to provide north-south commuter rail service between Howell and Ann Arbor.
The conclusion of the report is a staff recommendation to expend funds ($50,000) already included in the FY 2012 budget that are designated for the WALLY project. The report includes a draft resolution that the board could use to authorize the funds.
Ordinarily, the expenditure of funds from the budget would not necessarily need an explicit board authorization. However, in the case of the WALLY project, the board stipulated in a Sept. 15, 2011 resolution that the $50,000 designated for WALLY in the FY 2012 budget would not be expended without the explicit consent of the board. [See Chronicle coverage: "AATA on WALLY Rail: Forward with Caution."]
One of the challenges for WALLY is the cooperation of the Ann Arbor Railroad in the use of the tracks south of roughly Barton and Plymouth roads on the north side of Ann Arbor. Ideally, the commuter service would extend farther south into Ann Arbor. The report contains a description of an Oct. 12, 2011 meeting between Ann Arbor Railroad president Jim Erickson and AATA CEO Michael Ford, when Ann Arbor Railroad representatives expressed continued general opposition to passenger service on its property. However, the meeting offered some possibility that Ann Arbor Railroad would at least work with AATA on the issue of railcar storage immediately south of a WALLY station. And the report describes Ann Arbor Railroad as willing to entertain a “business proposition.” [.pdf of April 2012 WALLY update]
Ford indicated at the April 19 meeting that more work would be needed before the issue of WALLY could be brought before the whole board.
Comm/Comm: Loose Ends from Audit
Reporting from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Charles Griffith said the committee had reviewed the audit from last month. [The audit findings were discussed at the board’s March 15, 2012 meeting and included in The Chronicle’s report of that meeting.]
The auditor had made some recommendations, he said, and the AATA had responded to them. The committee was pretty happy with where things stand, Griffith reported. One outstanding issue the committee is still reviewing is the AATA’s practice of buying fuel futures. Griffith said the committee does not think the practice is actually allowed, based on some further legal review, because it stands out as an unconventional practice. But the committee has encouraged staff to explore other options. The practice has saved the AATA money, he said, but it’s just not very standard.
Among the other items in the auditor’s report is an item of information: If Michigan’s personal property tax were to be eliminated, as proposed in Senate Bill 34, the amount of the annual transit tax that’s used to help fund the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority would decrease by $420,000 annually.
AATA controller Phil Webb included the item in his reaction to other findings in the audit – which he conveyed in a memo to AATA CEO Michael Ford. The memo was part of the AATA board’s information packet for its April 19 meeting.
Currently, the AATA receives around $9 million a year from a roughly 2 mill tax. The $9 million is about 31% of the AATA’s $29.4 million FY 2012 budgeted revenues. The elimination of the personal property tax would decrease the AATA’s total budget revenues by around 1.4%.
Comm/Comm: Ridership Stats
As a part of its regular information packet, the board received the performance data on ridership, costs per mile and the like. For regular fixed-route service on weekdays, ridership in March 2012 showed a gain of 8% compared to March 2011 – an average of 24,501 passengers for each weekday, compared to 22,639 per weekday in March of 2012.
That continues a trend since October 2011, the start of the current fiscal year for the AATA. Each month the average number of weekday passengers per month has been greater than the corresponding month in the previous year.
For the AATA’s paratransit service (A-Ride), the data from March show a slight decrease in the average number of passengers for each weekday – 505 compared to 518 a year ago. But in four of the last six months, ridership on A-Ride has been slightly greater than in the corresponding month a year earlier.
Increased ridership had led to decreased costs per rider, per service hour and per service mile, and a corresponding increase in the percentage of the cost that is paid by rider fares. [.pdf of AATA ridership and performance data]
Also at the meeting, CEO Michael Ford provided the most recent numbers for the new Detroit Metro Airport service (AirRide) for the period from April 8-14. For that period, the service had 678 total passengers – 336 eastbound to the airport and 342 westbound from the airport to Ann Arbor.
The AirRide service began on April 2. It offers 12 buses each way daily. The AATA authorized the contract with Indian Trails’ Michigan Flyer to provide the airport service at its Feb. 16, 2012 meeting.
Comm/Comm: AAPS Collaboration
In his oral report to the board, CEO Michael Ford highlighted an item from his written report, which relates to the current fiscal challenges of the Ann Arbor Public Schools system. AATA and AAPS have been discussing ways the two entities could collaborate. From the written report:
Chris White [AATA manager of service development] and Ron Copeland [AATA operations manager] have been meeting with staff from the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) and Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD). WISD operates school bus service for AAPS. Discussions have yielded a preliminary agreement to replace three high school bus routes with the use of existing AATA service, with minor modifications; one route each for Huron, Pioneer and Skyline High Schools. This would permit AAPS/WISD to completely eliminate three buses and reduce costs. AATA would provide passes which AAPS would distribute to eligible students. Each time a student boards a bus AATA would charge AAPS. It is hoped that agreement can be reached in April for implementation in the fall of 2012.
Comm/Comm: AATA Lawsuit Update
On April 19, U.S District judge Mark Goldsmith heard motions at the federal building and courthouse in Flint on a lawsuit filed last year against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. At the AATA board meeting later that day, board chair Jesse Bernstein reported that after hearing oral arguments, Goldsmith did not rule on anything from the bench. His written ruling is expected at some unspecified future time.
The initial lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on Nov. 28, 2011 on behalf of activist Blaine Coleman, who had sought to purchase an advertisement for the sides of AATA buses. The AATA refused to run the ad. The proposed ad includes the text, “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid,” and an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a skull for a head. [.pdf of image and text of proposed ad]
The two motions heard by Goldsmith on April 19 included one by the plaintiff – for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order, to compel the AATA to accept the advertisement for its buses that it had previously rejected. [.pdf of Nov. 29, 2011 ACLU motion for preliminary injunction]
The other motion heard on April 19 was AATA’s motion to dismiss the case. [.pdf of AATA motion to dismiss] [.pdf of AATA brief on preliminary injunction/restraining order] [.pdf of ACLU reply to AATA's response]
At its April 19 meeting, AATA board members had scheduled a closed session on the litigation, as permitted by the Michigan Open Meetings Act, but did not hold the session because Goldsmith did not rule on the two motions.
Comm/Comm: Special Meeting – April 26
During his oral report to the board, AATA CEO Michael Ford said he was asking that a special meeting of the board be convened for Thursday, April 26 at 4:30 p.m. The special meeting will be held at AATA headquarters, 2700 South Industrial Highway.
The purpose of the meeting is to receive formally a detailed five-year service plan that has been developed by the AATA as part of its plan to expand its governance and transportation service to a countywide area. The service plan is part of a key step specified in a four-party agreement – between the AATA, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, and Washtenaw County – that would establish a framework for a possible transition to a new governance structure. From the agreement: “… AATA will publish details of the service and funding plan in newspaper(s) of general circulation in the Washtenaw County.”
Of the four parties to the agreement, the city of Ann Arbor is the only entity so far to ratify it. The Ann Arbor city council voted to approve the four-party agreement at its March 5, 2012 meeting.
It’s hoped that the board will have a copy of the service plan by April 23, before voting on it on April 26.
Also at April’s monthly board meeting, Ford indicated that the working name for the new transportation authority, if one is formed through the four-party agreement, is “Washtenaw Area Transportation Authority.”
Related to the countywide plan, during public commentary at end of the meeting, Vivienne Armentrout told the board she appreciated being invited to participate in an organizational district advisory committee meeting for the Ann Arbor district.
She had some concerns and questions, though. She said that most invitees were members of stakeholder groups, and attendance had been sparse – she attributed that to the somewhat last-minute scheduling of the meeting. She said her understanding of Ann Arbor’s district advisory committee is that it’s supposed to be citizens of Ann Arbor interacting with those people who are representing Ann Arbor on the countywide board. She said she’d like to see broader participation from regular folks.
Board chair Jesse Bernstein thanked Armentrout for attending the meeting and told her she was right – it was an organizational meeting. All such meetings are open to the public and it’s an ongoing process the AATA is beginning. The district advisory committees will meet at least four times a year, he said, not just in Ann Arbor, but in the other districts throughout the county.
Also during public commentary at the end of the meeting, Thomas Partridge called for the as-yet-unincorporated Act 196 countywide board and the financial task force, as well as all similar organizations, to meet in a venue that can be videotaped by Community Television Network.
Comm/Comm: Retreat – May 16
As part of his oral report to the board, CEO Michael Ford announced details of the board’s retreat. It will be held on May 16 starting at noon at the Holiday Inn Express on Briarwood Circle. The hotel is near one of the stops on AATA’s AirRide service between downtown Ann Arbor and the Detroit Metro airport. The retreat will include the board’s regular May meeting.
Comm/Comm: IT Plan
Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Charles Griffith said the committee had had a fairly lengthy discussion on the IT plan – a benchmarking effort as well as short-, medium- long-term recommendations. There are implications for possible additional staffing, he said, to prepare for expansion of service. He alerted the board that there could be something that comes before the board at a later time.
Comm/Comm: Local Advisory Council
The local advisory council is a group that provides input and feedback to AATA on disability and senior issues. Reporting to the board on the LAC’s activities, Clark Charnetski welcomed Sue Gott to the board. He told the board the LAC had received a presentation from Jewish Family Services on their accessibility plan. The LAC had also continued its discussion on its driver appreciation program, to recognize great drivers in the paratransit program. The idea is for AATA call-takers to work with the LAC to evaluate the drivers for special recognition.
Charnetski also reported that the LAC had sent Doug Strong a letter. Strong is CEO of University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers. The LAC had inquired about UM’s plans to provide sheltered walkways for riders of public transportation so they can get from bus stops into the medical center. The LAC had not yet received a reply to the letter, so they’d be sending out a follow-up letter.
The LAC had also discussed the A-Ride vehicle replacement program – because the vehicles are reaching the end of their useful life.
Comm/Comm: More Service
During public commentary, Thomas Partridge introduced himself as an advocate for those needing affordable transportation services and called for additional services, beyond what’s currently offered by AATA. He called on the board to place an update on expanded, countywide transportation on every monthly agenda. He also called for a monthly review of the SelectRide contract through which the AATA provides A-Ride service. He contended that within the last three weeks, he’d asked for rides through A-Ride and had been picked up by two vehicles reeking of gasoline and apparent exhaust system leaks.
Comm/Comm: Disability Community
During public commentary, Carolyn Grawi, with the Center for Independent Living, said she was very pleased that members of the disability community are being involved in the countywide planning effort. She offered some feedback on AirRide service between Ann Arbor and the Detroit Metro airport, saying that some people were not sure where the service would drop them off. She also noted that construction on South State Street was affecting Route #6 on-time performance. It affects the ability of riders to make their connections to other routes, she said, and it’s a general concern, not just one that affects the disability community.
Present: Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, Eli Cooper, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale, Sue Gott.
Absent: David Nacht.
Next regular meeting and board retreat: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at noon, Holiday Inn Express, 600 Briarwood Circle [confirm date]
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