Stories indexed with the term ‘AATA’

AAATA: Just Say “TheRide”

Final paperwork for a name change of Ann Arbor’s local transit agency – from the “Ann Arbor Transportation Authority” to the “Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority” – is now complete.

As of Aug. 15, 2013 the transportation authority will begin using the new name on all official communications and transactions. That’s the date when the filings with the state became official, as well as the date on which the board of the AAATA passed a resolution giving formal notification of the name change. The resolution was passed at the board’s regular monthly meeting.

The board’s Aug. 15 resolution indicates that the organization will continue to use “TheRide” in its marketing and branding. That’s partly a response to the increased challenge of pronouncing … [Full Story]

Settlement in AATA Ad Lawsuit: No Costs

A settlement has now been reached in a lawsuit over the placing of an anti-Israel advertisement on Ann Arbor buses. The court’s July 17, 2013 settlement order states that the parties have agreed that the case will be “dismissed with prejudice and without costs or fees.” [.pdf of July 17, 2013 settlement order]

AATA Bus. Advertisements appear on the sides of buses. (Photo illustration by The Chronicle – which consists of the word "settlement" digitally added to an image that included the original text "out of service.")

AATA Bus. Advertisements appear on the sides of buses. (Photo illustration by The Chronicle – which consists of applying a graphics filter and digitally adding the word “settlement” to an image that included the original text “out of service.”)

In an email responding to an inquiry from The Chronicle, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Dan Korobkin, who represented plaintiff Blaine Coleman in the case against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, stated: “After the court ruled that AATA’s advertising policy was unconstitutional, AATA made significant changes to its policy based on the ruling and current case law. Both sides decided that a settlement was appropriate, and we ultimately reached an agreement that worked for everyone.”

Korobkin added: “I am able to say that Mr. Coleman did not ask for any payment as part of the settlement, and that the ACLU accepted payment for some of its expenses and attorneys’ fees.”

In 2011, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority had refused to place the ad on its buses as a part of its advertising program. The proposed ad reads “Boycott ‘Israel’” and “Boycott Apartheid” and features an image of a spider-like creature with a skull for a head. [.pdf of image and text of proposed ad]

According to AATA controller Phil Webb, the AATA is currently projecting that its net revenue from the advertising program – which is managed under a contract with CBS Outdoor Advertising – will come to about $276,000 for the fiscal year. This is the first year of the contract with CBS Outdoor. Compared with the previous contractor, CBS is generating about 2.5 times as much revenue to the AATA. [.pdf of billings through May 2013]

The lawsuit was filed by Coleman – an Ann Arbor resident who was represented by the ACLU – over a year and a half ago, on Nov. 28, 2011.

The case had remained in the preliminary injunction phase and had not yet proceeded to trial. Before the settlement, the most recent court action had come in early June, after a four-month pause in activity. In his June 4, 2013 ruling, federal judge Mark Goldsmith did not agree with the ACLU’s argument that the preliminary injunctive relief to which Coleman was entitled should take the form of placing the ad on AATA buses. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council OKs Ypsi in AATA

The city of Ypsilanti’s membership in the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has been approved by the city of Ann Arbor in action taken by the Ann Arbor city council on June 3, 2013.

The specific action taken by the council was to approve changes to AATA’s articles of incorporation. The AATA itself and the Ypsilanti city council will also need to approve the document. Given the unanimous vote of the Ypsilanti city council requesting membership – and the AATA board’s generally positive response to the request – it’s expected those two bodies will also vote to approve the revised articles of incorporation. [.pdf of proposed AAATA articles of incorporation][.pdf of existing AATA articles of incorporation]

Ypsilanti’s request for membership came in … [Full Story]

Costs, Services Floated for Urban Core Transit

Material for a March 28 meeting on possible expanded public transit in the Ann Arbor area includes details about where improvements or expansion might occur, and how much it might cost. [.pdf of March 28 meeting packet]

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, AATA, Pittsfield Township, Saline, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map showing possible expanded transit to Pittsfield Township and Saline. (Graphic provided in March 28 meeting packet for “urban core” communities.)

Hosted by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the meeting will bring together representatives of Washtenaw County’s “urban core” communities. It’s the next step in a process that began in the … [Full Story]

AATA OKs RideGuide Print Contract

The RideGuide – an 84-page publication with bus route maps and schedule information for all Ann Arbor Transportation Authority bus routes – will continue to be printed by Grand River Printing/American Litho from Belleville, Mich. A one-year contract for $84,000 for printing and shipping was approved by the AATA board at its Feb. 21, 2013 meeting. The contract can be renewed in one-year extensions up to five years.

The AATA updates its schedule and prints new RideGuides three times a year – in January, April, and August. The cost charged by Grand River works out to about $27,600 per printing. And the staff memo accompanying the resolution indicates that the price bid by Grand River is about $0.36 per booklet. That works out … [Full Story]

AATA to Evacuate Gas-Contaminated Soil

Contaminated soil at the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s headquarters – located at 2700 S. Industrial Highway – will be evacuated and remediated under a $119,980 contract with PM Environmental. The AATA board voted to approve the contract at its Feb. 21, 2013 meeting.

The remediation activity dates back to 2010, and will address an in-ground gas leak that was discovered when the AATA upgraded a fuel tank monitoring system. A final assessment report (FAR), based on monitoring wells and ground water sampling, was filed with the Michigan Dept of Environmental Quality on Dec. 15, 2011.

The amount will be reimbursed by the AATA’s insurance carrier, Chartis, which is a subsidiary of American International Group Inc. (AIG). The AATA’s deductible for its policy was $25,000, … [Full Story]

Transit Center Elevator Price: Going Down

New contracts for millwork and an elevator for the new Blake Transit Center – currently under construction on Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor – have been approved. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board voted on the contracts at its Feb. 21, 2013 meeting.

The AATA had originally awarded a $139,451 contract to ThyssenKrupp for the elevator. But when ThyssenKrupp made changes to the scope of the project that had an impact on the price, the AATA decided to rebid the project. The winner of the rebid work was Otis Elevator, which will install an elevator for $108,100.

The board also approved an $80,255 contract with SBD Commercial Interiors for manufacture and installation of custom millwork in the new transit center. The budget had allowed … [Full Story]

AATA Makes Annual App for State Funds

The estimated expenses for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s fiscal year 2014 budget are being reported to the state of Michigan as totaling $33,653,000. The amount is cited in the AATA’s annual application to the state for operating assistance under Act 51. That application was approved by the AATA board at its Feb. 21, 2013 meeting.

Those total expenses would be covered by the following breakdown of revenue estimates: federal funds ($4,276,104); state funds ($9,939,035); local funds ($12,088,861); fare revenue ($7,258,000); and other funds ($91,000).

The AATA’s current year’s budget – for FY 2013, which ends on Sept. 30 – calls for $32,700,181 in expenditures. So the currently estimated expenses for FY 2014 reflect an increase of about $950,000, or about 3%.

This … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Affordable Housing Gets $90,000

The city of Ann Arbor’s affordable housing trust fund has been increased by $90,000, through a transfer from the general fund reserve. The action was taken at the Nov. 8, 2012 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council on a unanimous vote.

The amount of the transfer was keyed to the cost of a piece of city-owned property that the city sold recently to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. And the justification for the transfer was based on the council’s recent enactment of a formal policy on the use of the proceeds of city-owned land sales.

The $90,000 piece of land is a six-foot-wide strip on the former Y lot at Fifth and William, immediately to the south of the location for the … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Mayor: Need Transit Board Members

Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje has made a public call for volunteers to serve on the new 15-member transit authority board, recently incorporated under Act 196 of 1986. He made the formal announcement at the city council’s Oct. 15, 2012 meeting.

Also added to the meeting’s agenda were two of the seven needed nominations to the new Act 196 transit 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.

While it had been previously assumed that the … [Full Story]

DDA Kicks in $30K for Transit Connector

The study of a transportation connector between the northeast and south sides of Ann Arbor has been given a $30,000 boost by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The corridor runs from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street and farther south to I-94. This alternatives analysis phase of the study is to result in identifying a preferred choice of technology (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and the location of stations and stops. The decision to help fund the project was made at the DDA board’s Oct. 3, 2012 meeting.

The grant from the DDA to the project would come from parking revenues, split equally between the current fiscal year (2013) and next year. It also would be contingent on the … [Full Story]

AATA Projected FY 2013 Budget Takes Dip

While the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s draft budget had shown a small surplus for the upcoming 2013 fiscal year, the budget that the AATA board will be asked to approve at its upcoming Sept. 27 meeting will now show a $300,000 deficit.

The draft AATA budget provided on Sept. 12 to the city council as a communication item for its Sept. 17 meeting showed a surplus of $22,692 over the budgeted expenses of $33,344,048. However, on Sept. 14 the AATA was notified by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) that a new interpretation of the state’s operating assistance formula would reduce AATA’s assistance by $803,500. The AATA financial staff responded by reducing expenses, but left about $300,000 to be covered by the fund … [Full Story]

AATA Budget Preview: No Deficit

A small $22,692 surplus is projected in the draft budget of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority for its upcoming fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1, 2012. The budget is attached to the Ann Arbor city council online agenda for its Sept. 17 meeting. It shows that the AATA is expecting the 2013 fiscal year essentially to balance expenses against revenues in an overall operating budget of $33,344,048.

Draft AATA Operating Budget FY 2013

The bottom line in the draft AATA operating budget for FY 2013.

That’s an increase of around $3 million over the current year’s budget, which called for the AATA to spend $30,410,622 against only $29,418,998 in revenues. The nearly $1 million planned deficit for that fiscal year – which ends on Sept. 30, 2012 – was previously characterized by the board as a way to “catapult” the organization forward by offering some increased levels of service, in advance of AATA’s possible transition to a new, broader transit authority. Despite budgeting for that $1 million deficit, current projections included in the FY 2013 budget show that the AATA now expects to finish FY 2012 with a much smaller deficit of $296,378 – about one-third of what was projected.

For the new FY 2013 budget, an increase in revenues is accounted for in part by increased passenger revenues. Increased ridership is expected to generate about $750,000 more in fares in the coming year, compared to the fares collected in the fiscal year that’s nearing its end on Sept. 30. The AATA is also budgeting for about $300,000 more in state operating assistance for FY 2013. And the AATA anticipates about $3 million more in federal operating assistance, compared to what it actually received in the current fiscal year. A chunk of that is for a connector study from the northeastern part of the city to its southern edge.

Ann Arbor’s local transit tax, levied at a rate of just over 2 mills, is expected to show stable revenue levels compared to FY 2012, generating about $9.3 million. For the coming year, the AATA does not expect to use any of the local tax levy to help fund commuter express services from Canton and Chelsea, as it has since launching the service. Instead, the AATA will be using $105,217 of federal funds to cover that cost. Responding to an emailed query from The Chronicle, AATA controller Phil Webb explained that the AATA is taking advantage of newly expanded regulations that allows up to $1.47 million of AATA’s programmed federal funds to be used to pay for early investments in the AATA’s 5-year transit program. The AATA released the final draft of that plan on Sept. 5, 2012. [Full Story]

Washtenaw Board to Re-Vote on Transit Accord

Again on the agenda of the Washtenaw County board commissioners for Sept. 5 will be the articles of incorporation for a new countywide transit authority. The intended outcome is not for the board to rescind or amend in a significant way the articles it approved on Aug. 1, 2012 – on a 6-4 vote.

Once again on the agenda for the Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting on Sept. 5 will be the articles of incorporation for a new transit authority. It’s expected to be a stamp of approval for some administrative changes, not a chance to change the document or rescind the board’s previous decision to approve the document.

Instead, the point of re-introducing the agenda item is to provide an opportunity for the board to affirm the administrative changes to the articles of incorporation that took place after the board’s Aug. 1 vote.

The administrative changes were already included in the documents by the other three parties to the four-party agreement when they subsequently ratified the document. Those parties are the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which is leading this effort. The Ann Arbor city council voted (for a third time) to approve the articles of incorporation at its Aug. 9, 2012 meeting; the Ypsilanti city council voted at its Aug. 14 meeting (also for a third time); and the AATA board voted (for a second time) at its meeting on Aug. 16.

News of the agenda item came from an email sent by Washtenaw County board chair Conan Smith to other commissioners on the evening of Aug. 22. It’s not entirely clear whether the board will: (1) take a vote that affirms the administrative (non-substantive) nature of the changes that were made after the board approved the document on Aug. 1; or (2) take a vote that amends the document to match the version approved by the other three parties.

Previous re-votes have been driven by substantive amendments made by one of the parties to the agreement. For example, the Ypsilanti city council amended the four-party accord after the Ann Arbor city council first voted, on March 5, 2012. That amendment involved service charges applied to the respective cities’ existing millages. When the agreement went back to the Ann Arbor city council, that body amended the document further – which meant that it returned to the Ypsilanti city council for its approval again. The AATA board then ratified the agreement.

It was expected to be approved by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners without further substantive amendment. But on Aug. 1 the board made a change to the size of the majority needed, in order for the new transit authority’s board to change the articles of incorporation – from 2/3 to 4/5 of the 15 board members. That triggered the most recent round of approvals by the various bodies.

But those approvals incorporated some changes that were driven by a desire to harmonize the county board’s amendment with the rest of the document, as well as with Act 196 of 1986 – the act under which the new transit authority will be incorporated. For example, the 4/5 majority requirement for changes to the articles of incorporation is at apparent odds with one kind of change to the articles specifically mentioned in Act 196 – a change in jurisdictions that are part of the authority. Act 196 explicitly indicates that a 2/3 vote is required. So an administrative change undertaken after the board’s Aug. 1 meeting was to add the clause: “… unless another vote of Board is required under the terms of these Articles or provided for in Act 196.”

The view of legal counsel for the four parties was apparently that it’s not actually necessary for those changes to be explicitly re-voted and affirmed by the county board of commissioners. However, there is at least some sentiment on the county board that the changes might be construed as substantive and contrary to the intent of the county board, which could become an unnecessary point of contention down the road.

The AATA is current finalizing the details of a five-year service plan that will need to be published as one of several conditions that must be met before the AATA could transition into the newly incorporated authority, to be called The Washtenaw Ride. This week, the AATA board called a special meeting for Sept. 5 to unveil that service plan.

Earlier in the year, the AATA had hoped to be in a position to possibly place a transit millage proposal on the ballot this November. But at this point, that won’t be possible. Any transit millage proposal will come at a later election.

After the jump, this report describes the administrative changes in question and possible misinterpretations. [Full Story]

AATA Changes Bus Advertising Company

At its Aug. 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized a three-year contract with CBS Outdoor Advertising of Lexington, New York, to handle placement of ads on its buses and bus stops. That’s a change from Transit Advertising Group (TAG) of Farmington Hills, Mich.

The contract had been previously held by TAG for the last seven years, but expired. The AATA selected CBS Outdoor Advertising from seven respondents to an RFP (request for proposals). The contract required board approval because the amount of revenue generated from the contract is expected to exceed $100,000 for the three-year period of the contract.

In the most recent court action connected to a lawsuit filed against the AATA over an advertisement rejected for … [Full Story]

County Session Set on Transit Accord

At their June 6, 2012 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners voted to schedule a special work session for Thursday, June 14 to discuss a four-party public transit agreement that’s intended to set the stage for a possible countywide transit authority. A new transit authority – tentatively called The Washtenaw Ride – would expand the governance and service area of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

The effort is spearheaded by the AATA. Its CEO, Michael Ford, had expressed interest in putting the item on the county board’s June 6 agenda. The other three entities in the agreement – the AATA board, and the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – have authorized the accord. However, county commissioners wanted more time to consider … [Full Story]

Ypsi Council Re-Adopts Transit Accord

The Ypsilanti city council has reconsidered and ratified the four-party public transportation agreement intended to be the foundation for a future countywide transportation authority. Under the new authority, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s governance and area of service would be expanded.

The version of the four-party agreement adopted by the Ypsilanti council now matches that which was approved by the Ann Arbor city council the previous day on June 4, 2012. That version, now approved by both bodies, provides for different treatment of a 1% municipal service charge by each city.

Under the agreement, Ann Arbor will apply the 1% charge before forwarding its transit millage revenues to a possible new transportation authority to be formed under Act 196 of 1986. Ypsilanti will not assess … [Full Story]

AATA Financial Group: Let’s Continue

A Feb. 29 meeting of a financial advisory group – an entity that’s helping the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority as it seeks to expand its governance and funding structure – resulted in broad agreement on many recommendations made by a subcommittee of that group.

But the group as a whole is declining at this time to make a final funding recommendation. Instead, the financial advisory group is recommending that it continue to convene periodically, but for the time being that their efforts be put “on hold.”

Regarding initial recommendations and findings, the subcommittee calculated that there’s a roughly $32.9 million gap between existing funding and what would be needed to fund the first five years of expanded services. To cover that gap, the subcommittee calculated that a countywide millage of 0.5 mill would be needed – if the mechanism of funding were to be a countywide transit tax. But the subcommittee declined to identify a millage as the solution to that funding gap, in light of pending legislation at the state level that might make other mechanisms available. [.pdf of Feb. 29 report draft approved by whole group] [Full Story]

AAPS Weighs State’s Impact on Budget

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (Feb. 8, 2012): At a meeting of the AAPS board of education with a relatively light agenda, trustees discussed the anticipated state education funding incentives revealed by Gov. Rick Snyder last week.

Christine Stead

AAPS board member Christine Stead. Across the table from Stead (and Deb Mexicotte, who's seated to Stead's right out of the frame) are board members Glenn Nelson and Susan Baskett. (Photos by the writer.)

Contending that any increases would do little to rectify the compounding losses of funding since the passage of Proposal A, trustee Andy Thomas summarized the state’s budget plan as: “One hand giveth and the other hand taketh away.”

Trustees also agreed to move to a paperless system of board documents. In other business, the board agreed to change the district’s liability insurance carrier, and joined an emerging advocacy group – the Washtenaw Alliance for Education.

Also at the meeting, the board heard from two sets of students, after making a conscious effort recently to increase student engagement at the board level.

The board also engaged in an uncommon back-and-forth with members of the audience, which stemmed from public commentary about a Thurston Elementary School teacher who’s been placed on administrative leave.  [Full Story]

Transit: Ridership Data Roundup

Editor’s note: The Ann Arbor city council is currently contemplating a major decision on adopting the legal framework by which its local transit authority could transition to a countywide system of governance – or at least one that is geographically bigger than the city of Ann Arbor. The decision on ratifying a four-party agreement – between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and Washtenaw County – was postponed for the second time at the council’s Monday, Jan. 23 meetingThe council meets next on Feb. 6. 

Amtrak train and AATA Bus

Amtrak train pulling away (despite appearances) from the Ann Arbor station on Jan. 25, 2012. Later that same day, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority buses converging on downtown Ann Arbor's Blake Transit Center. (Photos by the writer.)

The Chronicle is taking the pause between council meetings as an opportunity to offer readers a look at Ann Arbor’s current bus system ridership numbers over the last several years.

Part of a 30-year transit vision developed by the AATA includes the relocation of the Amtrak station – from Depot Street to a spot in the city’s Fuller Park. The proposed city/University of Michigan collaboration on the Fuller Road Station includes a large parking structure for the UM medical complex as its first phase. So we’re also taking a look at current ridership data on the Amtrak line through Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor’s regular fixed route bus system provided 5.95 million rides for fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30, 2011. That’s slightly better than the previous year, but was slightly off the record high year of 6.02 million rides delivered in FY 2009. The first three months of the 2012 fiscal year – October, November and December 2011 – show slight increases over the monthly numbers for FY 2011.

Of those 5.95 million rides provided by AATA in FY 2011, 2.43 million of them (41%) were provided through the University of Michigan MRide program – which allows faculty, students and staff of the university to board AATA buses without paying a fare. The cost for the service is paid by UM to the AATA. It was a record-setting year for the MRide program.

Also making up a portion of those 5.95 million rides were trips taken by holders of the getDowntown go!pass program, which allows downtown Ann Arbor employers to provide free bus passes for their employees for a nominal cost – the cost of the rides is funded through a grant from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

In FY 2011, 634,000 rides were provided under the go!pass program – a 23% increase over FY 2010, adding to the trend of monotonically increasing numbers of go!pass rides over the last decade. The first three months of FY 2012 don’t show the same kind of double-digit increases for go!pass use as FY 2011 – they’re tracking roughly the same as last year.

The number of riders getting on and off the Amtrak trains that passed through Ann Arbor during the 2011 calendar year was 141,522. That figure tracked close to the same level of activity the station has seen since 2006 – from 140,000 to 145,000 riders. Through May 2011, Amtrak was on pace to eclipse the record number of riders in 2010 (145,040). But starting in July 2011, ridership was lower in every month (compared to 2010) through the end of the year.

Charts and graphs by The Chronicle – as well as more detailed breakdowns – are provided after the break. [Full Story]

AATA Preps Stage for Future Transit Choice

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Dec. 15, 2011): At its last meeting of the year, the AATA board bid farewell to boardmember Sue McCormick, voted to give its CEO Michael Ford a 3% raise, and paused a proposed $247,000 contract with a pair of consultants, who’ve been selected to conduct an internal organizational review of the AATA.

Sue McCormick AATA board member

Outgoing AATA board member Sue McCormick receives the traditional token of appreciation from the AATA – a mailbox marked up to resemble an AATA bus. (Photos by the writer.)

Background for the meeting included a proposed four-party agreement between the AATA, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County that would set a stage to allow voters countywide to transition AATA into a countywide-funded transit authority. On Dec. 7, 2011, Ford presented the four-party agreement to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. The Ann Arbor city council also received a presentation on the proposed four-way agreement at a Dec. 12, 2011 working session.

The four-way agreement is in large part an if-then statement: If an adequate funding source can be identified for a countywide authority (likely through a voter-approved tax) then the assets of the AATA would be transfered to the new authority, along with the existing transit tax the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti currently levy. The county would file the articles of incorporation, but would not incur any liability.

Also in December, a subcommittee of the advisory group that is reviewing financial aspects of the countywide transit master plan (TMP) met to continue its work analyzing the proposed elements of expanded service. The intended early January finish date for the group’s white paper to be delivered to the AATA has slipped somewhat, because of legislation that may start moving through Michigan’s House of Representatives in January 2012.

Current AATA initiatives mentioned at the Dec. 15 board meeting include ongoing contract negotiations with Michigan Flyer to provide public transit service from Ann Arbor to Detroit Metro airport, the reconstruction of the downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center, and the development of a new website.

Other highlights from the board’s meeting included a discussion of the two-grocery-bag limit for AATA’s para-transit service, and public commentary on a pending lawsuit against the AATA over its decision to reject an advertisement for the sides of its buses that calls for a boycott of Israel. [Full Story]

Washtenaw County Board Looks to the Future

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Dec. 7, 2011):  At its last meeting of 2011, both the room and the agenda were packed.  A crowd showed up to speak during public commentary, and commissioners acted on several items before year’s end, many of them budget-related and looking toward the county’s future.

Supporters of Lourdes Salazar Bautista

Many of the people attending the Dec. 7 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners were supporters of Lourdes Salazar Bautista, an Ann Arbor resident who faces deportation. She is standing against the wall in the upper right corner of this photo. (Photos by the writer.)

Public commentary focused on two issues: (1) people lobbying against the imminent deportation of Ann Arbor resident Lourdes Salazar Bautista, and asking commissioners to intervene; (2) nonprofit leaders thanking the board for increasing the budget for coordinated funding, which supports human services agencies. The two-year budget for 2012-2013 approved by commissioners on Nov. 16 had included $128,538 in cuts each year to coordinated funding, but a vote on Dec. 7 restored that amount.

Another budget amendment approved by the board at the meeting relates to the unresolved status of mandated animal control services. County officials are still negotiating with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, which has a $500,000 annual contract for that work. The contract expires Dec. 31, and contingency plans are being made for the case that an agreement can’t be reached. Commissioners approved a budget amendment that requires board approval for any contract for animal control services extending more than 60 days.

Two presentations were made during the Dec. 7 meeting. Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, briefed commissioners about efforts to create a countywide transit system. The board will be asked to approve a four-party agreement between the county, AATA and the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti that would set a framework for incorporating a countywide transit authority. Voters may eventually be asked to approve a millage for the system – if a dedicated funding sources is not secured by the end of 2014, the effort in its current form would demise.

And in a presentation aimed at priority setting for 2012 and beyond, board chair Conan Smith proposed focusing county efforts on shoring up the county’s east side, an area that’s facing a “perfect storm of despair,” he said, including high unemployment, low graduation rates and poor health. Characterizing his proposal as the start of a board discussion, Smith laid out a variety of options that the county could pursue, including a possible Headlee override or new millage to pay for services. Feedback from commissioners indicated support for developing a strategy to tackle these problems, but a reluctance to limit the focus to only the east side – primarily Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Several commissioners pointed out that poverty exists throughout the county.

Commissioners also took a range of other actions, including: (1) rejection of a proposal from the Washtenaw County road commission for a possible millage to fund road improvements; (2) a resolution of support for same-sex benefits; (3) an extension of a deadline related to compliance with the state’s 80/20 rule for health care costs; (4) approval of a brownfield plan for Ford Motor Co.’s Rawsonville plant; (5) creation of a board subcommittee on energy policy; and (6) appointments to a variety of boards, commissions and committees. [Full Story]

Work Session: Snow Plows, Buses, LDFA, Peds

The relatively heavy agenda of the Ann Arbor city council’s Dec. 12 work session includes: (1) a demonstration of the city’s new automatic vehicle location (AVL) snow plow tracking system; (2) the annual report of the local development finance authority (LDFA); (3) a presentation on countywide transit from the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; and (4) a review of pedestrian safety issues at crosswalks.

The AVL snow plow tracking system is supposed to provide residents with real-time information on the status of plowing activity, through GPS devices mounted on the trucks. The devices monitor not only a vehicle’s location, but also whether the plow is deployed, along with other vehicle performance information. The city’s snow plow status page currently requires … [Full Story]

ACLU Files Motion in AATA Bus Ad Lawsuit

On Nov. 29, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed with the U.S. District Court (Eastern District of Michigan) a motion for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order, to compel the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to accept an advertisement it had previously rejected. [.pdf of Nov. 29 ACLU motion]

The previous day, on Nov. 28, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of activist Blaine Coleman, who had sought to purchase an advertisement for the sides of AATA buses. The AATA refused to run the ad. The proposed ad includes the text, “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid,” and an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a skull for a head. [.pdf of image and text of proposed ... [Full Story]

Lawsuit Filed Over Rejected AATA Bus Ad

On Nov. 28, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority in U.S. District Court over an advertisement the transit agency refused to accept for the sides of its buses. [.pdf of complaint] ACLU of Michigan staff attorney Dan Korobkin told The Chronicle by phone that on Nov. 29 a motion will be filed with the court asking for a preliminary injunction, to compel AATA to run the ad.

The ad features the text “Boycott Israel” and “Boycott Apartheid,” with an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a skull for a head. At its Nov. 17 meeting, the AATA board voted to affirm the rejection of the ad, inviting Blaine Coleman … [Full Story]

AATA To Use One-Time Deficit as Catapult

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Sept. 15, 2011): With four of its seven members in attendance, the AATA board had just enough members present to transact two major pieces of business for the coming year. The board approved its 2012 fiscal year work plan and the budget that will support that plan.

Michael Ford CEO AATA

AATA's CEO Michael Ford presents an overview of the transit master plan to members of a financial group that will be making recommendations on funding options for countywide transportation. (Photos by the writer.)

The AATA fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. The budget approved by the board calls for expenses of $30,410,616 against only $29,418,995 in revenues, for a deficit in the coming year of $991,621. At the meeting, members stressed that the nearly $1 million deficit was due to one-time expenses associated with the planned transition to a countywide service. They also stressed that even by using unrestricted reserves over the next year to cover the planned deficit, the AATA would still be left with more than three months’ worth of operating expenses in its reserve.

Incurring a deficit this year was characterized as a way to “catapult” the organization forward, allowing it to pursue an aggressive work plan for the coming year, which was also approved at the meeting. Highlights of that work plan include reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor. Design for the station is expected to be complete by the end of the year, with construction to start in spring 2012.

In terms of increased service, next year’s work plan includes a focus on: establishing the AATA as a vanpool service provider; establishing service to the Detroit Metro Airport; improving work-transportation connections between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti; and continuing work on commuter rail. Also related to enhanced services, the AATA is also holding rider forums in October to get feedback on proposed increased service on Route #4, between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

Related specifically to commuter rail, the board received an update at the meeting on the Washtenaw Livingston Line (WALLY) project, a proposed north-south commuter rail connection between Howell and Ann Arbor. The board expressed some caution about the project by passing a resolution that requires the board’s explicit approval for the expenditure of the $50,000 in next year’s budget allocated for station designs.

In other business, the board approved the selection of Plante & Moran as its new auditor. A new auditor rotation policy put in place by the board earlier this year made the previous auditor, Rehmann Robson, ineligible for the contract. The AATA board also approved a contract with an outside vendor to begin offering vanpool service.

In business that could be described as housekeeping, the board opted to keep its same slate of officers for the coming year and to keep the same meeting schedule – the third Thursday of the month. Jesse Bernstein was elected chair last year, and will continue in that role.

Also at the meeting, other members of the financial review group were announced. That group will be analyzing funding options for an expansion to countywide service. Previously, it had been announced that McKinley CEO Albert Berriz and former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel would co-chair the group. Their first meeting was Friday, Sept. 16, the day after the AATA board met. Berriz stated at that first meeting that the group will meet three more times, and will produce a white paper by the end of this year.

Related to that countywide effort, the initial board for an unincorporated transit authority – a precursor to an eventual formal authority – could be seated by Oct. 20, the date of the AATA board’s next meeting. It would include representatives from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and other districts throughout the county. [Full Story]

AATA Taps Berriz, Guenzel to Review Plan

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Aug. 24, 2011): At a meeting held at a revised time and day to accomodate board members’ summer schedules, the AATA board approved a series of resolutions, two of which related in some direct way to the possible future of transit in the Ann Arbor area.

Roger Kerson

AATA board member Roger Kerson at the board's Aug. 24, 2011 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At the board meeting, CEO Michael Ford announced that McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and Bob Guenzel, retired Washtenaw County administrator, will be co-chairing a panel of financial and funding experts who will review various funding options for a possible expanded, countywide transportation system.

The board voted to release a funding report to the panel – the third volume of its transit master plan (TMP). [.pdf of Part 1 of Vol. 3 Transit Master Plan Funding Options] [.pdf of Part 2 of Vol. 3 Transit Master Plan Funding Options]. The first two volumes were released previously.

The report describes a range of funding options, which would likely be used in some combination of strategies: fare revenues, advertising, property taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, parking taxes, stakeholder contributions, fuel taxes and vehicle license fees.

In anticipation that the panel could recommend funding options that would require voter approval, the board also approved the selection of CJI Research Corp. as the vendor for survey work over the next three years. That survey work can include on-board surveys of bus riders as well as telephone surveys of Washtenaw County voters.

At the Aug. 24 meeting, the board also approved implementation of a new website, which will provide greater flexibility for AATA staff who aren’t computer programmers to push information to the public. The new site is also intended to make it easier for the public to track the real-time locations of their bus.

The board also changed its pricing policy for the go!pass, a bus pass offered to downtown Ann Arbor employees that allows them to board AATA buses on an unlimited basis without paying a fare. The cost of the fares has historically been paid by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority using public parking system revenues, plus a nominal fee per card paid by downtown employers. The revised policy breaks with AATA’s past practice of charging costs for go!pass rides based on its cheapest full-fare alternative. Those costs per ride will now be lower, based on the DDA’s ability to pay and the AATA’s estimate of what employers would be willing to pay.

In other business, the board approved a revision to its contract with the Select Ride company, which provides AATA’s on-demand paratransit service (A-Ride) for those who are not able to ride the fixed-route regularly-scheduled bus system. The upward adjustment was driven by a recent increase in maximum taxicab fares implemented by the city of Ann Arbor.

The board also approved a master agreement that will apply to all of its contracts with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, and adjusted its capital plan to accommodate changes in three projects: the Blake Transit Center, the bus storage facility, and the bus maintenance facility. [Full Story]

Transit Center Construction Manager Hired

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (May 19, 2011): In a relatively brief meeting, the AATA board handled two pieces of business: (1) approving a contract with its CEO Michael Ford; and (2) hiring a construction manager for the reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center, AATA’s downtown hub.


This AATA-owned parcel, where Blake Transit Center is located, sits in the middle of the block bounded by Fourth and Fifth avenues on the west and east, and by Liberty and William streets on the north and south. Among the outstanding issues in a project to rebuild BTC is discussions with the city of Ann Arbor over a city-owned 6-foot-wide strip that runs along the southern edge of the parcel’s western half. (Image links to higher resolution view. Parcel map and aerial photo from Washtenaw County’s website:

The contract with Ford renews annually on Oct. 1 unless terminated by Ford or the AATA. Ford will earn the same salary as he did previously – $160,000 – but will receive a lump sum payment equal to 4% of his salary dating from July 20, 2009, when he was first hired. Board members uniformly praised Ford’s work for the AATA since he was hired in the summer of 2009.

Approval of the construction manager contract for the downtown Blake Transit Center sets up the reconstruction project possibly to begin in earnest later this year. AATA has so far declined to release any schematics or drawings of the proposed new transit center to the public, citing as-yet-unfinalized details, including issues related to a city-owned 6-foot-wide strip on the southern edge of the parcel’s western half.

The new transit center will be built on the same AATA-owned parcel where BTC is currently located, between Fourth and Fifth avenues, north of William Street and a city-owned surface parking lot. The current building sits at the northwest corner of the parcel, long Fourth Avenue – buses enter from Fifth Avenue and exit onto Fourth Avenue. The planned design calls for a new building to be constructed kitty-corner on the parcel from the existing building, which would be demolished. The new transit center would sit at the southeast corner of the parcel – buses would enter from Fourth Avenue and exit onto Fifth Avenue.

At its meeting, the board also heard its usual range of reports and commentary. Among those reports, Ford told the board that two local governments – Ann Arbor Township and Superior Township – have voted to sign an Act 7 agreement. That’s a step that will allow their joint participation and representation in a countywide transit authority. [Full Story]

AATA Board Approves New Contract for CEO

At its May 19, 2011 meeting, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority approved a new employment contract with its chief executive officer Michael Ford, who was hired in the summer of 2009. [For a report on Ford's April 2009 final interview: "AATA, CEO Candidate Start Talks"]

The contract, which is renewable each year on October 1, pays Ford $160,000 a year – the same compensation he received last year. Ford is not receiving a raise this year, but will receive a one-time additional payment equal to 4% of his annual salary – his base salary will not change.

Board members at the meeting praised Ford’s work over the last year in leading the AATA’s countywide transit master planning effort.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report of the meeting will follow. [Full Story]

AATA Hires Construction Manager for Blake

At its May 19, 2011 meeting, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority authorized a contract with Spence Brothers for up to a total of $384,000 to oversee two major construction projects: (1) demolition and reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center on Fourth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor [$253,000]; and (2) expansion of the bus storage facility at the AATA headquarters located at 2700 Industrial [$131,000].

The need for a construction manager was identified by representatives of the Federal Transit Administration after reviewing AATA projects that are being funded with federal dollars.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the Ann Arbor district library, where the AATA holds its meetings. A more detailed report of the meeting will follow. [Full Story]