Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Oct. 18, 2012): The recent AATA board meeting had a good-news, bad-news flavor.
Optimism was based on ridership data for the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30 – which includes a record-setting 6,325,785 rides on the regular bus service, up 6.6% over the previous year, and 3.4% more than the previous record year of 2009.
Damping enthusiasm were the year-end budget numbers, which showed the AATA posting a deficit around $260,000 greater than the one it had budgeted for, leaving an excess of expenditures over revenues of $1,255,312. [.pdf of unaudited FY 2012 financials] That comes in the context of an approved budget for the just-begun current fiscal year, which includes an anticipated deficit of about $300,000. The board’s Oct. 18 deliberations revealed the fact that only by recalculating the amount in the AATA’s cash reserves did the organization currently have the required three-month operating reserve on hand.
In that financial context, board members were not inclined to add back in some elements that had recently been cut out of the new Blake Transit Center project, which would have brought the project budget to nearly $8.5 million. The construction contracts approved by the board at its meeting totaled a bit over $8 million, which was still dramatically larger than the smaller $3.5 million project the AATA had started with over three years ago. Instead of taking the less ambitious strategy, the AATA opted to locate the new, larger center on the opposite side of the same parcel where it currently stands. Construction on the two-story Fifth Avenue-facing center is now expected to start in late November or early December.
The board’s deliberations on the new transit center focused on whether to add back into the project some items that had been removed to bring the cost down from $8.5 to $8 million. Of the three items on the table – automatic ticketing kiosks, real-time bus arrival information displays, and LEED certification of the building – only the LEED certification was added back in, at a cost of $80,000.
At the Oct. 18 meeting, the board also got an update on the situation surrounding the incorporation of the new Act 196 board for The Washtenaw Ride. Michael Ford, AATA’s CEO, indicated that the AATA would be reimbursing Washtenaw County for the cost of renotifying jurisdictions in the county regarding their option not to participate in the new authority. He confirmed that AATA board members would not serve simultaneously on the current board and the board of the new authority, as previously expected. Ford indicated that AATA legal counsel believes that what the AATA has done to date already complies with the law, but the AATA is exercising extreme caution.
Several members of the future Act 196 board attended the meeting and had a voice at the table, but not a vote.
The board’s meeting concluded with a closed session lasting nearly two hours on pending litigation.
The fiscal year that just ended on Sept. 30, 2012 was one item discussed, as was follow-up from approval at the board’s previous meeting of the budget for fiscal year 2013, which began on Oct. 1. The state of the budget was general background for the discussion of the Blake Transit Center item, which was the one voting item on the board’s meeting agenda.
Budget: FY 2012
The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority had budgeted for a nearly $1 million deficit this year, but wound up with an excess of expenditures over revenues that was actually $260,000 more than that. The unaudited figures reported to the AATA board at its Oct. 18 meeting showed a deficit for the year of $1,255,312. [.pdf of unaudited FY 2012 financials]
Several reasons were given for the additional shortfall, which resulted in only $27,617,099 in actual revenues compared with the $29,418,995 that was budgeted. Those reasons included: $120,842 less in passenger revenue; $269,095 less in local transit tax revenue; $529,214 less in purchase-of-service revenue; and $927,149 less in federal funding. That was balanced somewhat by reduced expenses in some categories, including: about $500,000 less in compensation; $600,000 less in purchased services (including consulting); and $550,000 in savings due to the delayed launch of the service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport.
Based on board discussion at the meeting, the AATA currently has just about exactly the three-month operating reserves on hand that it’s required to maintain by board policy.
Budget: Reserve Status
Reporting from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson noted there’d been shortfalls in the FY 2012 year-end numbers for various reasons. For the time being, those numbers put the AATA under the three-month’s worth of cash reserve level. According to Kerson, controller Phil Webb had identified additional money. And there’s an interpretation of what the three-month reserve actually means, Kerson said. Some one-time expenses – for example, for the connector study – are one-time expenses, and it’s not necessary to maintain a reserve against those types of expenses, he said.
Budget: FY 2013
As a follow-up from the previous regular meeting, AATA CEO Michael Ford noted that a worksheet had been provided in the board information packet detailing the budget changes that had been made to the current year’s budget, which began on Oct. 1. [.pdf of detail on budget changes] Those changes had been made shortly before the board voted on the final budget, which was different from one reviewed in committee. The changes were necessary due to a reduction in state operating assistance of around $800,000. It had still resulted a $300,000 planned deficit for FY 2013 instead of the essentially break-even budget that had initially been reviewed in committee. Ford noted that the worksheet included those items that had been considered for elimination but were kept in the budget – at the request of board member Sue Gott.
New Blake Transit Center
The board considered a resolution to approve construction contracts totaling $8,049,988 for a new downtown Ann Arbor transit center. The initiative began over three years ago with a much smaller budget of around $3.5 million.
Blake Transit Center: Background
The original concept was to build the new center on the same footprint as the existing Blake Transit Center.
But the concept changed to one that will construct a larger building at a different location – still on the same parcel where it currently stands, between Fourth and Fifth avenues, but on the opposite side of the block from its current site.
Bus traffic to the new Fifth Avenue-facing center will enter from Fourth Avenue and exit onto Fifth, which is opposite from the current traffic flow. In order to square off the parcel for the new construction, a six-foot wide strip of land on the southwestern edge of the parcel was purchased by the AATA from the city of Ann Arbor for $90,000.
Construction bids came in totaling $8.5 million. But as of the board’s Jan. 19, 2012 meeting, the AATA had only identified about $7 million in funding for the project. At that meeting, the board authorized a $7 million project budget – in the context of approving its capital and categorical grant program for 2012–2016. That amount was an increase from a $5.5 million project budget that been approved at the board’s Aug. 24, 2011 meeting, when it had revised the capital grant program. The initial project budget had been $3.5 million.
The increase in cost is described in a staff memo accompanying the board’s Oct. 18 resolution as due to a variety of factors, including changes in design based on community input and environmental analysis. The original $3.5 million design was for a one-story building on the current building’s footprint. The approved design is for a three-level structure (two above ground) with foundations that could support another two stories – at an additional cost of $100,000. Subjecting the project to the city’s regular site plan approval process – which is not a legal requirement – cost several hundred thousand dollars, according to the staff memo. The city’s planning commission reviewed the project on July 17, 2012 and the city council received the review as part of its Aug. 20 meeting written communications.
According to a memo to the board from AATA CEO Michael Ford, money identified by the AATA beyond the $7 million budget included $700,000 from a 2002 federal grant that apparently had been earmarked for a new Blake Transit Center. The gap between the $7.7 million and the $8.5 million total construction bid could have been covered through an additional $750,000 in federal formula funds (Section 5307) that are available this year.
The board’s performance monitoring and external relations committee was divided at its Oct. 16 meeting on the question of increasing the budget to the $8.5 million mark. The committee recommended revisions to the project to cover the gap only to the point of $8,049,988. [.pdf of constructions contracts for BTC] The committee was interested in consulting the board as a whole to contemplate the issue of possibly increasing the budget further.
A memo from Ford to the full board asked for consideration of nearly the full construction bid amount, so that key elements could be restored to the project: LEED Gold certification ($80,000); real-time bus arrival kiosk signage ($180,000); and ticket vending machines ($125,000). Those three items would have brought the total project cost to $8,424,988.
Blake Transit Center: Board Discussion – Preliminaries
Roger Kerson reported from the performance monitoring and external relations committee meeting and described a “spirited discussion” about the Blake Transit Center project. He noted that the proposed budget has increased quite a bit since the start. He characterized the increased scope of the project and the budget as coming from a deliberate process of gathering community input and addressing needs of riders and planning for the future.
The result is that the original $3.5 million project is now an $8.5 million project. But there was only a bit more than $7 million budgeted for the project, he said. He and David Nacht had been concerned about that, he said. It might be possible to shift money out of federal capital funds. What the committee had asked staff to do was to reduce the project budget – reasoning that the best course was to leave it to the board’s “collective wisdom” as to which option to choose. The option of the reduced project was being presented for the board’s consideration, he said. But the items that were removed are specified, so the resolution can be discussed in that context.
He felt that committee members are aware of the hard work that has gone into the planning process, as well as the timelines that the AATA is up against to start construction. But the board also needs to be the best possible stewards of public funds. They’re state and federal funds, but it’s still taxpayer money, he said.
Some questions and commentary from Bill Lavery, Anya Dale and Michael Ford centered around the impact of using federal formula funds (Section 5307) to cover the gap in funding between the budgeted amount and the $8.5 million cost that had resulted from construction bids.
The programming of the Section 5307 federal funds through 2015 shows a balance of $419,281. A memo included in the board’s information packet and written by Chris White, AATA’s manager of service development, notes that allocating an additional $600,000 of Section 5307 federal funds – as required to bring the new Blake Transit Center budget to $8.5 million – would have an impact on other planned uses of the funds. [.pdf of White's memo and allocation of federal funds by year]
Ford indicated that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) had also contacted the AATA indicating that there was additional money specifically for the Blake Transit Center. “It was some money they had sitting somewhere, and I hate to say it that way, but it was available to us for that purpose,” Ford said. Kerson noted that even the additional FTA money – which meant that the dedicated funds for the project rose from around $7 million to $7.7 million – did not get the budget to $8.5 million.
Blake Transit Center: Board Discussion – Justifying Cost
When the board reached the Blake Transit Center project on the agenda, Jesse Bernstein led off the deliberations. He characterized the PMER committee discussion about the costs as “lively.” He said that he, too, was concerned about the costs. The committee looks at the details behind the rationale, he said. He reviewed the extended time that had been taken to involve other partners in the area and customers. He pointed to the $90,000 purchase of land from the city of Ann Arbor, which increased the cost. Another reason the cost had increased, he said, was due to a contingency of $300,000 that had been added. That contingency had not been included in the original projection, he said. The committee felt that is was prudent to add that, which is typical with most construction projects. Another element that had increased the costs was city fees, he said – fees for building permits and water connections were assumed to be at a particular cost and they turned out to be much higher, he said.
So the committee had pressed staff to see what could be cut out, Bernstein said. Some back-and-forth between Bernstein and other board members and staff established that the three items left out of the final budget were: LEED Gold Certification ($80,000); real-time bus arrival kiosk signage; and ticket vending machines ($125,000).
A $243,000 cost for heated sidewalks and driveways – to eliminate the need for snow and ice removal in the winter – was included in the lower budget figure. Terry Black, maintenance manager, confirmed that the AATA has spent up to $75,000 in a year for winter maintenance of the existing facility. Bernstein characterized the cost of the heated sidewalks and driveways as realizing a return on their investment in about three years.
David Nacht noted that he’d sat on the planning and development committee (PDC) during the last couple of years as the project was being considered. That committee had been comfortable with the doubling in cost from $3.5 million to $7 million – taking into account significant environmental concerns and community concerns about aesthetics.
Accommodating that input was appropriate to the AATA’s role in the Ann Arbor community as good partners with the city, the neighborhood associations, and the business community, he said. He also said that another significant increased cost in the building is that it has the future potential to be built higher than the currently planned two stories above ground – for example, by a private-sector developer, Nacht said. That developer could pay AATA or The Washtenaw Ride in some kind of public-private partnership and establish a future revenue stream. That would mean investing in this part of downtown, and possibly recouping some of that investment in the form of future revenue, he said.
Blake Transit Center: Board Discussion – Treasurer’s Concern
But Nacht was concerned about increasing the cost from $8 million to $8.5 million. The last time PDC looked at the project, the budget was $7 million, he noted. There’d been no contingency in the budget at that time, he said, and he was fine with adding $300,000 as a contingency, noting that he hoped it didn’t get spent.
And he was fine with increasing the budget from $7.3 million to $8 million – because that’s federal money earmarked for this project, and could be described as “use it or lose it.” The budget is mostly federal money that is specifically earmarked for the Blake Transit Center project, he said, that cannot be used for other purposes. The building was in need of renovations costing at least $1 million in any case, he said. But through the help of Congressman John Dingell and Senator Carl Levin, most of the funding had been obtained.
Nacht noted that the discussion at the last board meeting had included a fiscal challenge – because the state is cutting back its funding of the AATA. Nacht viewed the situation from the perspective of the board treasurer. He noted that the board had just heard during the discussion of the year-end budget figures that AATA is just at the three-month cash reserve level. The AATA is also in an expansionary phase, Nacht said. So far it’s been successful – and the expanded service is resulting in additional riders. That means the AATA is offering services that people are using. If you dig into the detail of the past year’s service, he said, NightRide and ARide services are being well-used and that had contributed to the current fiscal situation, because they are expensive to operate.
The AATA can’t just keep saying yes to expanded services without some sort of change in the fiscal direction. That wouldn’t be sustainable, Nacht said. So he didn’t care what cuts were needed to go from $8.5 million to $8 million, but “I don’t want to spend that half a million bucks,” he concluded. It’s a building – where people get on the bus and get off the bus, he noted. At the end of the day, buses cost $600,000, and fiscal challenges happen, and “at some point, we have to stop buying things,” Nacht said, in order to be fiscally prudent. He had nothing bad to say about any of the specific project elements, and figured there were many more that could be added, but he didn’t want to spend “a nickel more than 8 million bucks on it.”
Blake Transit Center: Board Discussion – Big Enough?
Eli Cooper said he was reminded of a conversation of an even larger opportunity at that location, where the AATA was looking to expand to include the Fifth and William parcel – the site of the former YMCA building. [It's now owned by the city and used as a surface parking lot.] That project failed for a variety of reasons, Cooper said. The current proposal looks like it has a number of challenges, he said. The reinforcement of the foundations to allow for just two additional levels was a concern for Cooper. The matter-of-right development allowed by the D1 zoning for the area was not just the 400% floor-area-ratio (FAR) that the two additional stories would yield, but rather the higher-density 700%, Cooper observed.
A response from Nacht described the possibility of eventually combining the new BTC building with a future development on what is now a surface parking lot at Fifth and Division. [But Cooper's point – that the AATA was not thinking of the largest possible option allowed under city zoning – seemed to elude Nacht and other board members.] Cooper reiterated that he wanted to make sure that the AATA was maximizing the potential of the site.
Cooper also wanted to know how space in the new building was allocated: staff use compared to rider use.
Jesse Bernstein responded to Cooper by recalling how the public meetings had included questioning of the need for so many staff restrooms. The explanation is that drivers have little time to go to the bathroom between ending and starting their routes. Access to bathrooms can have an impact on on-time performance, he said. The second floor also includes a backup emergency dispatch center, and space for getDowntown program staff offices, Bernstein said.
Later in the meeting, when AATA manager of maintenance Terry Black was asked to the podium to explain the scope of the current building’s programming, he described how the getDowntown staff, who are employees of the AATA, were currently leasing space in downtown Ann Arbor. [That cost is borne by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.] The 12,000-square-foot new building would provide office space for getDowntown, Black said. The AATA headquarters facility at 2700 S. Industrial is maxed out in terms of office space, Black said. [On the most recent visit to that location by The Chronicle, a cubicle had been set up in a hallway area.]
Black also described the new building’s canopy, stormwater collection system from that canopy for use of graywater (toilet flushing) within the building, and the phased demolition of the existing building.
Blake Transit Center: Board Discussion – Needed Elements
Cooper ventured it’s not an issue of the operators’ needs. But in doubling the size of building, in the context of a tight budget time, he wondered about the inclusion of a secondary dispatch center contrasted with “significant elements for the benefit of our customers.” Real-time information is simply an expectation at a modern transit center, Cooper said. Now the board is being given a choice to leave it out. He wondered if the AATA was carpeting and outfitting a second level of the building at the expense of some elements that would make the AATA’s service more useful for its riders. He’d not been involved in the planning, he allowed, but when funds are low and there’s a need to make some tradeoffs, he was raising the question because he wanted to be comfortable as a board member that the board is making the right tradeoffs.
Nacht asked for Black’s assessment of the choices to be made. He agreed with Cooper about the inclusion of real-time information. But the decision of how to save the $0.5 million had been left up to the staff, he said.
Black essentially reviewed all the building elements. The building is entirely barrier-free and will meet ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] code, he said. At the conclusion of the meeting during public commentary, Carolyn Grawi – Center for Independent Living director of advocacy and education – indicated she was happy that Black and Bernstein had mentioned the barrier-free design.
Black noted that the Federal Transit Administration requires the AATA to spend 1% on art. And some of the cost associated with the building stems from the choice of materials, he said. The choice was for limestone, instead of cast stone. Limestone would give a more durable long-lasting building, he said, but cost more. Drywall could have been specified for the bathrooms, instead of tile, but tile is more durable. The heated sidewalks and driveway cost more now, but they’re an effort to reduce maintenance costs, while ensuring safety for riders.
Blake Transit Center: Board Discussion – Contingency
Sue Gott asked about the contingency amount. Why wasn’t there a contingency originally and why is it set at the proposed percentage? Terry Black indicated that a contingency wasn’t something that had been talked about initially. The $300,000 contingency is “very tight,” he allowed. But he felt comfortable that everything had been scoped out and the numbers were good. There are unknowns in any construction project, he said, but he allowed that the contingency is a concern.
In connection with the contingency, Michael Ford ventured that the ticketing kiosk and real-time information components might be held back until the project is halfway constructed, and if it’s recognized at that point that the additional contingency is not needed, those elements could be re-included.
Charles Griffith was concerned that the proposal before the board was not to take the extra step to obtain LEED certification at the Gold level, given that the building had been designed to meet that standard. [LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a rating system for energy-efficient building practices.] Black told Griffith that the LEED-designed building would be built. But without the additional $80,000 for the certification process, there would not be a certificate. The $80,000 could be used on some other area.
Griffith ventured that seemed like a significant lost opportunity to go to the effort to design for that LEED standard, and not be able to show that the building had actually reached that level. He would not personally support taking that component out. [Griffith is energy and climate programs director at the Ecology Center, an Ann Arbor nonprofit.]
Gott received confirmation that eliminating the LEED certification in the budget would not result in the elimination of any design elements – but that it would mean that costs associated with the submittals for certification wouldn’t be incurred.
Roger Kerson ventured that part of the problem is that “the cake is pretty well baked.” He’d hate to take out real-time bus information. If the process was in an earlier stage, it might be possible to try to live without the training room on the second floor, for example. But changes to the square footage at this point mean a change in design and that’s not free, he said. What Black and the staff were trying to identify were those “standalone” elements that could be removed.
Gott wanted clarification of the cost increase due just to the more substantial footings that are designed to bear the load of potentially a four-story building. Black told her it’s about $100,000.
Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber – who serves on the future Washtenaw Ride’s board – ventured that he was certainly no expert in construction, but the Hamilton Crossing project under construction in Ypsilanti is an $18 million project and had a 10% contingency. The amount the AATA has included for the Blake Transit Center is low compared to that, he said. [$300,000 on a $7.7 million project for total of $8 million is about 3.5%.]
Blake Transit Center: Board Discussion – LEED Certification
Griffith came back to the LEED gold certification. He felt the board could agree that the design was meant to achieve the LEED certification standard. But the AATA wouldn’t be able to state that in a public way. You’d have to be very careful about how you discussed it, if you don’t have the LEED certification. It’s highly improper to say you’ve achieved LEED certification if you haven’t, he said. You’d have to say, “Well, we built to potentially meet LEED.”
He asked Sue Gott, who’s the chief planner for the University of Michigan, if UM would ever go to the trouble to design a LEED-certified building and then not actually certify it. Gott’s answer: “We did that with North Quad. We utilized the funds for elements of the building rather than the cost of the LEED certification.” [North Quad is a new student dorm at the corner of South State and Huron.] Later in the meeting, Gott expressed some uncertainly about the level of the North Quad LEED design. Responding to a follow-up emailed query from The Chronicle, she wrote that the North Quad building would have met the basic certified level, if UM had pursued that certification. The other levels in order are silver, gold, and platinum.
Bernstein said he agreed with the concerns that had been expressed. Having been involved with the planning, there’d been several unexpected turns, he said, including the fact that no one ever figured that an easement might be granted by the federal building folks to provide a walkway on the northern side of the parcel, which was a precursor to thinking about moving the site of the new building.
Blake Transit Center: Board Discussion – “Go for it”
Other than through the buses themselves, the most public statement the AATA makes is through the Blake Transit Center, Bernstein said.
Around 5,000 people a day people go through the BTC. He agreed with the concern about financing, however. Without wanting to seem “crass” about it, Bernstein said he thought the AATA ought to “go for it” and increase the budget to $8.5 million so that the three elements could be restored. To the public, the AATA could say that everything had been checked at every step of the way and it had been reviewed by committees and the public. Some people feel you shouldn’t spend anything on anything, Bernstein.
The AATA has to look at a commitment to improving the infrastructure for the future. It’s possible to stay in the current building and simply give all the money back to the feds, he said. He argued for not doing something partway, but rather getting as much out of the building as the AATA can. Constructing a building to last 10-15-20 years versus 20-30-40 makes a big difference, he said. He didn’t see a huge difference in $8.05 million and $8.5 million.
Anya Dale noted that her understanding was that a lot of the extra cost stemmed from incorporating public requests for what they wanted in a downtown transit center. Real-time information was an important request, she said. She agreed with Eli Cooper that providing real-time information was a key element for providing quality service.
Griffith returned to the LEED certification issue. He described it as a fairly intensive process of gathering data and doing analysis. It’s not just paperwork, he said.
Blake Transit Center: Board Discussion – Contingency Redux
David Nacht said he had no opinion about the particular point of the LEED certification. His concern was based on comments from Sue Gott and Paul Schreiber about the amount set aside in the project for contingency – that the amount might not be sufficient. He wanted to hear something about that. In a context where the organization is taking itself right up to the point of its required cash reserve level, the idea that the contingency for the project might not be sufficient would make him want to table the project.
Terry Black asked Matt Berg from Spence Brothers Construction to address the issue. Berg said he’d been working with Black for the last year. He was recommending a 5% contingency, based on the level of the design that’s been done. The drawings are done, and the project has been bid and scoped, he said. There’d been 80 bidders on 16 different construction packages. Contracts could be written now, he said. He felt that 5% should be sufficient.
Schreiber’s higher number of 10% would be more typical if they were further behind in the design process and were still drawing. Nacht responded to Berg’s comments by saying, “Well, that was comforting!” Nacht continued by saying he had no particular opinion about the items identified for possible re-inclusion. However, he did have an opinion about dipping into funds beyond those that had been previously budgeted. As treasurer, he didn’t want to be in a position of having to come back and remind the board of this moment and saying, “Okay, we’re going to cut bus service now and fire staff now, because you wanted to build a building and make it a certain level building.”
Jesse Bernstein got confirmation from Black that the funding for the building won’t come out of operations funding. So the construction of the building wouldn’t result in reducing service or firing staff. Rather, it’s about buying buses or buying replacement parts possibly later than they otherwise would.
A somewhat inconclusive conversational thread ensued about the nature of the funds that were being tapped. Nacht noted that under federal transit law, preventive maintenance funds could be converted into operations funding to pay people and to buy fuel, he said. The AATA had recently received a budget shock and could receive additional shocks – for example, if the U.S. were to go to war with Iran next year, fuel prices could go through the roof, he said. Wearing his treasurer’s hat, it was his job to say these kinds of things.
Roger Kerson felt the Section 5307 funds were normally allocated for projects such as park-and-ride lots, not buses, which CEO Michael Ford seemed to confirm.
Eli Cooper was particularly sensitive to the process that has more than doubled in price – but that was the result of working with stakeholders. He’d been preparing to add an amendment to restore the three items to the budget, but had elected not to do that – out of respect for Nacht’s concern as the treasurer. It might be more appropriate to add those items back when the AATA had more confidence in its financial position, he said. There has to be a point in time where prudence takes over, he said. To hear that careful accounting has to be done in order to confirm that the cash reserve policy is being met, he said, means that it’s time to look at the project and ask the staff to perhaps find different additional sources of revenue to make sure that those features can be included that will ensure the new building is state-of-the-art.
Karen Lovejoy Roe expressed some support for the idea that Ford has suggested – that about halfway into the project the AATA would have a better idea of whether some of the additional items could be included under the contingency. She agreed with Schreiber that 5% seemed like a really low number. [Lovejoy Roe is Ypsilanti Township clerk and a member of the future Washtenaw Ride's board.]
Griffith indicated that he’d be open to an amendment along the lines of the items would be added in, if it appears there are sufficient resources as construction on the project progresses.
Bernstein didn’t feel such an amendment was necessary. If the staff comes back and says there’s extra money, the board can vote on that if it’s brought forward. If the motion is passed, the staff will still know that the board would like to see those items eventually included in the project. Black noted that the LEED certification has to begin with the start of the construction. The approach that Bernstein suggested might work for the real-time information display and the ticketing kiosk, however.
Blake Transit Center: Board Discussion – Adding LEED
Griffith said he wanted to prioritize that LEED item because it can’t be added after-the-fact. He just feels like it would be a real shame not to get the building certified for the high level it’s designed to achieve.
So that amendment was offered formally.
Cooper ventured that the $80,000 for LEED certification “buys us a certificate,” but wondered, “What else does it get us?”
Black indicated that the cost would include a year’s worth of testing and an outside contractor to verify all systems and to ensure that they’re working correctly. It includes monitoring during the construction process and after.
Nacht indicated that he just didn’t understand the significance of the certification, so he wanted Griffith to make a pitch, saying, “My off-the-cuff reaction is that 80 grand for piece of paper so that we can waive it around isn’t the best use of taxpayer dollars, when I’m not buying a ticket machine that a human being can use to get on a bus.”
Griffith indicated that obtaining LEED certification is part of the process of proving you’ve built the building to any standard at all. The AATA would be hard-pressed to say anything about the intent to met LEED standards. It’s meaningless to say anything about what your intention was without the certification, he said.
Nacht interjected with a question: If the whole point is to design an environmentally-sound building that’s good for the planet, and good for energy costs and good for the community, what is the added value of being able to say that we did it?
Griffith replied that the added value is that many people make environmental claims, but don’t back them up. And if you don’t go through the process, you can’t claim that it meets the standard. Drawing an analogy to other kinds of standards, AATA wouldn’t want to omit documentation for safety standards, he said.
Griffith quipped that it’s too bad the FTA does not have the same commitment to LEED certification as it does to public art.
Some conversation ensued about the graywater features and other environmental elements in the building that were a part of the LEED design.
Outcome on the amendment: The board approved the restoration of the LEED certification in the Blake Transit Center project budget, over dissent from Eli Cooper and David Nacht.
Outcome on the main motion: Without significant further deliberation, the board unanimously approved the project budget for the new Blake Transit Center.
Incorporation of New Act 196 Authority
During his verbal report to the board, AATA CEO Michael Ford reviewed events of the last few weeks in connection with the AATA’s effort to expand the geographic area of its funding and governance. At a special meeting on Oct. 2, 2012, the board had authorized filing of the articles of incorporation for the new transit authority – under Act 196 of 1986. They were filed with the state through the Washtenaw County clerk on Oct. 3, Ford said. The AATA’s interpretation was that the 30-day opt-out period had started with the filing of the articles, and letters had been sent out to all jurisdictions in the county to that effect.
The city of Ann Arbor had recently “communicated a different interpretation of the 30-day opt-out period,” he said. The city suggested that the articles were not in effect until 30 days after the filing. So the opt-out period could not begin until around Nov. 3, Ford said. AATA legal counsel feels that AATA has complied with all laws related to the formation of a new transit authority, Ford continued, but out of an “abundance of caution,” additional time will be provided to make a decision to withdraw from the new transit authority. According to Ford, the city has given the go-ahead for a second notification to be sent out, this time by Washtenaw County, and the AATA will reimburse any costs associated with that. Ford said the AATA felt it was “on firm ground” with those issues. Clerks of all municipalities have been notified about the planned re-notification, and Ford said that the AATA “regret[s] any confusion the delay may have created.”
Besides the 30-day window for opting out, the AATA is also working with the city of Ann Arbor to establish representatives from Ann Arbor on the board of the new authority. “Contrary to our plans and understanding that the Act 55 board would automatically become a part of the Act 196 board, the city has chosen to proceed in this manner, citing possible violations of the incompatible offices statute,” Ford said.
So the city will appoint seven new board members, and Ford noted that process has begun with mayor John Hieftje’s nomination at the city council’s Oct. 15, 2012 meeting of two people to serve on the new board: Susan Baskett, who currently serves as a trustee on the Ann Arbor Public Schools board; and Tony Derezinski, who currently serves on the city council. [Derezinski will be leaving the council in mid-November, because he did not prevail in his August Democratic primary race. His last city council meeting will be Nov. 8. For more details and analysis, see previous Chronicle reporting: “Positions Open: New Transit Authority Board.”]
Other nominations to the new board are expected to be forthcoming, Ford said. “While the new development has caused some delays, we are viewing this as an opportunity for a coordination process going forward so all parties can be comfortable in working together,” Ford concluded.
Later during the meeting, AATA board chair Charles Griffith said it was “a little bit of a surprise that our process for creating this new authority got a little adjusted this past month. We started out with a bang with our action earlier this month to initiate the process for creating the new authority.” He said it was not really a big concern if it takes a little longer, adding that he was not worried if some of the faces are new, when the new board is actually seated. He’s not worried that they won’t be friendly, he said. The AATA board would do everything it can to ensure a smooth transition.
Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary
At its Oct. 18 meeting, the AATA 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: Record Ridership
At the start of the meeting, saying he didn’t want it to be buried in a committee report, David Nacht stressed that the 2012 fiscal year had concluded with a record number of riders – well over 6 million, he said.
The AATA is continuing to attract new riders – and it was not the case that the increase could be attributed to uniformly high gas prices, he said. A lot of the increase is related to expansion of service on particular routes, he said. He summed up his comments by saying that the board had a lot to thank the staff for and a lot to be proud of.
During his oral report to the board, CEO Michael Ford also noted the 6.3 million rides on the fixed-route service, which was the largest number of rides since the inception of fixed-route service in 1979, he said. The number is almost 7% above last year. Routes that have increased more than 20% include Routes #4, #10, and #18. Doubling the frequency on Route #4 – between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – has been beneficial to the community, Ford said. Commuter express bus service has also increased about 29% for the Chelsea-Ann Arbor service and about 54% for the Canton-Ann Arbor service. Ford noted that a total of about 25,000 people had ridden the AirRide service – between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport – since its inception in April 2012. [.pdf of year end performance data]
Comm/Comm: Committee Membership
Charles Griffith, who was elected chair of the board at the previous regular meeting on Sept 27, 2012, had said he wanted to hold off on setting committee membership until he’d had a chance to touch base with other board members.
At the Oct. 18 meeting, Griffith announced that Roger Kerson would take over Griffith’s chairmanship of the performance monitoring and external relations committee and outgoing board chair Jesse Bernstein would take a spot on that committee. The third member of that committee is David Nacht.
Anya Dale will continue to chair the planning and development committee. The other two members of that committee are Sue Gott and Eli Cooper.
Comm/Comm: City Council Action – Connector, Rail
Eli Cooper, who also serves as the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, reported that the city council had two transportation items on the agenda for its Oct. 15 meeting and both were approved. One was the environmental review and preliminary engineering study for an Ann Arbor rail station. The other was a study for a transportation connector between the northeast and southern part of the city. Cooper reported that the city is “all in” for those two projects as they’re currently understood.
Comm/Comm: Bus Shelter
Jim Mogensen addressed the issue of a bus shelter at Chidester Place in Ypsilanti, which he’d raised at the board’s previous board meeting. He said he’d received a useful response from AATA staff explaining why the change had been made from a 6×12 shelter to a 5×10 shelter.
By way of background, the response is described in the CEO’s written report to the board:
The old 6’x12’ shelter at Chidester had been in place for a long time. The building management installed a ramp several years ago to permit wheelchair users to get up onto the shelter pad. However, there was not enough room (only 3’) for a wheelchair user to get by the shelter to the bus stop. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires a 5’ clear path. The new shelter measures 5’x10’ and includes a location under the roof for a wheelchair user, which was not the case with the old shelter. While the daily boardings (21) are well below the threshold for placing a passenger shelter at the stop (50), we have maintained a shelter there because we recognize that Chidester Place is home to many seniors and people with disabilities.
In his Oct. 18 remarks, Mogensen noted there’d been an Option 1 considered, but no Option 2, for achieving the 5 -foot clear path. He suggested Option 2 could have been extending the concrete pad on the other side by two feet and keeping the larger shelter. Mogensen characterized it as a cultural point: by fixing the ADA issue, AATA fixed its [legal] problem, but that created a problem for the ridership.
During his oral report to the board, which came shortly after Mogensen’s comments at the meeting, Ford indicated that additional checking would be done based on Mogensen’s remarks.
Comm/Comm: New Website
Reporting from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson said that the new website being developed for the AATA is “really cool.” He described it as very sophisticated. The real-time information, which allows people to locate a bus and see how far away it is, adds a lot of value, he said. The vendor is in the final stages of the work, Kerson reported. Before final launch, some additional testing will be done with focus groups, with some final adjustments to be made as a result of that. When it goes public, he said, the website will have some “test miles on it.”
Comm/Comm: Purchase of Transportation
Jim Mogensen reiterated a comment he made at a previous meeting – that municipalities that have purchase-of-service agreements (POSAs) with the AATA are not actually purchasing transportation. The AATA gets revenue from the federal government and the state government, and from fares. The difference between the cost of providing that service and the revenue is the local match – so what communities with POSAs are paying for is the local match, he said.
Thomas Partridge weighed in during public commentary calling for a commitment to affordable public transportation.
Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Jesse Bernstein, Eli Cooper, Sue Gott, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale.
Also attending as representatives of the future Act 196 board of The Washtenaw Ride were: Karen Lovejoy Roe, Bill Mester, Paul Schreiber, David Philips, and Bill Lavery.
Next regular meeting: Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.]
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