Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (May 16, 2013): Possible membership for the city of Ypsilanti in the AATA was a main theme of the board’s monthly meeting.
Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber attended the meeting in support of the city’s request for membership, and the board unanimously passed a resolution acknowledging the request. The resolution also directed staff to prepare for a detailed discussion on the issue at the board’s planning retreat, scheduled for May 22. Board members were positively inclined toward the request, but wanted to be sure that due diligence is done to ensure all the implications are understood.
Because the addition of the city of Ypsilanti would require revision to the AATA’s articles of incorporation, there’s some interest by some board members in approaching the changes in a way that could accommodate the addition of more members than just the city of Ypsilanti. It’s possible that Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township or other jurisdictions might request membership in the near future. A more comprehensive approach to revising the articles, or delaying until all jurisdictions are admitted to the AATA at one time, could eliminate the need to revise the articles multiple times in quick succession.
The possible membership of Ypsilanti in the AATA is part of an effort to continue working with “urban core” communities in the immediate Ann Arbor area – after a more ambitious effort to extend AATA governance and services countywide in the summer of 2012 failed to gain traction.
A revision to the articles of incorporation would likely include a change in the AATA board membership structure. Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje had indicated he’d support adding two seats to the current seven-member board, with one of the two additional seats to be appointed by the city of Ypsilanti.
Related to board membership, the May 16 meeting included a resolution of appreciation for the service of Jesse Bernstein on the board. He concluded a five-year term of service in April. Susan Baskett, currently an AAPS trustee, has been nominated as his replacement on the board. If she’s confirmed at the Ann Arbor city council’s May 20 meeting, she’ll join Eric Mahler as another new appointment. Mahler’s appointment to replace David Nacht was subjected to political wrangling at the council’s May 13 session, but he was confirmed on a 7-4 vote.
Ypsilanti Membership in AATA
The board was asked to consider a formal resolution acknowledging a request from the city of Ypsilanti to join the AATA.
By way of background, at the Ypsilanti city council’s April 23 meeting, councilmembers had made a formal request to join the AATA under the transit authority’s existing enabling legislation – Act 55 of 1963. For the city of Ypsilanti, joining the AATA represents a new way to generate more funding for transportation. Because the city already levies property taxes 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 state constitutional limit that Ypsilanti already levies. The city of Ypsilanti and the city of Ann Arbor each have a millage dedicated to transit, which is not levied by the AATA itself.
Adding Ypsilanti to the AATA would also require the cooperation of the Ann Arbor city council – to amend the AATA’s articles of incorporation. At a meeting of the urban core communities held on April 25, 2013, Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje indicated his support for the idea, suggesting that the seven-member AATA board could be expanded to nine seats, one of which would be appointed by the city of Ypsilanti.
Meetings among nearby surrounding jurisdictions – including the cities of Ypsilanti and Saline, and the townships of Ypsilanti and Pittsfield – have continued after the demise of an effort in 2012 to expand the AATA’s service and governance area to the entire county. The smaller group of government units has been presented with a set of increased services and various funding and governance options. Among those options is the possibility of Ypsilanti and other nearby jurisdictions joining the AATA.
At the May 7, 2013 meeting of the AATA board’s planning and development committee, a rough outline of possible steps toward Ypsilanti’s membership was discussed. From the committee minutes:
- Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber would meet with the Ann Arbor city council to discuss the request to join the Authority;
- AATA would then adopt a resolution supporting Ypsilanti’s request and send it to the Ann Arbor city council;
- The Articles of Incorporation would need to be modified to include Ypsilanti, and then be sent to City Council;
- AATA would then ask the City Council to approve and file the Articles of Incorporation.
Ypsilanti Membership in AATA: Mayor Schreiber
During the public commentary period at the start of the meeting, city of Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber told the board he was there for a couple of reasons. First he noted that the Ypsilanti city council had unanimously passed a resolution requesting membership in the AATA. He appreciated the resolution on the AATA board’s agenda saying the AATA had received the request. There are a number of things that indicate Ypsilanti is very serious about being a partner in transit. The request for membership in the AATA is just one of those indications, he said.
What membership does for Ypsilanti is to make Ypsilanti a “player,” and what it does for the AATA board, he continued, is to give the AATA a stake in the eastern side of Washtenaw County. He noted that the AATA had been working hard over the last couple of years toward becoming more of a regional authority. Schreiber felt that Ypsilanti’s membership would be a small but solid step toward AATA being a regional authority. So he hoped that the AATA would accept the request for Ypsilanti’s membership. The diversification of the AATA with the addition of Ypsilanti, Schreiber said, will help “move the ball along” with other communities and really help create some momentum toward transit improvements.
Schreiber also noted that earlier that day, the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority board had passed a resolution allocating $20,000 to improvements at the Ypsilanti downtown transit center. Compared to the Ann Arbor DDA, he allowed, $20,000 might not seem like very much, but it’s 4% of the Ypsilanti DDA’s annual budget. That, along with the 3-to-1 margin of voter approval for Ypsilanti’s dedicated transit millage in 2010, were signs that Ypsilanti is very serious. He looked forward to working with the AATA board to make a stronger and more regional AATA.
Ypsilanti Membership in AATA: PDC Committee Response
In her report out from the planning and development committee, Sue Gott said the committee had discussed the Ypsilanti resolution. She felt she spoke for her colleagues when she said they were all pleased and felt positive about the resolution and moving in that direction. However, committee members wanted more information and background to make a careful fiduciary decision when it comes to proposing board action.
Ypsilanti Membership in AATA: CEO’s Response
During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford thanked the Ypsilanti DDA for the $20,000 contribution to the Ypsilanti transit center and thanked Schreiber for Ypsilanti’s request to join the AATA. He noted that the governance committee of the AATA board had met to discuss Ypsilanti’s membership. He noted that there would be more discussion of that at the board’s retreat the following week, on May 22.
Ypsilanti Membership in AATA: Board Deliberations
Charles Griffith said that while the AATA is very interested in Ypsilanti’s membership and thinks very positively about it, there are still some questions that need to be addressed and talked about during the board retreat the following week. Griffith said the AATA also wants to have more discussion with other community partners who are in various stages of interest in terms of joining the AATA. [For example, Ypsilanti Township might be interested but township officials have indicated that the timing might not be right.] Griffith felt the resolution being considered by the board gave a good sense of the AATA’s interest and intent.
Roger Kerson appreciated Schreiber and his colleagues putting the issue on the AATA’s agenda. Kerson called it reflective of the discussion over time – about how to expand the AATA’s service and how to meet the community’s needs of getting people to work, school and shopping areas. Kerson called the conversation about the addition of Ypsilanti consistent with the Ann Arbor city council mandate to continue the AATA’s discussion with surrounding communities.
Eli Cooper added his thanks to Schreiber and the Ypsilanti city council, and echoed what Griffith and Kerson had said. It’s important to note that “Travel does not respect jurisdictional boundaries,” he said. He said the consideration of adding Ypsilanti as a member was a giant step forward. The Ann Arbor area needs a strong transportation system and the idea of acknowledging the request and getting a better understanding of what it means to everyone is fundamentally important, he said. It’s important that as the AATA grows, it grows properly. Growth should take place with the right thought in mind and with the support of all involved parties, Cooper said. He’d be supporting the resolution and looked forward to the more detailed discussion that would follow. “It’s an exciting moment in time when we have a community wanting to join us and that we can make sure that we’re doing it in the best way possible,” Cooper concluded.
Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the resolution acknowledging the city of Ypsilanti’s request to join the AATA.
Ypsilanti Membership in AATA: Schreiber – Coda
Schreiber followed up with a turn at public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, saying he appreciated the board’s unanimous support in acknowledgment of Ypsilanti’s request. He reiterated the point that Ypsilanti had pledged the full transit millage to the AATA, which voters passed by a 3-to-1 margin in 2010. There’s due diligence that needs to be done to determine what the future looks like with Ypsilanti as a member, he allowed. Schreiber thought that adding more transit will cause property values to go up, and therefore the revenue from Ypsilanti’s transit millage would increase.
Farewell to Bernstein
AATA board member Jesse Bernstein attended his final regular meeting of the board on April 18, 2013. At the May 16 meeting, his former board colleagues approved a resolution acknowledging his five-year term of service, which began on June 16, 2008. Bernstein was not able to attend the meeting.
The resolution of appreciation approved by the board highlighted Bernstein’s turn as chair of the board, chair of the performance monitoring and external relations committee, and the executive search committee that resulted in the hire of CEO Michael Ford. The resolution also called out his role in the development of the AATA’s transit master plan and his service as chair of the unincorporated Act 196 authority board, which was part of an effort that culminated in the incorporation of that authority as The Washtenaw Ride, in the summer of 2012.
The Washtenaw Ride was an effort that ultimately found almost no traction, as municipalities across the county exercised their right under Act 196 to opt out of the authority after it was incorporated. The city of Ann Arbor, which had been expected to lead the countywide effort, opted out at the Nov. 8, 2012 meeting of the city council. Since that time, a more limited geographic focus on the “urban core” communities has resulted in a formal request from the city of Ypsilanti to join the AATA.
Board chair Charles Griffith noted at the May 16 board meeting that Susan Baskett has been nominated by mayor John Hieftje as Bernstein’s replacement on the AATA board. Baskett currently serves on the board of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, an elected position. The city council will be asked to confirm Baskett’s appointment at its May 20 meeting.
It’s possible that her appointment could be subjected to debate by the council. On May 13, the council approved Eric Mahler as David Nacht’s replacement on the AATA board on a 7-4 vote. Compared to typical votes on appointments, which are often unanimous, Mahler’s appointment was confirmed by a relatively narrow margin. At the May 16 board meeting, Griffith noted that Mahler had been confirmed by the city council, but Griffith didn’t remark on the dissenting vote.
The reasons given by dissenters for voting against Mahler included the idea that it’s important to widen the pool of members across all city boards. Mahler is finishing his second three-year term on the city planning commission – but he will not continue in that role. Dissenters also alluded to an alternate candidate they felt could represent the disability community better than Mahler.
The alternate candidate, LuAnne Bullington, has been a vocal critic of the AATA’s efforts to develop regional rail connections. The council’s debate, however, seemed focused more on issues of board candidates’ status as minorities or members of the disability community. Mahler and Baskett are both African American. Bullington is visually impaired.
Mahler was not able to attend his first scheduled meeting on May 16 due to illness, according to AATA staff.
Farewell to Bernstein: Board Remarks
After reading aloud the resolution acknowledging Jesse Bernstein’s service, board chair Charles Griffith said he was sorry Bernstein couldn’t be there to hear it. Bernstein had really committed a lot to the AATA, he said. Griffith really appreciated Bernstein’s leadership and appreciated serving on the board with him.
Roger Kerson said he appreciated Bernstein’s leadership, guidance and wisdom. When he reported out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee earlier in the meeting, Kerson said he missed the other two committee members Jesse Bernstein and David Nacht, who have now left the board. He quipped that he hadn’t needed his referee’s whistle at the most recent committee meeting, which consisted only of himself.
Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the resolution of appreciation for Bernstein’s service.
Regional Transit Authority
The southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA), created at the end of 2012 during the lame duck session of the state legislature, was a topic that threaded through several points of the board’s discussion. The RTA includes Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties, and the city of Detroit.
RTA: Source of Funding – LBO
During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford said that the committees of the newly formed regional transit authority (RTA) were now active. The AATA had a presence at all the committees. He said that the RTA’s budget and finance committee was considering use of the state’s local bus operating (LBO) assistance to fund the RTA’s administrative operations. The AATA had received written notice about that from the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT), which indicated that less than 2% of operating expenses for the region might be sought. On May 29, AATA would be appearing before that RTA committee to report how the RTA’s use of those LBO funds would affect AATA’s operations.
In his report from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson noted that the RTA did need some kind of funding source. It’s still not clear how that’s going to work out. The AATA would continue to monitor whether the RTA would receive a small portion of what the AATA would ordinarily receive, and if that would wind up in the RTA’s coffers. He noted that it was important that the AATA is represented in all of the RTA’s committee structures.
Also during his report to the board, Ford said that language was being finalized in a state funding bill that would restore funding from the LBO that the AATA had lost last year, which had resulted in the AATA revising its budget to accommodate about $800,000 less in revenues. Ford said at the May 16 meeting that there’s currently a funding bill that would restore funding to the 30.6% level – which would return $800,000 to $900,000 to the AATA. It’s hoped that the bill would start to move through the legislature this week and that action would be taken on it before the recess in June, he said. [The AATA is currently maintaining slightly less than the 3-month operating reserve it's supposed to maintain. A recovery of $800,000 would bring those operating reserve levels back in line – the amount needed to conform with that policy is around $230,000.]
Eli Cooper observed that there was an ebb and flow of funding from the state. On the one hand, the AATA was hearing about the restoration of state funds from last year, but at the same time they were hearing that funds from that same funding source might be “re-guided” to the RTA. He wanted to know if the combined mathematics worked out as more for the AATA or less going forward.
AATA staff member Bill De Groot told Cooper that right now it’s difficult to say – given the difference in time between the approval of Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget and the RTA’s initial discussion. He said more would be known in the next two weeks.
Cooper observed that the AATA had tried to tighten its belt in order to provide service to the Ann Arbor community with the resources it has.
RTA: Commuter Express Service
Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations, Roger Kerson said the AATA is continuing to look at funding options for its commuter express services from Chelsea and Canton. The AATA does not want to continue to offer the service without additional financial support from the communities where the service is originating. Kerson reported that the AATA has heard from Canton that they’re not interested in participating. The service needs to be self-supporting rather than being subsidized by Ann Arbor taxpayers, Kerson said.
Eli Cooper linked the RTA issue with Kerson’s report about Canton, saying that the RTA had been designed as a way to support inter-community transportation. He asked that AATA staff inquire whether RTA were a resource available to assure that there’s a cost-competitive and proactive stance to moving people from one part of the region to another. As the RTA looks for things that it can do, the express commuter service is perhaps something it could do. The AATA’s operation of the service, he said, has a fare-box recovery ratio of about double what the regular fixed-route service has. He called it a difficult policy decision to put an increased burden on the backs of the ridership.
Ford assured Cooper that this kind of conversation with the RTA was high on the AATA staff’s agenda.
Sue Gott picked up on Cooper’s remarks by linking back to a request she’d made earlier in the meeting for a clearer understanding of staff work load. She contrasted staff time invested in transportation service versus administrative activity. What she was hearing indicated a lot of demand for administrative staff time with respect to the RTA. She was concerned about not redirecting valuable and precious staff time away from other important duties. Ford indicated that he thought it was appropriate for the AATA to be represented at all the RTA committee meetings, but would provide Gott with a more detailed breakdown.
RTA: Citizens Advisory Committee
Board chair Charles Griffith noted that the RTA’s citizens advisory committee is being formed and inquired if there were a list of possible candidates. Ford told Griffith that there was some kind of list.
Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary
At its May 16 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: Board Retreat
During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford highlighted the AATA board’s annual retreat, which will take place on May 22.
That retreat will take place at 12:30-5 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Express (Gresham Room), 600 Briarwood Circle. Ford said he expected a “robust exchange” among board members. He asked everyone to be ready to start at 12:30 p.m.
In her report out from the planning and development committee, Sue Gott put forward the idea that part of the discussion during the board retreat should include workload projections and costs associated with various activities. She wanted to see several ways of balancing workload and priorities that staff could provide.
The planning and development committee had talked to the retreat facilitator about prioritizing 2014 initiatives – beginning with existing customers and customer experience. [The facilitator for the retreat is Julia Novak, who also performed that function at the Ann Arbor city council's December 2012 retreat.]
Comm/Comm: Next Urban Core Meeting
Ford described a successful meeting of the “urban core” on April 25. That had included discussion of the city of Ypsilanti’s request to become a member of the AATA. The next meeting of that urban core group will take place on June 27 at Pittsfield Township hall, starting at 4 p.m., Ford said.
Comm/Comm: Consolidation of Planning Project Meetings
Ford also noted that in April there had been a suggestion to try to combine some of the community meetings – to address some of the fatigue that people might be experiencing about attending meetings.
So on June 18, he said, a meeting with an open house format will be held from 5-8 p.m. at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library covering several projects: the connector study (from US-23 and Plymouth, through downtown Ann Arbor, southward along State Street to I-94), WALLY (north-south commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Livingston County) and the ReImagine Washtenaw project (a planning focus on Washtenaw Avenue between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti).
Ford also gave brief updates on each of those projects. The number of alternatives for the ReImagine Washtenaw project had been reduced from six to three, which would be presented on June 18. Ford also reported some renewed interest in WALLY from Livingston County officials. Station design work continues for that effort, he said.
During his report to the board, Ford gave an update on AirRide. It’s a service the AATA contracts with Michigan Flyer to provide transportation between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro airport. For the week of April 28, Ford said 1,657 passengers had ridden the service, which was the second-highest ridership of any week since the service was launched a year ago.
Comm/Comm: Blake Transit Center Construction
Ford also gave an update on the construction of the new Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor, on the block between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The footings are done, with the next step being the foundation walls. Utility work on site has started, which has resulted in displacement of several buses from Fourth Avenue to Liberty. Ford expressed his appreciation for the collaboration of city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor police department, the federal building, Ann Arbor District Library and the Ann Arbor DDA.
According to community relations manager Mary Stasiak, the basement of the building, which is now apparent on the site, will house a gray water cistern, boilers, and IT infrastructure.
Comm/Comm: New AATA Website
Ford reported that the AATA’s new website would go live on May 23.
Comm/Comm: Service Changes
Ford noted that input is being sought this month on service changes for some routes, with board action requested in June.
In his report out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson described the proposed service changes. For routes that are more congested, the intent is to make adjustments to make them faster. There’s a bus stop in the Briarwood Mall area that has to be changed. For Route 12B, the service is supposed to be spread out. The AATA is also looking at adjustments to NightRide, because it’s stretching capacity.
Kerson characterized the AATA’s finances as in good shape. Ridership is up and continues to increase, though not as much as in the previous year, which had been record-setting. Cash fares are over budget, he said. Costs for marketing and public relations are lower – because the costs associated with the urban core conversations are lower than what had been budgeted for a countywide initiative. Kerson ventured that the projected deficit may be whittled away.
Comm/Comm: Title VI
Jim Mogensen addressed the board at the second public commentary time of the meeting, speaking on the topic of Title VI.
He reminded board members that he’d talked to them over a long period of time about his concerns regarding Title VI. [At the March 21, 2013 board meeting, CEO Michael Ford had acknowledged that the AATA had been given a due date of Nov. 1, 2014 to submit documentation to the Federal Transit Administration to demonstrate compliance with Title VI – that there is no discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, low-income persons, or persons with limited English proficiency.]
Title VI needs to be a consideration as the AATA thinks about how to incorporate Ypsilanti into the AATA system. His position is that the fixed route system is the AATA’s system – not a system belonging to the various municipalities.
So the AATA needs to think that through. He held up a CD which he said was all the AATA route information in a computerized GIS format, and he noted that he had census data. He just wanted to let the board know that he’s really serious about the need for Title VI compliance.
Present: Charles Griffith, Eli Cooper, Sue Gott, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale.
Absent: Eric Mahler.
Next regular meeting: Thursday, June 20, 2013 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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