Two recent meetings of the “urban core” communities near the city of Ann Arbor have provided some quiet momentum toward possible improved public transportation services in the Ann Arbor area. The effort’s regional focus is reflected in the location of the meetings, which have taken place outside Ann Arbor – at Pittsfield Township hall and Saline city hall.
However, at the more recent meeting in Saline, which took place on April 25, 2013, Ypsilanti Township supervisor Brenda Stumbo stated her expectation that the city of Ann Arbor would provide the necessary leadership for better transportation. The meetings of elected officials, which have been coordinated by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, include representatives from the cities of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Saline, the village of Dexter, as well as the townships of Pittsfield and Ypsilanti.
The effort to focus on improved transportation within a narrower geographic footprint near Ann Arbor – instead of the whole of Washtenaw County – has come after an attempt to establish a countywide transit authority unraveled in the fall of 2012. Of the communities in the more narrowly focused urban core, Ypsilanti has been the most assertive in pushing for action.
At the Ypsilanti city council’s April 23 meeting, councilmembers made a formal request to join the AATA under the transit authority’s existing enabling legislation – Act 55 of 1963. That request will now be considered by the AATA board. It also will require the cooperation of the Ann Arbor city council – to amend the AATA’s articles of incorporation.
For the city of Ypsilanti, joining the AATA represents a new way to generate more funding for transportation. Because the city already levies at the state constitutional limit of 20 mills, the city itself can’t add an additional tax burden. But the AATA could ask voters of all member jurisdictions to approve a levy of its own – something that it currently does not do. And that would not count against the 20-mill limit.
Ann Arbor city councilmembers who attended the April 25 urban core meeting expressed cautious support of the idea of adding Ypsilanti to the AATA. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) described himself as “tickled” to see the analysis and breakdown of governance and funding options in the meeting packet. Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) ventured that if the effort required a “coalition of the willing,” then he was willing. But he expressed some caution about the amount of additional tax money Ann Arbor voters might be willing to approve.
Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje ventured that the Ann Arbor city council might be able to address the issue in June – after the fiscal year budget is approved in May. He suggested specifically an additional AATA board seat for Ypsilanti as well as one for Ann Arbor, which would bring the board to a total of nine. Hieftje indicated a possibility that the August deadline for placing a millage on the November ballot could be met. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) expressed her view that Ann Arbor voters would need a clearer idea of what the improvements would be, before they’d support an additional tax.
If a decision were not made until August to place a measure on the November ballot, that would result in a relatively aggressive timeline for a millage campaign. For the AATA’s part, board chair Charles Griffith reiterated at the April 25 meeting the same sentiments he’d expressed a week earlier at the board’s April 18, 2013 meeting – that the AATA would give Ypsilanti’s request full consideration. He also stressed that the AATA didn’t want to take an action that could preclude other approaches to governance.
Those other approaches to governance could include a range of possibilities, such as membership of additional jurisdictions in the AATA – like Pittsfield and Ypsilanti townships. But in terms of their readiness to see a millage put on the ballot, neither township seems as ready as the city of Ypsilanti.
Based on remarks made on April 25 by Stumbo and township clerk Karen Lovejoy Roe, Ypsilanti Township’s first priority is to get a fire and police services millage approved by voters – likely in August. After that, they’d turn their attention to transportation. At the earlier urban core meeting – which took place at Pittsfield Township hall on March 28 – Lovejoy Roe had expressed some enthusiasm for moving ahead more quickly with transportation in November. But recent minutes of the township board indicate a desire to keep November as a possibility for a re-ask, in case the fire and police services millage doesn’t pass in August.
For Pittsfield Township supervisor Mandy Grewal, it was the cost allocation in one of the proposed transit scenarios that appeared to give her some pause. On that scenario, the cost of services compared with the amount of revenue generated resulted in Pittsfield Township getting back $0.79 in services for every dollar that residents contributed – the least of any jurisdiction in the mix.
Saline mayor Brian Marl expressed solid support for some kind of expansion of services to include the city of Saline, but reserved comment on the details of any of the cost or governance proposals.
This report includes more details on the governance and cost proposals, as well as some of the commentary from elected officials at the April 25 urban core meeting.
After introductory remarks by Saline mayor Brian Marl, AATA board chair Charles Griffith, and AATA CEO Michael Ford, attendees gave each other a status update on their thinking since the March 28 meeting at Pittsfield Township hall. Remarks are grouped by jurisdiction, which did not necessarily correspond to speaking order.
Opening Remarks: Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor city councilmember Chuck Warpehoski described himself as “fairly close to where I was at the last meeting.” That meant that he was fairly excited about moving forward. He felt that getting everyone to talk together was helping the process advance. He said he had two things on his mind.
First, Warpehoski had had some conversations over the last couple of days that reminded him of the need to think of the broader community. Obviously he had a responsibility to Ann Arbor, he continued, but he felt there was a danger of taking too narrow a view of that responsibility. He wanted to make sure that Ann Arbor gets value for the money it’s paying for transportation, but he did not want to have a bus that doesn’t go past US-23 – because that didn’t help a lot.
Second, Warpehoski offered a point of clarification to remarks by Michael Ford, who had characterized the March 28 meeting of the urban core communities as yielding a “roundabout consensus” in favor of improving and expanding transportation service. Warpehoski said what he himself had heard at the previous meeting was more of a “split consensus.” He’d heard a very strong consensus about the idea of the need to improve transit services. He’d also heard a strong desire to expand services, but also some uncertainty about how far people would be willing to go in that direction. The distinction between improving, and improving and expanding, is something that he saw as one of the questions before the group that evening.
Ann Arbor city councilmember Sabra Briere said that over the last month, most of the people who talked to her about transit are concerned about whether transit is convenient and quick. She’s been reading a lot about the need to rethink the way we see our community, she reported. One person she’d spoken with suggested that if a developer were allowed to build an apartment building with 500 bedrooms, there should be a requirement that a 500-car parking structure be built to go along with it. That idea had taken her aback, she reported, because it would not be possible to make such a requirement within the current zoning of the city. That’s because the resulting structure would simply be too tall.
And the person Briere was talking with had replied: Right, so they couldn’t build it! But Briere’s response was that the city would, in that case, have to change the zoning, if that much parking were required. She used the anecdote to illustrate the tension between increased mobility provided through individual vehicles versus public transportation.
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said he continued to be influenced by two main factors. The first is that a new generation is growing up that is not necessarily wedded to the automobile, he said. It’s something that he’s wanted for the city of Ann Arbor and in the region – the ability to live without a car. In the case of a family, he wanted that family to be able to live with just one, but not two cars.
A second factor that influenced Hieftje is that jobs are growing in the region, and specifically in the city of Ann Arbor. If jobs continue to grow, he continued, some transit puzzles need to be solved. There are about 68,000 people who now commute into the city of Ann Arbor every day, Hieftje said. If Ann Arbor is going to continue to grow jobs, then parking structures would need to be built.
The city of Ann Arbor had just finished a large parking structure [Library Lane on South Fifth Avenue] and the University of Michigan would be starting construction on a big one in about a month, Hieftje said [on Wall Street]. Since the year 2000, he contended, 3,000 new parking spaces had been constructed. But he said he would rather not build new parking structures. Hieftje also pointed to increased congestion during rush hour, saying that if nothing were done, then we were looking at gridlock in the year 2020.
Ann Arbor city councilmember Sally Petersen elaborated on Warpehoski’s thoughts about where the group of urban core communities stood consensus-wise. She felt it was perhaps somewhere between “improve” and “improve and expand.” She herself was leaning toward the “improve” side of things. She continued to hear from constituents the need to improve scheduling and logistics for the current service. She felt it was important to have the best model locally before talking about expanding it. It’s important first to take care of the needs of the current customer base, she said.
The current customer base, she continued, was anticipating additional needs. She pointed to Arbor Hills Crossing – a development located on the southeast corner of Platt and Washtenaw – which is expected to be completed in 6-9 months. It’s on the on edge of Ward 2 [which she represents] and Ward 3. The area is already congested, she said, and when Arbor Hills Crossing opens, a new traffic light is going in. She’s already getting calls, she reported: How will we take a left hand turn on Washtenaw Avenue? What does that mean for local service for the Arbor Hills neighborhood?
Petersen said she was happy that everyone was collaborating – because it’s better than the alternative, for sure. When it comes to expansion, the discussion had been about using purchase of service agreements (POSAs). Expanding beyond Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, she felt, could not happen without a realistic conversation about funding. Petersen said she was willing to have that conversation. But she wanted to proceed with caution.
Ann Arbor city councilmember Stephen Kunselman said he was pleased to be there: “In fact, I’m tickled to see the information in front of us that I have been talking about over the past year” – using a governance model with Act 55, and funding options that involve all the communities. Ultimately the responsibility falls on the Ann Arbor city council to amend the articles of incorporation.
Kunselman said he had always felt that because the city of Ann Arbor is the biggest stakeholder and contributes the most money to the AATA, Ann Arbor has greater responsibility. He appreciated what the other elected representatives had said. [Kunselman spoke last, having arrived a few minutes late.] He repeated something he’d also said at the March 28 meeting – that he’d been riding University of Michigan buses and AATA buses since he was six years old. He ventured it’ll still take some time to implement changes. A year had been taken up talking about a countywide authority and only now were communities talking about something that made a lot more sense, he said.
Kunselman appreciated the AATA’s staff work to compile information for this meeting. Ultimately it would be the voters who had to approve the funding, he noted – whether the city of Ann Arbor itself approves a Headlee override [restoring the transit millage from just over 2 mills to the original voter-authorized level of 2.5 mills] or the AATA asks for a millage. “We can talk about the need all we want, but the voters will have to be sold on the importance and the logistics and the sensibility of it.”
Opening Remarks: Saline
Mayor of Saline Brian Marl told the group that in the time since the previous meeting, he described his position as having only been strengthened. One of the main needs for the city of Saline is to connect to the Ann Arbor area with some kind of express service during key times of the day and the week, he said. The economic livelihood of many of his constituents depends on transportation to the city of Ann Arbor. And for better or for worse, a number of cultural amenities are located in Ann Arbor, which his constituents use, Marl said.
Marl had also had a number of conversations with residents in the Saline area over the last month, about expanding transit options for people in the community. He reported feeling that without more public transportation services, Saline risked losing constituents who would simply relocate somewhere else.
He supported having a robust discussion and dialogue, saying he felt there was a lot of merit to expanding service, but he allowed that “the devil is in the details.” Marl also noted that the representatives from Ypsilanti Township had been very articulate on this point – that there is also a need in the greater Saline community for some kind of dial-a-ride, or door-to-door service for the 65+ demographic.
Opening Remarks: Washtenaw County
Yousef Rabhi, chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, began by acknowledging Felicia Brabec in the audience, who also sits on the county board. [Brabec's district covers Pittsfield Township. Rabhi is one of the county commissioners from Ann Arbor.] He also pointed out that the two Washtenaw County appointees to the southeast Michigan regional transit Authority (RTA) were in attendance – Liz Gerber and Richard “Murph” Murphy. About the two, Rabhi said: “They are wonderful – they are, it’s true. Ask them yourselves!”
Rabhi indicated he was there to play a supportive role, and he wanted to ensure that the process moves along in a way that is both fair and that respects equity. He explained that the two terms might sound similar, but they are, in fact, different. He meant “fair” in the sense that people are contributing to the overall system and ensuring that there is fairness and how the millages are levied and how people contribute.
But there should also be “equity,” Rabhi continued, in the sense of ensuring that we have social equity in our region – that people who can’t afford to buy a car can still get to where they need to go, in order to work. That’s an issue that needs to be addressed, he said. He felt that Washtenaw County does a pretty decent job of that already, but that work needs to continue.
So Rabhi wanted to “lean on” the local leaders at the table to provide insight and direction to their communities. He allowed that he represented Ann Arbor on the Washtenaw County board, but noted that he was chair of the board of Washtenaw County – so he felt that the interests of the entire community need to be taken into consideration, as well as the interests of each individual community.
Opening Remarks: Townships
Pittsfield Township supervisor Mandy Grewal framed remarks in the context of the intrinsic link between transportation and land-use planning. She reported that the township board had recently adopted a new zoning ordinance. The new zoning ordinance is a comprehensive revision, and for the first time promotes dense development and calls for “centers” to be created in the township.
Grewal felt that the great regional plan that the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority had put together is something that needs to be kept in mind. That plan is focused on getting people from destination to destination and was not restricted to the geographic boundaries of jurisdictions, she noted. She felt that if the “nodes” in the county could be linked from one point to another, that would result in transit that is more usable and accessible to people. That would make for a more sustainable model of bus transit in Washtenaw County, she said. The land-use planning perspective, she reiterated, is a critical piece of creating a usable transportation system.
Ypsilanti Township supervisor Brenda Stumbo indicated that Ypsilanti Township was very appreciative of the city of Ypsilanti’s request to join the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority under Act 55. She observed that it had been a suggestion of Stephen Kunselman’s at the previous month’s meeting. “Thank you for moving the ball down the court,” she said.
Stumbo reported that Ypsilanti Township currently has a millage proposal for the August ballot that would address police and fire services. The need for the millage increase was due to a 35% drop in property values throughout the township, she said. After the fire and police millage, the township would turn its attention toward the possibility of a transportation millage.
The issue of transportation was something that needed to move forward, Stumbo said, and she felt that the city of Ann Arbor should lead the effort. The city of Ann Arbor had been a leader in environmental issues, planning issues, economic development, biosciences, and education. In order to make transportation a priority in the county, she felt it needed to come with the support and leadership of the city of Ann Arbor. She said that Ypsilanti Township is proud to be a part of that.
Stumbo felt that the economy has caused “the walls to come down” and to allow people to work together and sit at the same table. Ypsilanti Township was proud to be there and wanted to be a part of better transportation. “Transportation is not just for poor people,” she said. There are people who just need public transportation to get to their jobs, she said.
Stumbo lamented the fact that the issue had been just talked about for two years – which seemed a very long time to her. She hoped that this would not result in AATA staff becoming discouraged and leaving. She told the AATA staff that she did not want them to leave, saying “you guys are great.” She observed that some kind of millage request might come from the southeast Michigan regional transportation authority (RTA). But she felt it was important to give residents a chance to vote on any millage.
Ypsilanti Township clerk Karen Lovejoy Roe recalled how two years ago the AATA had managed to put a mix of people at the same table during several of the meetings connected to the countywide transit initiative. At one of the meetings, she’d sat with a top executive of Thomson Reuters, who’d told her that the company made decisions on location for new operations based on public transportation. She called Ann Arbor an “economic engine,” but said it doesn’t work if you can’t get to the jobs.
Like Stumbo, Lovejoy Roe noted that the tax base in the township had lost 35% of its value. But she pointed to some signs of recovery, saying that building permits are way up and that trend is continuing. She noted that south of Ford Lake, a considerable amount of development had taken place, but there is no transportation service.
It has become “cool” and culturally acceptable for young people to live without a car, Lovejoy Roe pointed out. She wanted people who wanted to live without a car to be able to stay in Ypsilanti Township.
Opening Remarks: City of Ypsilanti
Ypsilanti city councilmember Pete Murdock indicated he wouldn’t repeat all the reasons people had given for supporting public transportation, because he agreed with all the things people had said already. He observed that the city of Ypsilanti was in a somewhat unique position with respect to public transportation – having been in a partnership to provide public transportation since at least the 1970s. But like Ypsilanti Township, the city of Ypsilanti has had some hard times for the last 10 years at least.
Everyone would like to see improvements and expansion, Murdock said, but something needs to change even just to maintain service, he cautioned. The city of Ypsilanti doesn’t have the ability to raise more revenue through a general fund millage. So any additional millage would need to be enacted through some other kind of regional entity. Things would need to be planned a little better so there are not “Ypsi Routes” and “Saline Routes” and “Pittsfield Routes” and “Ann Arbor Routes” – because improvements in the city of Ann Arbor do benefit Ypsilanti residents. It’s the financial part of regional governance that’s most important to Ypsilanti at this point, Murdock concluded.
Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber echoed Murdock’s sentiment that the city of Ypsilanti has always been very supportive of public transit. A lot of people rely on public transit to get between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor for work, he said – pointing out as an example that half of the employees of Zingerman’s [in Ann Arbor] live in Ypsilanti. He has friends who sometimes drive to Ann Arbor and other times take the bus, depending on what they’re doing that day, he said.
Schreiber described Ypsilanti as really in a “funding box.” That meant that the city of Ypsilanti has reached the 20-mill state constitutional limit for a home rule city. The city of Ypsilanti can’t ask voters for more millage money for its general fund. Of the 20 mills, .9879 mills is dedicated for transit, Schreiber said. Voters had approved that millage in 2010 by a vote of 3:1, which he described as a “huge margin.” That’s huge support for transit, Schreiber said.
When the Act 196 countywide effort fell apart last year, Schreiber was glad that the Ann Arbor city council included in its resolution [that opted out of the new authority] the direction to the AATA to continue conversations with the urban core communities. Schreiber indicated he had been very encouraged by the March 28 meeting, saying “Ypsilanti has to do something to get more funding for transit.” The only option Ypsilanti has, he continued, is to join some type of authority. “There’s an authority around already, and it’s called the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.” He noted that under Act 55, which was the incorporating legislation, there is a way to add additional municipalities.
Adding Ypsilanti, Schreiber explained, involved the Ypsilanti city council passing a resolution asking the AATA board to approve a request for membership. The next step after the request would be for the entities involved to start amending the articles of incorporation. So on Tuesday [April 23] the Ypsilanti city council had passed a unanimous resolution requesting that the city of Ypsilanti be allowed to join the AATA.
If Ypsilanti’s membership goes through – and Schreiber hoped it does – it “puts a big stake” on the eastern side of the county – and immediately goes from being an Ann Arbor transportation authority to an Ann Arbor area transportation authority. He drew a parallel to the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. This step would open the doors to regional cooperation and to improving the service between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, but also opens the door to expansion.
However, communities need to expand “at their own pace,” Schreiber said, and they have to prioritize. For the city of Ypsilanti right now, the timing is good to request membership. He also agreed with Stumbo’s remarks that Ann Arbor really is an economic driver. Ypsilanti is lucky to be able to ask for membership in the AATA, he said. Schreiber felt that another thing that would help is to have longer purchase of service agreements (POSAs) – instead of relying on annual agreements. It was important to have, say, five-year agreements so that the AATA board could plan new routes without having to worry about how much revenue was coming in year to year.
Schreiber appreciated the continued effort to meet. He felt that the Ypsilanti city council might not have passed its resolution requesting membership in the AATA if the urban core meetings hadn’t taken place. He thanked the Ann Arbor city council for asking people to continue to meet.
Opening Remarks: Dexter
Village of Dexter trustee Jim Carson told the group that even though the village of Dexter is not included in any of the possible organizational themes, he appreciated being a part of the conversation. Dexter is in the Ann Arbor urban area, he observed, and supports public transportation. Dexter residents support public transportation, which was demonstrated during the district advisory meetings that took place as part of the 2012 countywide transit effort.
Carson said that whatever happens, at some point the village of Dexter will benefit. He pointed out that Dexter already had some public transportation in the form of the Western-Washtenaw Area Value Express (WAVE). Carson noted that in addition to being a village trustee, he serves on the WAVE board. Dexter had helped that service grow. Dexter has some door-to-door service and some lifeline service through the WAVE, he noted, but would like more of it.
The materials provided to attendees of the March 28 meeting sketch out some of features of additional transportation services that the AATA could be in a position to offer, given additional funding. [.pdf of March 28, 2013 meeting packet]
For Ann Arbor, two broad categories of additional service are improvements to the west side of Ann Arbor, and improvements in the connection eastward to Ypsilanti, through Pittsfield and Ypsilanti townships. On the west side of town, changes to the service contemplated by the AATA include:
- Route 8 Pauline: More frequent peak, extended hours.
- Route 9 Jackson: Becomes two new routes (B, C), providing greater coverage, extended hours and improved evening frequency.
- Route 12 Miller/Liberty: Becomes three new routes (A, D, G) providing greater coverage and extended hours.
- Route 15 Scio Church/W. Stadium: Becomes two new routes (E, F) providing greater coverage, extended hours and improved midday frequency.
- Route 16 Ann Arbor-Saline and Route 17 Amtrak-Depot St: Extended hours.
For connections on the east side of town, service improvements being considered by the AATA focused on extending hours and increasing frequency, with some service being made more direct (express):
- Routes 1 Pontiac-DhuVarren: Extended hours.
- Route 3 Plymouth: More direct, extended hours.
- Route 4 Washtenaw: More frequent all day long, extended hours.
- Route 5 Packard: More frequent evenings, extended hours.
- Route 6 Ellsworth: More frequent peak, extended hours.
- Route 22 North-South: Extended hours.
For the Ypsilanti Township, expanded service could include:
- New and extended routes serving residential areas, commercial areas, the district library and Ypsilanti Civic Center.
- New ExpressRide service to downtown Ann Arbor and University of Michigan.
- New Park and Ride Lot in the vicinity of Huron St. and I-94.
- Township-wide dial-a-ride services for seniors, people with disabilities, and the general public, including connections to neighboring communities.
For Pittsfield Township and the city of Saline, expanded transportation services would be similar in nature to those that would be possible for Ypsilanti Township:
- New and extended routes serving residential areas, downtown Saline, Briarwood, Walmart, Meijer, Pittsfield Township offices and others.
- New ExpressRide service to downtown Ann Arbor and University of Michigan.
- New Park and Ride Lots at Meijer, Walmart and in the vicinity of Carpenter Road and I-94.
- Township-wide dial-a-ride services for seniors, people with disabilities, and the general public, including connections to neighboring communities.
At the April 25 urban core meeting, Jerry Lax – the AATA outside legal counsel – reviewed some of the options available for new governance. He began by anchoring the conversation with the existing arrangement: The AATA is an authority incorporated under Act 55 of 1963, which does not itself levy any taxes. [.pdf of April 25, 2013 meeting packet]
The main local funding sources for AATA services is through a perpetual millage levied by the city of Ann Arbor – initially authorized at a level of 2.5 mills, but reduced through a Headlee rollback to just over 2 mills. Ypsilanti also levies a millage dedicated to transit, which was authorized in 2010 – for .9879 mills. Other local funding for AATA services comes from purchase of service agreements (POSAs) with other jurisdictions. The Ypsilanti millage, for example, is put toward the Ypsilanti POSA.
A summary of the various options:
- Current governance: AATA with multiple POSAs. AATA could levy a new millage, which would apply just to Ann Arbor. Or the city of Ann Arbor could ask Ann Arbor voters to approve a Headlee override to the existing transit millage, restoring it to the original level of 2 mills. That would mean an increase of about 0.5 mills.
- Ypsilanti joins AATA (possibly becoming Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Transportation Authority) and other jurisdictions contract for service through POSA. If the new AAYTA levied a millage, it would apply to both member jurisdictions, including Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. The existing charter millages levied by the two cities would remain in place and flow to the AAYTA.
- AATA remains the same authority but provides additional services under contract with a new “collar authority” consisting of Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township, and the city of Saline. There are various ways to form a “collar authority”: Act 196, Act 55, or simply through Act 7. One downside to forming an agreement under Act 7 is that the arrangement would have no power to ask voters to approve a millage.
- Expanded new transit authority consisting of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township, and the city of Saline. The options for governance would be similar to those under (3): Act 196, Act 55, or through Act 7.
By way of more background on Ypsilanti’s now pending request of the AATA to join – under option (2) – the request would be made under a provision of Act 55 of 1963, under which the AATA was originally incorporated. [.pdf of AATA articles of incorporation] [.pdf of Act 55 of 1963] Admission of Ypsilanti as a member would require a majority vote by the AATA board. It would also require that the articles of incorporation for the AATA be amended – which might require action by the Ann Arbor city council.
Act 55 states: “If a political subdivision joins the authority, the board shall amend the articles of incorporation accordingly.” In the past, however, it’s been through a resolution of the Ann Arbor city council that the articles of incorporation have been amended. In that case, the number of board members was increased to seven.
The cost of the additional services that the AATA could be in a position to offer are roughly divided into three basic sets of services: maintain, improve, improve and expand. [.pdf of March 28, 2013 meeting packet]
The group’s discussion at the April 25 meeting was grounded on the cost for the “fully-loaded” scenario of “improve and expand.” That set of additional new services would cost a combined $5.483 million.
If a uniform millage were levied across all five jurisdictions (Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township, and the city of Saline), then it would need to be a tax of 0.706 mills to cover the $5.483 million [One mill is a dollar for every $1,000 of taxable value.] On governance models where the jurisdictions were a part of the same transit authority, the millage rate would need to be uniform across all member jurisdictions.
If a jurisdiction contracted with the AATA under a POSA – instead of joining the AATA – then the uniform millage rate would not be an issue. Under a POSA, the question is less about the millage rate, and more about the cost charged to the jurisdiction by the AATA to provide the service. If a jurisdiction wanted itself to levy a millage to cover its POSA cost, it could simply calibrate the millage rate to cover the exact cost.
If every jurisdiction contracted for service from the AATA under a POSA, then the cost analysis is important, because it determines the exact cost a jurisdiction pays. Under a uniform millage approach, the amount a jurisdiction pays is settled through the millage rate. But the cost analysis is still important, because it allows a resident of a jurisdiction to evaluate the equity of the arrangement: How much in transportation services am I getting in return for my transportation dollar?
Discussion at the April 25 meeting centered on this question of equity, based on different cost methodology. [.pdf of equity analysis] Using the numbers provided by the AATA, The Chronicle has developed a visual representation of the four different ways of calculating cost, and the resulting equity for the jurisdictions on the assumption of a uniform millage.
Blue shaded bars are the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Pittsfield and Ypsilanti townships are red-shaded bars. And the black bar is the city of Saline. The 0 on the vertical scale means that the ratio of benefit to revenue is 1:1. A positive bar means that a jurisdiction gets more benefit (services with greater cost) than the jurisdiction would contribute under a uniform millage. A negative bar means a jurisdiction gets less benefit (services costing less) than the contribution of that jurisdiction in a uniform millage.
From left to right, the four ways of calculating cost are: (1) service hours; (2) population; (3) increase in access to transit; and (4) resident-benefit based approach. The fourth way of calculating the cost was unveiled for the first time at the April 25 meeting.
In the course of the discussion, AATA strategic planner Michael Benham briefly alluded to consideration of the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti as one “unit.” Extending that idea to considering the two townships as a single unit yields the following visual representation:
AATA strategic planner Michael Benham describes how he’d had a conversation with an AATA board member in which the board member had insisted on an answer from Benham to the question: Of these funding approaches, what do you recommend? Benham reported that he’d responded by saying it’s a political discussion, not a technical discussion. But the board member had pressed him: But what do you recommend? So Benham passed out a sheet, which he hesitated to call a recommendation – because there are issues of value, and there are political issues, which “planner-technician” types like him didn’t necessarily feel totally comfortable dealing with. The sheet was nevertheless, he said, as close to a “recommendation” as they could get. And that was what the sheet called the “equitable distribution of costs.”
Benham said AATA staff had sifted through the various options that had been presented to the urban core group and then did things a little differently in what they were calling a “resident-benefit based approach.” In some of the other approaches, costs for the express services that are serving primarily the two townships had been distributed across all five jurisdictions – “just because it’s clean,” and based on a service-hour approach, Benham explained.
They decided not to do that, Benham said, and to take a different approach that basically assigned the cost of those express services to the townships. The origins of the riders of the services would be from the townships – so the cost of the express services would be assigned to the townships. He allowed that those riders would be arriving in Ann Arbor and providing benefit in Ann Arbor – but under this resident-benefit based model, those costs would be assigned to the townships. The cost of new dial-a-ride services that are based in the townships were also assigned to the townships or the city of Saline, respectively. Benham explained that the various models of cost assignment shared the basic idea that the number of miles of regular, non-express fixed-route service inside a jurisdiction was a factor in assigning cost to that jurisdiction.
Benham then explained that staff then assumed a uniform millage would be applied across all jurisdictions, and used that for the different models to compute a ratio for each jurisdiction: [cost of service]/[revenue contributed]. If a jurisdiction got exactly $1 back in service for every $1 of funding contributed, then that would be 100%. A percentage less than 100 would mean that a jurisdiction gets back less in services than it contributes. Similarly, a percentage greater than 100 would mean that a jurisdiction gets back more in services than it contributes.
Under the resident-benefit approach, Pittsfield Township supervisor Mandy Grewal asked if it would be fair to say that out of $1 the township would be contributing in millage funds, it would be getting back $0.79 in services. Benham allowed that was accurate, but also noted that none of the calculations he was presenting accounted for the state and federal funding that would be “attracted” by each dollar that is spent.
Benham said that AATA staff were pleased to see that variations in the differences were reduced greatly compared to the other approaches, saying that it had “leveled the playing field” in terms of equity. In the case of Ypsilanti, he allowed, the benefit is a bit higher. For Ann Arbor, he said, it’s a bit lower. But if you consider the two as a unit you start to approach parity, he said.
Grewal pointed out that Pittsfield Township, on the resident-benefit approach, has the least parity – at 79%.
But Benham came back to his point that the resident-benefit based approach came closer to being an equitable model than anything else that had been considered. Benham said that rather than simply presenting the range of options, AATA staff had been asked to present something that could be a potential solution, and let that be the starting point for the conversation about the “difficult issue of equity.”
Ypsilanti city councilmember Pete Murdock drew out the fact that the costs considered for the analysis were the additional costs – for both the “improve” and “expand” service improvements – above and beyond any existing revenues.
Ann Arbor city councilmember Sabra Briere said it’s easy to focus on apparent disparities. She compared the transit that goes through Pittsfield to the transit that has Pittsfield as a destination. She asked what could be changed in the service plan to improve transit to the township. The potential benefits to Ann Arbor at 85% parity didn’t sound like it takes into account the existing benefit that Ann Arbor is already getting, she said.
Benham confirmed that the focus of discussion was new costs of service. Briere observed that a lot of the existing transit for Ann Arbor was already accessible within a 1/4-mile walk and there was little opportunity for improvement on that metric. But in Pittsfield Township, for example, that kind of improvement had more potential. So Briere wanted to know what service changes could be made to bring more parity for Pittsfield.
Benham told Briere that AATA staff was relatively pleased with the amount of parity that had been achieved – but it was up to elected officials now to talk about the relative benefits of connecting communities. Elected officials could talk about whether some of the remaining “lack of parity” might be justified. As a planner or a technical person, Benham said, he didn’t have much more to add to the conversation. He felt it needed to be a discussion among the elected officials for a community to pay a little more relative to what they are getting, because there’s some intangible benefit related to the benefit of being connected.
By way of additional background, at the March 28 meeting, Ann Arbor city councilmember Stephen Kunselman had talked about the fact that everyone knew that improvements in Ann Arbor service would have a spillover benefit to Ypsilanti, which he supported. He expressed less enthusiasm for that same kind of spillover extending to wealthier townships. Also at that meeting, Ann Arbor city councilmember Chuck Warpehoski had expressed a willingness to be somewhat ”fuzzy” with respect to equity, saying he didn’t see it as necessarily desirable to try to insist on a reckoning down to the penny.
At the April 25 meeting, Grewal was keen to see a breakdown for a comprehensive figure that included all the existing services and revenues, not just the cost of new services.
Benham told Grewal that AATA staff could provide that additional, more refined analysis – because that was the staff’s job. As far as the equity issue, however, that was a discussion elected officials should have.
Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber came back to Grewal’s point that the information being presented at that meeting covered the additional costs that would come from additional services – and did not include the existing services or revenues. He also suggested that benefit could be measured in terms of parking structures: How many more parking structures would you have to build if you did not increase transit? He pointed out that for Ypsilanti, for the resident-benefit based approach, the numbers didn’t look too much different from the population based approach.
Schreiber alluded to comments that representatives from Ann Arbor had made at both the March 28 and the April 25 meetings – that there would be increased congestion and parking structures or additional public transit. Briere ventured the latest average figure for parking structure construction was in the neighborhood of $42,000 per space.
Thoughts on Next Steps
Ann Arbor city councilmember Chuck Warpehoski appreciated the effort to create the estimates based on a resident-benefit approach. He characterized the challenge of pulling out specific services for different allocations as “tricky.” He followed up on Schreiber’s comments to the effect that not all of the value was necessarily captured, even with that approach.
Warpehoski floated the idea of a senior citizen in a township using dial-a-ride service to the Necto night club in downtown Ann Arbor: Ann Arbor gets some of the value from that. What was common to all the approaches, Warpehoski said, is that they are all approximations of understanding value. It looks very precise to say 79% or 85%, he said, but it’s actually not that precise.
When he looked at the costs, the $2.727 million – an allocation of cost based on population – would equate to about 0.6 mills for the city of Ann Arbor. For him personally, the improvements along the Washtenaw Avenue corridor are important and add value to Ann Arbor above and beyond the services that are offered specifically in Ann Arbor. So he was willing to “go north of” 0.6 mills in terms of the amount of value the city of Ann Arbor was getting. This opens up options, not just for governance and funding – but also for the service plan. He suggested that equity could also be adjusted through adjusting actual service.
Warpehoski indicated that participants at the March 28 meeting had expressed some apprehension about coming up with a number. For him, he felt that Ann Arbor would be “fairly served” at a millage-equivalent at around 0.65 – assuming other communities are buying in.
Asked what they thought their voters would support, other elected officials were mixed but overall somewhat supportive.
Saline mayor Brian Marl indicated he was being intentionally reticent. He said he had a hard-and-fast rule that when he was presented with data for the first time, he wanted to take some time and absorb it. He felt he wanted to check back with the Saline city council to determine what the preferred path would be for governance and funding.
Ann Arbor city councilmember Sally Petersen said for Ann Arbor it’s important to define what improved service really means: Is it more buses? Buses later at night? What does improved service look like that you’re asking Ann Arbor residents to pay for?
Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber reiterated that Ypsilanti would like to join the existing Act 55 AATA, and become a part of the urban transportation network. He allowed that Ypsilanti was already a part of the network, but would now like to be recognized as a part of it. Whatever Ann Arbor came up with, he pointed out, if you put the voters of Ann Arbor together with those of Ypsilanti, there’s a 6:1 ratio of population. So in a millage vote, he said, “obviously, Ann Arbor is going to be calling the shots here. But you’ll have a supportive partner in whatever you decide.”
Townships would need to pursue things at their own pace, Schreiber allowed. But he thought the fact that Route #4 on Washtenaw Avenue had increase ridership by 30% by increasing frequency of service showed that the urban core could be improved as a first step.
Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje picked up on Petersen’s remarks, saying that voters are very savvy and will break down any proposal and see what they’re getting for their money. Some benefits would require more explaining, he ventured. He sees a benefit from people riding buses into work instead of driving – which addresses the need to build parking structures. He hadn’t heard anybody stand up yet and say they don’t want job growth.
On governance, Hieftje said he would entertain a proposal of expanding the board from seven to nine members, with one of the two additional representatives from Ypsilanti – chosen by Ypsilanti. He also felt that having two additional representatives would help spread out the workload.
Petersen wondered if it might be appropriate to have two Ypsilanti appointees. Hieftje indicated he felt that would require mutual discussion on the part of both communities.
Ann Arbor city councilmember Sabra Briere observed that the current transportation model is geared toward commuters. That’s a benefit for Ann Arbor, she said, because she doesn’t want to build more parking structures. “There’s a significant benefit – if we can’t imprison people within city lines – to providing bus service from other communities into Ann Arbor so they can work in Ann Arbor.” But a lot of people who want to get rid of their only car or get rid of their second car, really want to have transit that works for them, she noted – not to go downtown, but to go to non-employment destinations.
As examples of those non-employment destinations, Briere gave Meijer on Carpenter Road or Lowes, or the doctor, or the Kroger on South Maple – saying that people want to get to non-employment destinations in an efficient way. And that means they really want a broader service than one that requires that they go downtown first. It would be really good when talking about service improvements within the city to talk about the idea that “You can get there from here,” she said.
Warpehoski noted that he’d heard his council colleague Stephen Kunselman talk about wanting to see an incremental approach to this. A pathway to that incremental approach, Warpehoski said, would be for Ypsilanti to join the AATA. That would give a way to start improving urban core collaboration funding and improving services. He’d heard Ypsilanti Township officials say that they’re interesting in participating, but not interested in putting a millage in front of their voters at this time. [Warpehoski had observed that the representatives from both the townships had needed to depart from the meeting by this point.]
So the next step he saw was for a “coalition of the willing” to act, adding quickly: “I’m willing!” He felt the next step should be an Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti coordinated effort, and then build step-by-step from there.
Washtenaw County board chair Yousef Rabhi felt that some of these discussions would be valuable to have on an individual basis, too. He appreciated the planner’s perspective of wanting to take a systemwide approach, but in each community different voters will have different tolerances for paying for different things. Different voters will have different willingness to share in the greater system or protect their money for their services, he noted.
It’s important to be informed by the leaders of the communities who want to participate in the process, Rabhi continued, because they’ll know what their constituents’ level of comfort is for participation in the process. It’d be good to know what a community is thinking before you give them a model of what you believe they should be thinking.
Hieftje felt there was some urgency to establish funding for keeping the robust routes between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. He did not know why Ann Arbor would not take Ypsilanti’s request to join the AATA to heart. Based on the Ann Arbor city council’s schedule of work in May, when it would be focused on the FY 2014 budget, by June Hieftje felt the council could turn its attention to the question of Ypsilanti joining the AATA. He said it might be important to be able to put a millage proposal before the voters as early as November 2013. He noted that if something were to be put on the ballot for November, he expected that decision would come in the third week of August or so.
Marl indicated that his approach for Saline would be to review the material thoroughly and then check back with the Saline city council. He felt it would be a good idea for the AATA staff to come to the Saline city council for a working session on the topic.
Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, wrapped up by saying that the AATA wanted to keep the process moving – they didn’t want to let it die. There’s a need for transit services, he said, and it’s possible to talk about it. But people really need the services. It’d be a shame if a commitment couldn’t be made to make that happen, he said.
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