The Ann Arbor Chronicle » bus service it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 AAATA Preps to Shift Gears Tue, 26 Aug 2014 16:59:56 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (Aug. 21, 2014): The meeting began with CEO Michael Ford’s formal announcement of news that board members and the public had already heard – that he was leaving the AAATA in mid-October to take the job as CEO of the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority. Ford had formally tendered his resignation that day. The four-county area of the RTA includes the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland as well as the city of Detroit.

CEO Michael Ford listens to public commentary at the Aug. 21 meeting of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority Board. (Photos by the writer.)

CEO Michael Ford listens to public commentary at the Aug. 21 meeting of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board. (Photos by the writer.)

Two items on the board’s voting agenda related at least indirectly to the leadership transition that the AAATA will be making. First, the board approved a resolution authorizing board chair Charles Griffith to appoint an ad hoc subcommittee to conduct a search for Ford’s replacement. The resolution approved by the board at its Aug. 21 meeting also authorized $50,000 for consulting services to help with the search.

Griffith said he has asked board members Anya Dale, Gillian Ream Gainsley and Eric Mahler to serve with him on the search committee, citing a desire to have a mix of board experience and geographic diversity represented on that group.

Second, the board approved the AAATA’s FY 2015 work plan, which will provide the basis for the FY 2015 budget. The budget will appear on the board’s Sept. 25 agenda for approval. The AAATA’s fiscal year runs from October through September. At the Aug. 21 meeting, Sue Gott credited Ford with developing the work plan, saying it would be valuable as a blueprint for the transition in leadership.

A major decision on the choice of bus technology might be made after Ford departs the AAATA in mid-October. Although the board approved a 5-year bus procurement contract with Gillig, and authorized an order for the first 27 of up to 60 buses called for in the 5-year contract, the board left the choice of drive-train technology open – between hybrid electric technology and clean diesel. The upfront capital cost difference is $200,000 per bus more for the hybrid technology. That final choice of technology will need to be made by the November board meeting.

Also at its Aug. 21 meeting, the board amended its pension plan to recognize same-sex marriages, which stemmed from a Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and the IRS ruling that resulted from that decision.

The board chose to delay approval of new service standards, which are a required element of AAATA’s Title VI compliance. The board can meet the Federal Transit Administration deadlines for submission of its Title VI materials if it approves the new service standards at its September board meeting.

Board members also received an update on the progress being made in a Michigan Dept. of Transportation environmental assessment of a project that could implement active traffic management (ATM) of the US-23 corridor. The project includes the idea of allowing vehicles to use the median shoulder during peak demand periods. The MDOT presentation included a visit from former AAATA board member Paul Ajegba, who is region engineer for MDOT’s University Region – a 10-county area that includes Livingston and Washtenaw counties. If The Chronicle publishes coverage of that presentation, it will be in a separate report.

The Aug. 21 meeting was held in the boardroom at the AAATA headquarters on South Industrial, instead of the usual location, which is the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The downtown library on South Fifth Avenue was closed in connection with the repair of its public elevator.


Much of the meeting reflected the theme of transition, as it had been known for several weeks that Ford was likely to take the job that had been offered to him by the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority. Ford will depart the AAATA in mid-October to take the post as the first CEO of the RTA. Ford formally tendered his resignation on Aug. 21, 2014.

Ford was picked for the job as CEO of the RTA three months ago, on May 21, 2014. The RTA board approved Ford’s contract on Aug. 20, 2014. Ford’s announcement as a finalist and his selection for the RTA job came amid the AAATA’s successful campaign for a new millage to fund additional transportation services in the geographic area of the member jurisdictions of the AAATA – the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. That millage was approved by voters on May 6, 2014.

The AAATA board had awarded Ford a raise at its June 10, 2014 meeting, based on a performance evaluation completed at its May 15, 2014 meeting, which came 11 days after the successful May 6 transit millage vote.

The RTA was established by the state legislature in late 2012, and includes Detroit and the four-county region of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland.

Ford was hired by the AAATA in 2009.

Transition: Aug. 21 Opening Remarks

Board chair Charles Griffith led off the meeting with the “communications and announcements” agenda item asking, “Does anybody have anything to say?” Michael Ford’s response was “I do!” That drew some laughs from around the board table.

Ford stated: “It’s probably no secret by now, it’s kind of the moment everybody has been waiting for – I am going to be accepting a position with the RTA as the CEO there… I appreciated my time here. We have done a lot. And I’m really honored and privileged to be, and to have been the CEO here. It’s been a big deal to me. We have done a lot in the community. I want to thank my board – you guys have been tremendous, helping guide us and get us where we are. … I would also like to thank the staff, my senior staff and others, the operators, the facility folks, the mechanics who make everything go every single day, a very important part of this organization and the face of this organization.”

Ford singled out administrative assistant Karen Wheeler for special thanks, calling her “the glue, my rock.” Ford’s remarks elicited applause from the board and staff.

Griffith responded to Ford’s remarks by telling him, “We are going to miss you terribly. We didn’t want you to go but if you were to go anywhere, the RTA was our top pick. So you’ll still be working with us.” Ford replied to Griffith by saying that he would not forget where he came from.

Griffith told Ford that the board would have a couple of months to get some more work out of him related to the transition.

Transition: Public Commentary

During public commentary time at the start of the meeting, Thomas Partridge introduced himself as an advocate for all of those riders who need the representation of a strong CEO and strong leadership of the AAATA administration in order to ameliorate longstanding policies that are adverse to providing the best possible service to seniors and disabled persons. He was there to compliment CEO Michael Ford and the work that Ford had done to achieve greater recognition for seniors and disabled persons, but Partridge stated that there was much work left to be done. So he was calling on the board to redouble its efforts during the interim – to provide the leadership necessary to remove problems associated with the use of the system by seniors and disabled persons – whether it is using the A-Ride paratransit system, the Good as Gold system for seniors, or simply riding the buses.

Transition: LAC

Cheryl Webber gave the report from the local advisory council (LAC) for Rebecca Burke, who’d sent along her regrets that she was unable to attend the meeting. LAC is a body that advises the AAATA on issues related to the disability community as well as seniors. Webber thanked Michael Ford for his service and his ability to empower the AAATA staff to go forward with the visions that are going to build the agency’s future.

Transition: AAATA Search Committee

The board considered a resolution authorizing board chair Charles Griffith to appoint an ad hoc subcommittee to conduct a search for a replacement for outgoing CEO Michael Ford.

The resolution considered by the board at its Aug. 21 meeting also approved $50,000 for consulting services to help with the search.

When the board reached the voting item on the agenda, Charles Griffith noted that the item had been recommended by the AAATA’s governance committee. He allowed that the board had been aware for quite some time of the possibility that Ford would be taking the new position with the RTA. So the resolution would allow him to establish a search committee.

Griffith said the governance committee thinks it’s a good idea to hire a search firm to assist, saying that it worked pretty well with the selection of Ford about five years ago. [The governance committee, under the AAATA bylaws, consists of the board chair, the CEO and the chairs of the other standing committees of the board. Roger Kerson is chair of the performance monitoring and external relations committee; and Sue Gott is chair of the planning and development committee.] Griffith said the board wanted to do this expeditiously, venturing it would probably take longer than the 60 days that Ford had left working for the AAATA.

Gott thanked Griffith as chair for the amount of time that he put in to position the AAATA to make the transition. Susan Baskett asked if there was an estimated timeframe or desired timeframe for making an offer saying, “We’ve got to shoot for something.”

Griffith ventured that the search firm would help the AAATA figure that out. He said the board had taken more time with Ford’s selection than it had actually been comfortable with. That’s why they wanted to address this in as expedited a way as possible. The search firm needed to be brought on board in order to come up with a realistic timeframe. He hoped that it would not take longer than three months, but he was not yet confident that’s the answer that the board would get from the search firm.

Baskett asked if the specifications for a search firm had been prepared by the search committee. Griffith understood the question to be about the composition of the search committee – and said he was prepared to appoint members to the committee. He said he was looking for a balance of experience on the board and geographic diversity from the membership. Later in the meeting, Anya Dale, Eric Mahler and Gillian Ream Gainsley were named by Griffith as the other board members beside himself that he had asked to serve on the search committee.

When Baskett clarified her question, Griffith noted that the Federal Transit Administration had strict guidelines, and one of the first jobs that the committee would have with the search firm that’s selected would be to come up with the criteria for the new CEO. But he was not sure that there had been any specific criteria applied to the RFP (request for proposals) for the search firm – except that the firm needed to have experience with transit and experience specifically with executive management.

There had been a list with 17 different firms that the AAATA had use the last time it conducted this process, Griffith said. His recollection was that five or six bids come back from that RFP. The AAATA was pretty happy with the firm that it eventually selected.

Roger Kerson ventured that it’s important that the process be expeditious, but getting it right was also very important. It’s not something the board wanted to do every year, he quipped. He wanted the process to be speedy but also deliberate.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to authorize the board chair to form a search committee and hire a search firm.

Transition: FY 2015 Work Plan

Appearing on the board’s Aug. 21 agenda was approval of the 2015 work plan. [2015 AAATA work plan]

Highlights of new items include measurements of service performance – an initiative that comes in the context of additional transportation services to be offered starting Aug. 24. Those services will be funded with proceeds from a new millage that voters approved on May 6, 2014.

Another highlight is the construction of a walkway across the block between Fourth Avenue and Fifth Avenue – on the north side of the parcel where the new Blake Transit Center has been constructed. The reorientation of the new transit center to the south side of the parcel makes it possible to contemplate the walkway along the north side, which abuts the Federal Building. According to CEO Michael Ford’s regular written report to the board for August, he has made a funding request from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to pay for construction of the pedestrian walkway.

When the board reached the item on its voting agenda, Ford noted that the green-highlighted text reflected changes from the previous year’s work plan. He ventured that the plan had been dealt with fairly thoroughly. He told the board he could answer any questions, noting that the FY 2015 budget would need to support the work plan. [The FY 2015 budget will appear on the board's September agenda. The AAATA's fiscal year runs from October through September.]

Sue Gott asked Ford to give a one-minute set of highlights from the work plan. Putting the new service on the street now and for the rest of the year was really important, Ford replied. In connection with the board’s discussion about the choice of drive-train technology – clean diesel or hybrid electric – Ford noted that the work plan includes an item that would have the AAATA develop an environment policy. The AAATA had just constructed a new LEED-compliant transit center and has hybrids in its fleet, but did not have an overall environmental strategy, so the work plan was meant to address that.

Ford also highlighted in the work plan a possible redesign of the Ypsilanti Transit Center to increase lobby space and improve the bathrooms. Space needs were another highlight for the AAATA’s work plan. Ford noted that the AAATA was hiring additional drivers, and would need to have space for them. Some runs might need to be started out of Ypsilanti in the near future, he ventured.

Service performance standards were another item in the work plan highlighted by Ford. Following the work plan had been a good guide for the AAATA, Ford ventured. He credited the board and board member Sue Gott for helping the AAATA achieve the work plan.

Gott said she wanted to credit Ford with the work plan, and the reason she wanted to highlight it was this: Despite the transition in leadership, Ford was leaving the board with a very solid blueprint. The work plan was tremendous work that Ford and the staff had created, Gott said. It would be key to helping the board have a smooth transition.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the FY 2015 work plan.

Transition: Board Officers

Board chair Charles Griffith also noted that under the AAATA board bylaws, board officers needed to be voted on at the September board meeting. He indicated that he would be asking some board member or possibly board members to act as the nominating committee for board officers for this year. He invited board members to contact him if they had any interest in doing that. The other two current officers are: Eli Cooper (treasurer); and Anya Dale (secretary). Roger Kerson is chair of the performance monitoring and external relations committee; and Sue Gott is chair of the planning and development committee.

The AAATA’s typical pattern is to elect the same chair for at least two years and then rotate to a different board member. Griffith is winding up his second year as chair.

Bus Procurement

On the board’s agenda were two items related to procurement of up to 60 new buses – a 5-year contract for purchase of the buses from Gillig LLC, and an order for the first 27 buses. The total cost of each bus will be between $444,000 and $662,500, depending on the length, drive system and options. That puts the total value of the contract with Gillig at a figure between $26.6 million and $39.7 million.

Of the 60 buses, 20 would be new, additional buses that are needed for the expansion of services the AAATA is offering as of Aug. 24. Those services will be funded with proceeds from a new millage authorized by voters on May 6, 2014. The other buses will replace existing buses that are nearing the end of their useful life.

The large spread between the minimum and maximum cost per bus is due to the incremental price difference between a hybrid electric drive system and a conventional clean diesel drive, which is nearly $200,000. According to the minutes of the Aug. 12, 2014 meeting of the AAATA’s planning and development committee, the extra cost of a hybrid bus over the life of the bus is $138,604. That figure includes cost comparison data relating to the upfront capital and fuel costs of both technologies.

Of the AAATA’s existing 80 buses, 52 use hybrid technology. The ongoing debate among AAATA board members on the choice of technology is based in part on the AAATA’s own experience with hybrid buses. The 5-year warranty has expired on the AAATA’s oldest hybrids, which has required a contingency budget for their future repairs. And manufacturers have now shortened their warranty periods for new hybrid buses from five to two years. That shorter warranty period will translate into greater costs to the AAATA for repairs.

According to AAATA staff cited in the PDC meeting minutes, the hybrid buses’ lower emission levels are a benefit of hybrid technology. However, the Environmental Protection Agency’s ongoing emission reduction standards now ensure that all new transit buses – whether hybrid or conventional – have very low emissions. On average, hybrid buses run at a noise level of 72 dB(A) compared to 75 dB(A) for conventional buses.

So the AAATA board has not yet made a final decision on the choice between hybrid technology and conventional clean diesel. The order for the first 27 buses from Gillig – which was also given approval at the board’s Aug. 21 meeting – leaves open the decision on the choice of technology. Of the 27 that are being ordered, 14 are replacement buses and 13 are buses needed for the service expansion.

The board would need to act by November 2014 on choosing the technology for the bus order. The choice to order hybrid technology could be based on the identification of grants that might pay for the cost differential of that technology. Delivery of the buses is planned for October 2015.

Here’s how the bus acquisition schedule breaks down:

              OCT   FEB   JAN   JAN   OCT  
Purpose      2015  2016  2017  2018  2019  TOT
Rplcmt buses
(now elig)     4                             4                          
Rplcmt buses 
(elig 11/15)  10           5     4          19
Rplcmt buses
(elig 11/19)                           15   15 
5YTIP Svc Exp 
(8/2015)       4                             4
5YTIP Svc Exp        
(6/2016)             9                       9
5YTIP Svc Exp  
(8/2017)                   7                 7 
TOTAL                                       58


Bus Procurement: Aug. 21 Meeting Discussion

During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Jim Mogensen told the board he supported the staff analysis of the technology choice for the new buses – which was clean diesel.

Gillian Ream Gainsley gave the report from the planning and development committee. She described the meeting as “inspired.” The committee had discussed the clean diesel versus hybrid technology for the drivetrains for the new buses that are being ordered. She noted that of the 27 buses, 14 were replacing conventional diesel buses and the other 13 buses would be for the service expansion.

The committee had received a presentation from staff, she said. One thing the committee had learned was that the new lower-emission diesel buses are quite different from the conventional diesel buses that are currently in the AAATA’s fleet. Emissions are a lot lower than they used to be, and the noise levels are lower than they used to be, but they’re a bit higher than hybrid technology. The up-front purchase cost is roughly $200,000 greater, she noted, and that cost differential is not made up over the life of the bus in fuel savings. So the committee had a lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of those different options. She said the AAATA want to be environmentally responsible but they also want to be fiscally responsible.

The committee had asked staff in that discussion to come up with some projections about combinations of buses, possibly keeping a ratio of hybrid to conventional buses that is consistent with the ratio in the current fleet, Ream Gainsley said. The committee had put off a decision on technology, but she noted that the buses needed to be ordered. So the committee had approved an order to purchase buses, but had put off a decision on exactly what combination of hybrid and clean diesels.

There had been some discussion also about the bus procurement contract, Ream Gainsley said. The AAATA was limited by the fact that there are not many vendors in Michigan, so there was only one bid. She noted that there were two companies that were interested and one ended up declining to bid on the contract. As much as the AAATA would love to have more than one bid, when there are only two companies in the state that offer the product, that makes it difficult. So on that basis, the committee had recommended the procurement contract with Gillig.

In his report from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson said his take-away from the discussion of the bus technology was that the gap between performance for the clean diesel and the hybrid technology had diminished over the last few years. He identified as an issue the fact that other agencies are not buying many hybrids, so hybrids are not as prevalent in the industry – and that makes it harder to keep the hybrids in good repair.

CEO Michael Ford distributed a handout to board members on the topic of clean diesel and hybrid drive trains.

CEO Michael Ford distributed a handout to board members on the topic of clean diesel and hybrid drivetrains. In the foreground is board member Susan Baskett.

Kerson noted that AAATA manager of maintenance Terry Black was focused on those maintenance issues, saying the AAATA needs to have service available out of every bus, every hour, every day, and every month. His understanding of the resolution was that it approved the purchase of the buses – and then in December a decision on the drivetrain would be provided to Gillig. That meant that the decision would need to be made by the board in November, he thought. The board did not want to be in a situation where Gillig was waiting for the AAATA board’s December meeting to take place in order to start manufacturing the buses.

So Kerson wanted the board to focus its efforts. As board members they need to focus on the question: What do we still need to know to make this decision? And how can we get these requests in a timely manner to the staff so that the board is not sitting there in October and November and wondering what kind of factors need to be weighed.

During question time, CEO Michael Ford allowed that there had been a lot of discussion about hybrids versus conventional buses. He wanted any other questions or concerns addressed – and he hoped to have any additional feedback from the board by Aug. 31 so that the staff could work on getting those questions answered. He provided board members with a handout of the steps that the staff were working on so that board members’ memories might be jogged for other considerations that board members want staff consider.

Bus Procurement: Five-Year Contract – Board Deliberations

When the board reached the voting item on its agenda, board chair Charles Griffith reviewed how this item was a contract for a five-year plan to acquire additional buses. It was separate from the following resolution that was an actual bus order. He allowed there been some concern about the lack of other bidders, but noted that the AAATA was limited by the number of providers. Gillian Ream Gainsley said she appreciated Michelle Barney’s comment during public commentary about the need for Sunday service and feeder routes.

She said that those routes would eventually be reconfigured, and everyone was eager to see those things happen. The challenge is that the AAATA is limited by how fast buses can be manufactured. This resolution addresses that, she said. It’s a huge contract, and it’s the largest purchase that the agency makes, she noted. She appreciated the fact that staff was ready to get moving on it very quickly after the millage had passed. The board had been asking for a lot of information, because it’s a really big decision. So she appreciated the staff effort to move the process forward as fast as possible, so that the new service can get moving.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the bus procurement contract with Gillig.

Bus Procurement: 27 Buses – Board Deliberations

When the board reached the voting item on the agenda, Charles Griffith noted that the order would be for 27 buses – part of them replacement buses and part of them expansion buses. Griffith allowed that there’d been quite a bit of discussion about which kind of technology to use for the drivetrain. Staff would be doing some additional analysis to help the board with that decision. He felt that the board was committed to making that decision in a timely fashion.

CEO Michael Ford commented that the decision would need to be made by the board’s November meeting.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the bus order for 27 buses.

Same-Sex Pension Benefits

The board considered an amendment to the pension plan of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority – to recognize same-sex marriages and for the terms “spouse,” “husband and wife,” “husband” and “wife” to include a same-sex spouse.

The amendment was to bring the AAATA’s pension policy into compliance with Internal Revenue Service Ruling 2013-17 and IRS Notice 2014-19. Those IRS rulings give guidance on how to implement the U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, which declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 to be unconstitutional.

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson described the same-sex pension benefit item as stemming from the fact that the Supreme Court had overthrown the Defense of Marriage Act. Based on that, the Internal Revenue Service had issued a ruling saying that pension plans must recognize any legal same-sex marriage. That meant that the AAATA needed to “true up” its pension plan – otherwise people’s pension contributions would no longer be tax-deductible. And that would be very bad news for everybody in the plan, he said. He was very supportive of the idea that the AAATA would recognize marriage of any employee who had a legal same-sex marriage. He called it pretty much a “no-brainer.”

When the board reached the voting item on its agenda, board chair Charles Griffith echoed Kerson’s sentiment that it was a no-brainer.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to adopt the pension plan amendment.

Title VI Service Standards

The board considered adoption of new service standards as part of the AAATA’s compliance with Title VI. The civil rights legislation – in the context of public transportation – requires, among other things, proof that a service change has no adverse effect on disadvantaged populations. [.pdf of AAATA Title VI Service Standards]

The AAATA’s standards include items like a once-per-hour minimum frequency of fixed-route service and 90% of trips completed within 5 minutes of the scheduled time. Policies include items like bus shelters at bus stops with 50 or more boardings per day where there is no other shelter available and where a shelter is physically and legally feasible.

The required types of standards include:

  • Headway or frequency by mode. That is, either bus every x minutes or x buses/hour. There can be a minimum standard or different standards by time of day (peak vs. off-peak) or day of week.
  • On-time performance by mode. Can be either for each trip (i.e. at route endpoint), or for each timepoint along the route.
  • Service availability by mode. Can be either percent of population within a certain distance of service or maximum stop spacing. Can have different standards based on differences in population density.
  • Vehicle load. Expressed as ratio of riders to seats. Can vary by time of day (peak vs. offpeak) or day of week.

Required service policies include those on:

  • Distribution of bus stop amenities
    • Benches
    • Shelters
    • Customer information (printed and electronic)
    • Escalators/Elevators
    • Waste receptacles
  • Vehicle assignment
    • Age
    • Type (e.g. hybrid)
    • Can be by mode

Title VI Service Standards: Public Comment

During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Jim Mogensen told the board that when he was preparing his remarks that evening he was initially planning to address the bus procurement item – and he was planning to speak in favor of the staff analysis, which recommended clean diesel instead of hybrid technology. But with the addition of the Title VI issue, he felt that he needed to use his three minutes to speak on that particular issue. He did not believe that the standards were yet ready for adoption. He thought it was important for the board to keep in mind a couple of things.

First was the fact that the AAATA has been classified as a very large organization – and is therefore required to do a much more extensive analysis than a regular fixed-route provider on the Federal Transit Administration list. The AAATA was grouped with Flint, CATA and SMART, he said.

Mogensen’s second point was that when service changes are implemented, it assumes that everything is ok right now, which might not be the case. As an example, one of the standards is the headway (time between buses). The AAATA’s standard says that there will be a minimum headway of 60 minutes, he noted. But for a very long time that has been the minimum headway, he noted – for all of the bus routes. That doesn’t address the issue of differences between minority routes and non-minority routes with respect to that standard. Mogensen felt that those issues had not quite been addressed. He knew that the purchase of service agreement (POSA) had just recently been put in place for Superior Township, and he had not had a chance to examine that agreement. But from his point of view, AAATA’s service as a whole is all of the fixed-route service.

Mogensen did not believe that the board should approve the service standards that evening. He told the board they should wait until the next meeting in September – and he told them that he would try to do a more formal analysis before that meeting. He encouraged the board to ask staff about the need to have much more formal data collection.

Michelle Barney introduced herself as a member of Partners for Transit. She had done an awful lot of bus riding and talking to people about the transit millage earlier in the year – mostly in Ypsilanti. She’d also done some phone banking, she told the board. She wanted to talk to the board about how equity issues are seen by people on the street. She talked about racial justice on the north side and the south side of Ypsilanti. When she had talked to several members of the board on the phone in the last couple of weeks, they told her that the AAATA has to give more service to Ypsilanti Township – because the township is a new member of the AAATA. Further, Ypsilanti Township and the city of Ann Arbor were paying more money for the buses, she’d heard board members say, so Ypsilanti Township and the city of Ann Arbor are demanding more service – because they are paying more money for the buses.

But Barney noted that those jurisdictions are paying more money because their property values are higher. They do not pay a greater percent – pointing out that everyone pays the same percent under the AAATA’s new millage, which is 0.7 mills. The city of Ypsilanti is entitled to the same level of service, she said. The issue of Title VI and whether the AAATA will get money from the federal government is very important. She said she hated to use the word but she had decided to do it and that word was “Ferguson.” What does Ferguson have to do with it? she asked rhetorically. It is not a threat, she stated, but Ferguson has woken up the country to the fact that prejudiced behavior doesn’t just happen in New York, in Harlem – it also happens in the heartland of America. People are waking up, she said. Barney also commented on the new Route 46, indicating that the AAATA needed to have routes that fed people to the downtown where that route departed, otherwise that new route was useless.

Title VI Service Standards: Board Discussion

Roger Kerson quipped that the performance monitoring and external relations committee had also had an “inspired” meeting just like the planning and development committee – because he was the only board member in attendance. Reporting out from that committee, Kerson said that in examining the Title VI standards – perhaps because he’d met as a committee of one – he did not have the wisdom of his colleagues to which he could appeal. So he hadn’t considered some of the concerns that Jim Mogensen had raised during his public commentary.

Kerson ventured that those issues needed to be examined to determine whether the resolution was ripe for consideration or whether it perhaps needed another look. What Kerson had focused on was the question of whether it would change anything that the AAATA is doing now. And what he heard from staff was that they would be looking at things like maximum loads more closely. Based on the information the board had heard during public commentary, they might want to decide to delay, he said: “Let’s have more than just me think about it,” he said.

Board members engaged in a 20-minute back-and-forth on the topic and eventually concluded that they should postpone consideration until the next meeting in September. AAATA manager service development Chris White indicated that there was room in the timeline for the board to delay action until its next board meeting – but after that, paperwork was due to the FTA on Oct. 1, 2014.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to postpone consideration of the Title VI service standards until its September meeting.

Title VI Service Standards: More Public Commentary

During public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Jim Mogensen thanked the board for delaying their vote on the service centers. He said he would do his best to provide as much input as he could under the deadlines. He noted that the regulations say that once you adopt standards for the three-year plan, you are not allowed to change them during those three years. He also mentioned that before he became disabled, in his professional life he did regulatory analysis in Washington DC for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the EPA, and for the Small Business Administration. So he had some understanding of how some of these things operate, he said, and he would try to help.

Mogensen has had an ongoing concern about the issue of AAATA’s commuter service versus mobility service in the middle of the day. When you look at the loading factors, most of that occurs during the commuter service and you can envision a situation where there is a very high peak time service and a much lower service in the middle of the day. And that causes difficulties for those like Mogensen, who primarily use the AAATA to get around during the day. Even though it makes sense why the AAATA would be doing that, there are some important issues related to how that dynamic plays out.

Also during public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Michelle Barney told the board that she not been there in a while because she’d had some health issues, but she told the board that she would now be there more often. Title VI was very complicated, she allowed. She had tried reading it and she tried printing it off the web, but she didn’t have enough money because it costs $.10 a page to print. But she had made requests of the area’s Washington DC legislators and of the NAACP in trying to reach a local ACLU attorney – to find out if there’s anything published that is a valid summary of Title VI. She wanted something she could read, maybe 30 pages instead of 130.

Title VI Service Standards: On-Time Performance

One of the Title VI service standards is on-time performance – which the AAATA establishes at 90% of trips being completed within five minutes of the scheduled time. During his report to the board, Michael Ford noted that on-time performance was currently suffering due to the widespread construction that’s being undertaken on various roads and streets in the area. AAATA is spending about $6,000 a week primarily on trying to back-fill to keep buses on schedule, he said.

Half of the $6,000 is being spent on the Pontiac Trail route. The other half of the $6,000 has gone into supporting Packard, Carpenter, Jackson Avenue and Ann Arbor-Saline Road. The AAATA was doing its best to keep this service on time, but was encountering some problems with that, he allowed. With the University of Michigan’s student move-in week coming up, traffic would increase and that would exacerbate the problem, he ventured.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its Aug. 21 meeting, the board entertained various communications, including its usual reports from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, the planning and development committee, as well as from CEO Michael Ford. The board also heard commentary from the public. In addition to the communications and commentary reported earlier in this article, here are some highlights.

Comm/Comm: Access, Website

During public commentary time at the start of the meeting, after making complimentary remarks about Michael Ford’s efforts to give greater recognition to seniors and those with disabilities, Thomas Partridge said there was more work that needed to be done. He called on the board to adopt new priorities to put the most vulnerable riders first, and remove discriminatory practices of the current system, including the contract with the SelectRide company. No one should call a cab in the A-Ride system and have a vehicle appear that has 450,000 miles on it, Partridge said. It’s not good practice to provide people rides in vehicles with that kind of high mileage, he said. There are also vehicles that are not kept in good repair, he contended.

During his report from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson noted that more of the AAATA’s website work was being taken in-house with the hire of someone to handle that work. [At the board's August meeting, it was announced that Preston Stewart had been hired for the position.] The board needs to continue to address the concerns of accessibility of the website, he said.

Reporting out from the local advisory council, Cheryl Webber said the longest discussion at the LAC meeting was about the AAATA website. They’d discussed the accessibility and user-friendliness to people who look there for information. She had not really thought about it before then, but her experiences were that the website was not useful enough to her to consult it. “And that’s really sad,” she said, because a lot of work went into it. It looked pretty, she allowed, but she found herself going to Google maps and choosing the bus routing option for directions from point A to point B. She said she was looking forward to improvements being made to the website.

During public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Partridge said it was important that throughout all of the proceedings of the AAATA, priority should be given to concerns of the most vulnerable ridership – which includes not only low-income ridership but also ridership that is handicapped or that has senior citizen status. Related to the selection process for the CEO, Partridge said it was very important that Ford leave the AAATA with a CEO selection process underway with criteria that would give emphasis to candidates that have quality experience with senior ride and handicapped ride programs.

Comm/Comm: Police on Buses

During public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Jim Mogensen responded to a comment in Michael Ford’s written report that mentioned a meeting he’d had with state representative David Rutledge and Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton in the context of the Eastern Washtenaw Safety Alliance. One of the potential suggestions was to have police officers or members of law enforcement ride the buses. Mogensen thought the AAATA board needed to give careful consideration to how that might be implemented and how that might be seen in terms of surveillance – as another way of going undercover to find out what’s going on in neighborhoods and monitoring people’s behavior.

Comm/Comm: Financial Reports

With respect to the financial reports that the performance monitoring and external relations committee had heard, Roger Kerson said that AAATA had received the first cut of the new millage money – which was about $4.5 million.

From left: AAATA board members Eric Mahler and Larry Krieg.

From left: AAATA board members Eric Mahler and Larry Krieg.

Of that, $3.8 million had been programmed for activities in the next year, including some capital expenditures and things that need to be done to get up and running. There is a $600,000 surplus in the budget, he said. As he understood it, that money is going to be used for service in the “out years.”

During question time, Larry Krieg said that in reading the budget reports, he was a little bit concerned about how much money was being saved by having people out on disability. He wondered if there was any particular reason why the AAATA had more people out on disability than usual.

AAATA head of human resources Ed Robertson told Krieg that the AAATA would prefer to have no people out on disability and currently he thought there were two. He thought there had been more people out on disability during the winter.

Comm/Comm: New Service

During communications time, Michael Ford noted that the new extended services to be provided by the AAATA – funded by the millage approved by voters on May 6, 2014 – would start the following Sunday, Aug. 24. He also noted that there would be a celebration held at the Ypsilanti Transit Center on August 25. It would include a media tour of Route 46 followed by a press conference at the Ypsilanti Transit Center, to be hosted by Partners for Transit, he said.

Comm/Comm: Response to Suggestions

Ford noted that the AAATA had responded to suggestions made at the previous month’s board meeting – to make information about the Aug. 24 service changes easier to find on the AAATA’s website – by placing a prominent link on the homepage. The board had also heard a suggestion to make clear to passengers how they can make compliments. That would be included in the RideGuide as well as on the website, Ford reported.

Present: Charles Griffith, Eric Mahler, Susan Baskett, Sue Gott, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale, Gillian Ream Gainsley, Larry Krieg.

Absent: Eli Cooper, Jack Bernard.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014 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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A2: Bus to East Lansing Thu, 27 Jun 2013 16:40:31 +0000 Chronicle Staff The Lansing State Journal reports that Michigan Flyer will be adding four daily trips between Ann Arbor and East Lansing, following approval this week by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission. The bus service will be funded through a federal grant. It will increase the number of daily trips between the two cities from 8 to 12 starting this fall. The service continues on to Detroit Metro Airport, branded as AirRide. [Source]

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Column: Pass Go, Collect Bus Pass – And More? Fri, 26 Oct 2012 17:51:37 +0000 Dave Askins In my wallet I have a transit pass. By sliding this pass through the farebox card reader aboard any Ann Arbor Transportation Authority bus, I get access to a public transportation system that served our community with 6.3 million rides this past fiscal year.


This go!pass, subsidized by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, lets its holder ride AATA buses an unlimited number of times.

If I rode the AATA buses to and from work every day and paid the full $1.50 fare each way, the cash value of that card would be about $750 per year. Of course if I were actually riding the bus that frequently, I’d be somewhat better off purchasing a 30-day pass for $58 a month, which would come out to just a bit under $700 annually.

What I actually paid for that card this year was $10 – just a bit over 1% of its potential cash value.

So what sort of dark magic subsidizes my potential rides on AATA buses? And why do I have access to this magical go!pass card, when you, dear Chronicle reader, likely do not?

Along the road to answering these questions, I’d also like to make a proposal. It’s a vision for broadening the program, getting more transit passes into the hands of Ann Arbor residents, and expanding the possible uses for the go!pass – including (shudder) the ability to use a transit pass to pay for parking.

Policy Choices Already Made: Charge More for Parking

A cynical explanation of my public transportation subsidy would go like this: On average, the unwitting motorists who park their cars in Ann Arbor’s public parking system pay prices set 3% higher than necessary; and this 3% “surcharge” is used to subsidize the bus rides of go!pass holders.

The percentage is basically right – because Ann Arbor’s public parking system generates about $15 million in revenue annually, and the annual subsidy required to pay for the rides taken by go!pass holders is about $500,000. And that $500,000 is, in fact, allocated from the fund that receives parking revenues.

But before you conclude that bus riders are benefiting at the expense of motorists, it’s worth considering the benefit to motorists from this subsidy: fewer cars on the road, which means better traffic flow for motorists; less competition among motorists for parking spaces; and reduced need to reserve for capital replacement and new construction of parking structures, which relieves some upward pressure on parking prices.

And if you’d like to argue against the go!pass transportation subsidy on the grounds that this “surcharge” on parking prices is effectively a tax – one that we voters never approved – then it’s worth considering that the total “surcharge” applied by the Ann Arbor public parking system is actually closer to 20%, of which only 3% goes to subsidize transportation. The other 17% is baked right into the contract with the city of Ann Arbor, under which the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority operates the city’s public parking system.

Under the terms of that contract, the city receives 17% of gross parking revenues, which the city uses to “subsidize” various general fund activities – like the salaries of police officers, firefighters, city planners, and allocations to human services nonprofits.

So when mayor John Hieftje talks about how he wouldn’t trade Ann Arbor’s budget situation for that of any other city in Michigan, it’s easy to understand why: Dealing with tight financial times is easier when you can cover the first 2% or so of your general fund budget with revenues from your public parking system. Other cities in Michigan don’t necessarily have the option to cover a general fund budget gap through increased parking prices.

In any case, I think it’s sound public policy to analyze the subsidy provided for go!passes as an investment in the city’s transportation infrastructure. I think it’s less sound to treat the public parking system as a way to backstop the general fund.

But my point in writing is not to argue the merits of either policy choice. Those policy choices are already currently in place. What I’m suggesting is that now is a good time to reflect on the specifics of how the transportation subsidy is allocated.

How Is the Transportation Subsidy Allocated?

The go!pass program is administered by getDowntown, but the entity that makes the policy choice on allocation of the go!pass subsidy is the board of the Ann Arbor DDA. That’s a function of the fact that the DDA manages Ann Arbor’s public parking system under contract with the city. And in broad strokes, as long as the city gets its contractually obligated 17% of gross revenues, the DDA has latitude to expend parking system revenues according to the collective wisdom of its board.

For around 10 years, a transportation subsidy has supported the go!pass program, which is available only to Ann Arbor downtown employees. I get my go!pass card through the Workantile, a downtown coworking community.

At its June 2, 2010 meeting, the DDA board made a three-year allocation from the parking fund for the go!pass subsidy: $445,672 for FY 2011; $488,054 for FY 2012; and $540,060 for FY 2013, the current year. This money is paid to the AATA to cover the cost of rides that go!pass holders take. The size of that subsidy is a function of at least two factors.

First, go!pass holders take a lot of rides on AATA buses. During the 12 months between Oct 1, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2012, they took about 604,000 rides. That reflected a slight dip in go!pass ridership, down from 634,000 rides in the previous year.

go!pass totals by year

go!pass total rides by year. The number of rides taken with go!passes has roughly doubled since 2004. This past year reflected a dip, which appears to be related to a reduced number of cards in circulation: 6,591 compared to 7,226. (Data from AATA; chart by The Chronicle.)

go!pass ridership by month

go!pass rides by month, year over year. The red trend line is the most recent year, 2012. The previous year is shown in black. (Data from AATA; chart by The Chronicle.)

Rides per go!pass

While the total number of rides dipped slightly, the number of rides per card continued its upward trend. Since 2004, the number of rides per card has increased from about 60 to about 90. (Data from getDowntown program; chart by The Chronicle.)

The size of the needed subsidy is also partly a function of AATA policy. At its Aug. 24, 2011 meeting, the AATA board voted essentially to calibrate the cost of the go!pass rides to the amount of money the DDA had already allocated, instead of calculating the actual cost, which would likely have been more.

The size of the subsidy that’s needed to support bus rides taken through the go!pass program is also reduced somewhat by the $10 cost that’s charged to a company for each employee’s go!pass. And a go!pass program rule further amplifies the effect of the $10 cost per go!pass. That rule requires participating downtown employers to purchase passes for all their employees – at a cost of $10 a year. So companies are required to be “all-in” with the go!pass program.

Say a 20-person company participates in the program, but only five employees think they’ll ever want to ride the bus, for whatever reason. That 20-person company is still required to purchase 20 go!passes at $10 apiece. The $150 collected for those 15 go!passes – which will likely never be used – helps offset the cost of the rides taken with the five other cards, which could be heavily used.

From presentations I’ve seen getDowntown executive director Nancy Shore give, the Workantile’s pattern of go!pass usage is typical. A few card holders take a relative large number of rides, while the “long tail” of cards shows relatively little use:

Workantile go!pass small

Workantile go!pass usage.

So the financial effect of the “all-in” requirement is to reduce somewhat the amount of additional subsidy that is needed, with the cost of little-used cards partly offsetting the cost of the rides taken with heavily-used cards.

But the “all-in” requirement is not financially motivated. Instead, it’s seen mainly as a way to put a bus pass in the hand of someone who might otherwise never even consider using the bus to get somewhere. And that person might wind up taking a couple rides, and might even add the bus as an occasional option to satisfy their travel needs.

That makes sense to me – putting a convenient, economical tool for accessing public transportation in as many hands as possible, on the theory that it might help win some converts. Some of those converts might add to the nice meaty head of the “long tail,” but others might help shorten and thicken up that tail.

With that in mind, why do those hands we’re putting these bus passes in have to be attached the ends of arms belonging to downtown employees?

Bus Passes for Everyone

I would make two observations. First, the go!pass program is a success measured in terms of participation and ridership. But I think the subsidy is greater than it needs to be to achieve the goals of the program. I think there’s a lot of room to increase the $10-per-card cost, without diminishing the fact that these go!passes would still be an incredible bargain to a cardholder or to a company. But some revision to the “all-in” requirement for downtown businesses might be required.

Second, ordinary Ann Arbor folks who own property and pay the 2 mill transit tax are susceptible to the same incentives and influences that downtown employees are. If you put a convenient, economical tool for accessing public transportation in all of their hands, you might make converts to public transportation out of them as well.

The DDA board will, between now and April 2012, weigh the question of continuing to support the go!pass program – because the three-year allocation goes only through this fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2013. If the board were to maintain the public transportation go!pass subsidy at roughly current levels – around a half million dollars a year – but reduce the public transportation subsidy just for downtown employees, that subsidy could be extended to a broader group of people.

So here’s what I’d like the DDA board to consider: Begin a transition from the DDA’s historical approach to the go!pass subsidy, which is downtown-employee centric, to one that is more broadly inclusive of Ann Arbor. I’m not suggesting that we pull the rug out from under the go!pass program all in one go. But eventually, I’d like to see the following kind of program replace the current go!pass.

  • A physical swipe-able transportation card would be sent to every Ann Arbor address that pays property taxes – because the card would be included in the tax bill. Any registered voters who were missed in that mailing would also receive a card. Having such a card would simply be part and parcel of living in Ann Arbor. They’d be as ubiquitous as library cards. Such cards could also be obtained by any non-resident for, say $10.
  • The transportation cards would be issued in a “pre-loaded” state with, for example, 20 bus rides or 10 hours of parking. You could swipe it to board a bus, or to pay for your downtown parking. So this subsidy would be available broadly, not just to downtown employees. But it wouldn’t be as generous as the current subsidy to downtown employees.
  • Additional value could be loaded onto the cards though online purchase or at automated kiosks at the downtown AATA transit center, which is being rebuilt. To make the kiosks a reality, though, the AATA would need to re-think some choices on that new transit center building it’s starting to build. At its Oct. 18, 2012 meeting, the AATA board opted to add the cost of LEED certification to the budget of the new transit station, but not to include the cost of automated ticketing kiosks.

The DDA board will be holding a retreat on Nov. 16. That would be a good occasion to engage in the higher-level policy discussion that could lead to such a transit pass program, funded with public parking revenues.

Other Ridership

Though it’s unrelated to my specific proposal, this column seems like a good repository for some additional data on other subsets of AATA ridership (University of Michigan affiliates) and other modes of transportation (Amtrak). So here it is:

University of Michigan Ridership on AATA

University of Michigan ridership on AATA buses by month from 2005-2012. The most recent year is the red trend line. The previous year is the black trend line.  (Data from AATA; chart by The Chronicle.)

University of Michigan Bars

University of Michigan ridership on AATA buses – yearly totals: 2005-2012.  (Data from AATA; chart by The Chronicle.)

Fixed Route AATA

Total ridership on AATA fixed route service by month from 2004-2012. The most recent year is the red trend line. The previous year is the black trend line. (Data from AATA; chart by The Chronicle.)

AATA Ridership

Total ridership on AATA fixed route service yearly totals from 2004-2012. (Data from AATA; chart by The Chronicle.)


Total boardings and deboardings at the Ann Arbor Amtrak station, located on Depot Street. The most recent year is the red trend line. The previous year is the black trend line. Last year the monthly totals showed Amtrak on pace to set a record through May, but numbers dropped from May through the rest of the year, when compared to the previous year’s highs. This year tracked about the same as last year through March, dropped, but recovered in June and July and was back to previous years’ highs in August and September. (Data from MDOT; chart by The Chronicle.)

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AATA on Chelsea Bus: Cut Fares, Add Wifi Fri, 26 Mar 2010 14:44:23 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (March 24, 2010): The transportation news out of this month’s AATA board meeting was that the twice-daily Chelsea-Ann Arbor express bus service will continue, despite low ridership. It will be moved in-house using AATA buses. The $125 monthly fare will be reduced to $99. Up to now, the pilot program has been operated by Indian Trails.

 Ted Annis public commentary AATA board

Ted Annis distributes copies of his treasurer's report during public commentary at the start of Wednesday's AATA board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

A representative from Indian Trails addressed the board during public commentary at the start of the meeting, in part to convey disappointment, but primarily to thank board members for the opportunity to work on that private-public partnership.

Public commentary also included remarks from Ted Annis, the board’s treasurer, who signed up for a public comment slot, and used it to deliver his treasurer’s report. The report had not been given a slot on the agenda by the board’s governance committee – after reviewing it, the committee decided it did not fit the parameters of the treasurer’s report specified in the board’s bylaws.

The wrangling over the treasurer’s report thus continued from last month’s board meeting, when fellow board members expressed the view that Annis’ monthly reports, which he has submitted since taking over the treasurership last fall, do not include the material specified in their bylaws. Instead, they said, the reports are effectively the expression of an individual board member’s dissent on board policy.

The board voted to establish a bylaws committee to be chaired by David Nacht to examine the matter in more detail.

Board members also voted to change their meeting venue and day, starting in two months. In May, the board will begin meeting at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library on the third Thursday evening of the month at 6:30 p.m. The library board room location, also used by the Ann Arbor Public Schools and AADL for their board meetings, offers more space for attendees, as well as video recording facilities.

Chelsea-Ann Arbor Service

Before the board was a resolution – recommended by the performance monitoring and external relations committee – that the Chelsea-Ann Arbor commuter bus service be continued through May 2011, but switched to AATA buses from Indian Trails motor coaches.  The resolution specified that the fare would be reduced to $99/month from $125/month. The fare reduction, in concert with an intensive marketing campaign, is a move that is hoped to improve ridership numbers.

Although the service has not achieved the expected ridership, board members authorized its continuation as a useful means of gathering information, especially as the board moved forward with its contemplation of countywide service.

Chelsea-Ann Arbor: Public Comment

Jeff Deason, sales representative for Indian Trails, the motor coach operator that’s been operating the twice daily service between the city of Ann Arbor and Chelsea, appeared before the board to thank them for the opportunity to provide the service as long as they did – since May 2008. He told them that in those two years, Indian Trails had been a proud partner with the AATA, and noted that the ridership had been pleased with the quality of the equipment and the service provided by their drivers.

Deason described how Indian Trails had understood that the AATA was contemplating the move to in-house operation of the service due to concerns about reducing costs, and that Indian Hills Trails had presented an alternative plan, which had ultimately not been recommended. While Indian Trails was disappointed, he said, he thanked the board and expressed appreciation for the opportunity. He said they would continue to provide the service on the Canton-Ann Arbor express route, and that they were optimistic about other opportunities in the future.

In his turn during public commentary at the start of the meeting, Jim Mogensen pointed out that commuter service fares were being reduced from $125 per month to $99 a month even while fares for fixed-route service were set to increase. [The $0.50 increase, which was spread over two years, was approved last year. That resulted in a rise from $1 to $1.25 last year, with the second phase of the increase due in May 2010 to raise the basic fare to $1.50 per ride. See Chronicle coverage: "Bus Fares Will Increase"]

Asked Mogensen, “Where does the money [to offset the cost not covered by fares] come from? Is there a Chelsea purchase-of-service agreement?” [AATA provides service to communities outside of Ann Arbor  through purchase-of-service agreements. Ann Arbor taxpayers fund AATA through a property millage.]

Mogensen cautioned that the cushioning of a motor coach like Indian Trails had been providing was much different from riding on a regular AATA bus.

Mogensen returned to the topic of express bus service during public commentary time at the conclusion of the meeting.

He noted that part of the challenge in marketing the Canton-Ann Arbor service [which targets University of Michigan workers] is that to get to work in Ann Arbor from Canton, you get in your car, you drive down Ford Road, you park your car at the new Plymouth Road park-and-ride lot, you take bus to work – it’s free. [AATA buses do not require payment of a fare by UM workers on boarding – their fares are paid through the M-Ride agreement between UM and AATA. The M-Ride agreement is currently being re-negotiated.] It’s understandable why it’s hard to market that, Mogensen, said.

Mogensen also returned to the specific question of where the money to support the commuter service comes from. If it derives from the Ann Arbor property millage, he said, there are regulations that apply with respect to the use of the funds, which could be used in other ways.

Chelsea-Ann Arbor: Board Deliberations

David Nacht led off with a blunt question: “How much money are we going to throw into this?” Chris White, AATA’s manager of service development, put that number at $110,000. The total breaks down into thirds: 1/3 would be covered by fares, 1/3 through a state grant, and 1/3 by the AATA. [It is the 1/3 from the AATA that Mogensen focused on during his public commentary.]

Based on the numbers, Nacht tentatively floated the conclusion that ridership needed to almost double in order for the service to operate without support from AATA. Sue McCormick, an AATA board member who is also the city of Ann Arbor’s public services area administrator, asked Michael Ford, the CEO of AATA, if the staff thought that a doubling of ridership was achievable.

Ford said, “We’re going to try.”

Nacht wondered if it was possible to offer a commission for people to sell tickets. “I would urge us to use capitalist incentives,” he quipped.

Ted Annis noted that given the current ridership numbers, the Chelsea-Ann Arbor service required support if it was to continue. “On its immediate merits, it doesn’t stand up.” However, Annis argued for continuing the service, because it gives the organization useful information going forward. Part of that going forward is the AATA’s contemplation of expanding its service countywide, which Charles Griffith cited as a reason to retain the Chelsea-Ann Arbor express service at least another year.

During the board’s question time for the CEO, before it deliberated on the Chelsea-Ann Arbor resolution, Nacht had also expressed his unwillingness to see the service discontinued, with the AATA countywide initiative in the works.

During question time, Nacht also elicited from Chris White a clarification of the University of Michigan’s fare subsidy for its employees – UM pays $62.50, or 50% out of the $125 fare. With the reduction in fare, said White, UM will continue to pay $62.50, so UM riders will receive the full benefit of the reduced price.

Question time was also the occasion when Sue McCormick asked for some clarification about whether riders wanted the deluxe coaches versus standard buses. White explained that the kind of coach did not appear to be a “make or break” issue for riders. However, the availability of wireless Internet access on the bus did appear to be “make or break” for some riders.

Griffith said that Indian Trails had developed a proposal for their coach service at a reduced rate but without wifi capability. The desire to provide wireless access to the Internet was thus a crucial aspect of the decision.

During deliberations on the resolution, Griffith noted that the motor coach version of the service was tried at first, because the “luxury version” was thought to be necessary to attract ridership. Based on surveys of riders, he said, that did not appear to be essential.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the continuation of the Chelsea-Ann Arbor express bus service through May 2011, reducing the fare, and using AATA buses instead of Indian Trails.

Board Venue Change

At its Feb. 17, 2010 meeting, the board discussed but did not vote on the idea of changing its meeting day and place, in order to improve accessibility and transparency to the public in the context of its contemplation of countywide expansion.

During her report to the board, Rebecca Burke, who chairs the AATA’s local advisory council (LAC), told them that the council had drafted a letter to CEO Michael Ford outlining a variety of issues they saw as challenges with the library location. [The LAC  provides a forum for seniors and those with disabilities to provide input to the AATA.]

Jim Mogensen, during his public commentary, noted that the library closes at 9 p.m. and arrangements should be made to make sure AATA board meetings could, if necessary, go past 9 p.m. He noted that Ann Arbor Public School board meetings met in the same location and often ran past 9 p.m. [At its most recent meeting, on March 24, the AAPS board meeting lasted well past midnight.]

Ford said the staff would look at all possibilities for making the transition as smooth as possible.

During deliberations on the resolution, Sue McCormick got clarification that the concerns raised by Burke had been taken into account. [They fall into two categories: possible issues with the library building; and the accessibility to the library building in the context of ongoing construction of the underground parking garage directly adjacent to the building.]

Nacht wanted to know if the meetings would be on TV. Jesse Bernstein, chair of the performance monitoring and external relations committee that worked on the issue, explained that coverage on Community Television Network (CTN), the local cable access television station, would not be live. However, within a couple of days after the meeting, the video will be available through online video-on-demand, in the same way that other meetings are, when CTN records them.

In addition, continued Bernstein, the meetings would be aired on CTN’s cable TV channels during a couple of slots during the week, still to be scheduled.

Sue McCormick declared that the new system would represent a substantial improvement.

At the board’s Dec. 16, 2009 meeting, during a discussion on the issue of videotaping meetings, David Nacht recalled the recent history of the board’s position on the question:

In board discussion of video recording their meetings, board member David Nacht said that he was personally in favor of video recording meetings, but noted that the board had recently voted down a proposal to video record meetings, and that lacking new information, out of respect for previous board decisions he was disinclined to support it. Responding to Nacht, Annis said that the “new information” could be that the AATA had a new CEO and was exploring an extension of its service to more areas of the county.

On Wednesday, Nacht said that he’d been a supporter of video recording meetings for six years in the interest of transparency and there had been zero interest in going that direction for 5 and a half years. Now that the board would be voting to make it happen, Nacht said he was “thrilled.”

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the resolution to change its meeting time and location to the third Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. The board currently meets at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave., on the second-to-last Wednesday of the month.

Treasurer’s Report

Ted Annis has served on the AATA board since having his nomination confirmed by the Ann Arbor city council in February 2005. His current term ends in May of this year, but he could be re-appointed. He has told mayor John Hieftje that he would serve another term, if asked. The mayor makes nominations for appointments, which must be approved by city council.

Treasurer’s Report: Annis as Treasurer

Since election by his board colleagues as treasurer in 2009, Annis has submitted one-page treasurer’s reports:

At the board’s February 2010 meeting, Annis raised his objection to the omission from the board’s agenda of the item that called for the presentation of his report. From discussion at the February meeting, it emerged that other board members were concerned that Annis was using the treasurer’s report as a vehicle for expressing a dissenting view on board policy, rather than presenting commentary on dollars-and-cents information:

That being said, cautioned Nacht, there is a reason for the treasurer’s report in the bylaws – it’s supposed to be more than just a dollars-and-cents accounting, and the treasurer should have the ability to report directly to the board. It all depended, Nacht said, on what the report includes: Is it more philosophical or is it more dollars and cents? To the extent that the content of the treasurer’s report amounted to a dissenting opinion on board policy, Nacht said, it shouldn’t come in the form of a treasurer’s report.

Treasurer’s Report: Annis as a Member of the Public

At Wednesday’s meeting, then, with the treasurer’s report item not included on the agenda, Annis signed up for public comment on the sign-in clipboard, after two other speakers.

When the first two speakers had said their piece, board chair Paul Ajegba noted that Annis was signed in. Ajegba expressed uncertainty about whether it was possible for a board member to address the board during public commentary as a member of the public. David Nacht said he thought it was a “definitional issue,” meaning that a person was a member of the board or of the staff, or of the public, but not more than one of those.

Queried by board members about the content of the bylaws, executive assistant Karen Wheeler [who keeps the minutes of the board meetings] said she didn’t think there was anything in the bylaws that disallowed it.

Annis suggested that because it would be a brief presentation, the board could debate the question of whether he should be allowed to address the body during public commentary – while he gave the report.

Ajegba offered somewhat resignedly that Annis would be “breaking new ground.”

Treasurer’s Report: The Content of the Report

Annis then read briefly from the introductory material explaining that the report was being delivered during public comment time, noting that:

[...] Board members have complained that the last three Treasurer’s Reports have ranged beyond the reporting upon the monthly financial statements and that they do not wish to be exposed to the Treasurer’s presentations. The offending reports have included an analysis of countywide millage funding, a request for transparency, a request for appropriate Board meeting accommodations, a suggestion of a budgeted operating amount to guide the outside consultant designing the countywide bus system, a computation of savings available from cost-efficient operations, and the hiring of a CFO (Chief Financial Officer).

The February report – delivered on Wednesday – contained the recommendation that the AATA’s cost per bus service hour, which is currently around $104, be placed into the CEO’s goal’s and objectives:

1. $95/bus service hour by year-end 2010

2. $85/bus service hour by June 2011

3. $75/bus service hour by year-end 2011

The report also contends that capital funds available from the federal government are typically transferred into operating revenue to produce a balanced budget on an annual basis. Over the last five years, the report contends, the net effect of the practice is that $10.773 milion has been removed from the capital funds account to cover “excessive operating expenses.”

As capital funds, the report says, those dollars would have been otherwise available for use on a new transit station or a rail station. [The city of Ann Arbor's share of the Fuller Road Station – a joint project to build a parking structure and bus station – is around $5 million, but no financing plan has yet been identified except that the mayor has indicated no general fund money would be used.]

Near the conclusion of the board meeting, Ajegba asked the senior staff to look at Annis’ report with particular attention to the $10.773 million in capital funds transfers and to compare that with other transit authorities.

Treasurer’s Report: Formation of a Bylaws Committee

At the conclusion of Annis’ public commentary remarks, Ajegba asked CEO Michael Ford to get an opinion from the AATA’s legal counsel, Jerry Lax, on the question of board members addressing the board as members of the public.

Later in the meeting, Ajegba explained that the governance committee had looked at the report and determined that it was not consistent with the description of the treasurer’s report in the bylaws. That description is as follows:

The Treasurer shall submit to the Board, and comment on monthly budget-expenditure reports prepared by management.

Ajegba also indicated that Lax had concluded Annis’ report was not consistent with the treasurer’s report, as specified in the bylaws.

Ajegba asked David Nacht to serve as chair of a bylaws committee to take a look at the issue. Nacht indicated that Ajegba had phoned earlier to ask him to serve in such a capacity and that he’d agreed. He quipped: “I am not going to change my mind at this moment,” which provoked laughs all around. He then joked, “I would like the bylaws to be written in Romanian.”

CEO’s Goals and Objectives

CEO Michael Ford was hired last year and started work in the summer of 2009. Since that time the board has asked Ford to work with its committees to come up with a mutually agreeable set of goals and objectives on which his evaluation would be based. That process has been iterative, and the board had before it a set of goals and objectives that had evolved from that process.

Sue McCormick led off discussion by describing them as “well-written and understandable.” However, she asked where the financial objectives were expressed in them. Ford pointed to a section in the second page that was meant to address that issue:

Using the findings of the audit, CEO will support and encourage continuous improvement teams and the principles of six sigma and lean processes to eliminate waste and inefficiencies thereby controlling costs while enhancing performance.

McCormick allowed that she appreciated the language but pressed: “What’s the metric?”

David Nacht concurred with McCormick’s concern, saying the language seemed “watered-down and mushy.” He said that Ford’s first year was not supposed to be “just a learning year.”

McCormick identified two basic issues that were problematic: (i) the formalized performance goals and objectives for the CEO were not aligned with the budget process [AATA's fiscal year starts in October; Ford's evaluation period started in July], and (ii) there’s not anything as simple in the goals and objectives as “perform within budget,” let alone something like improve efficiency by 1%.

The goals and objectives, said McCormick, need something that gives financial direction.

Nacht concurred, saying that financial direction was especially important, given how easy it is to use preventive maintenance dollars for temporary budget fixes.

Jesse Bernstein said he was not opposed to putting in some kind of metric, understanding that there was a short time-frame from now until the point when Ford would be evaluated on it.

McCormick then turned to Ford and asked if there were any issues as far as being within budget for this year. Ford indicated there were challenges and said that Nacht was right about the issue of preventive maintenance dollars being used to cover other parts of the budget.

Reflecting on the idea that they would vote on something in March and use it for evaluation three months later, Nacht said he supposed that as far as due process, they had flunked. “That’s ridiculous, it seems to me,” he said. Nacht wondered if it wouldn’t be a good idea to think of it as setting up the evaluation for next year, rather than doing it as a “pretend thing.”

Annis indicated agreement with what others had said and added that he didn’t see a target completion date. Ford responded by saying there was an accompanying work plan that reflected dates. Annis allowed that it might be simply a presentational issue.

Griffith didn’t concur with Nacht’s assessment that the board had flunked, saying “Let’s back off from calling it a failure.” He suggested that what they needed to do was to figure out how to get the evaluation of goals and objectives on a schedule and a routine that works as two-way communication.  He suggested that quarterly check-ins would be desirable.

Ajegba acknowledged the long process that had started before December 2009 in developing the goals and objectives. He noted that there were still some specific measurable outcomes in the goals and objectives that Ford could be evaluated on. He did not feel it made sense to put in metrics like a reduction in cost per service hour to $95/hour, which were not achievable in three months time, when the evaluation would take place. [That was a metric suggested in Annis' treasurer's report.]

Come July, Ajegba suggested, they could add specific metrics. For now, it was still a useful tool for evaluating a 1-year contract.

McCormick indicated she would support the goals and objectives for this year, but not for next year – they were too “activity oriented” as opposed to “outcome oriented,” she said.

Outcome: The board approved the set of goals and objectives for the CEO, with abstention by Annis.

Other Financial Matters

Also on the agenda were two other financial items. One related to the receipt of the audited financial statement for the year ending on Sept. 30, 2009. The other authorized the use of funds to hire additional personnel.

Audited Statements

Ted Annis summarized the audit report by saying the best part was that there was no substantial disagreement with management. Among the recommendations in the audit report were a surprise audit of on-demand service vendors to make sure billable hours are correct, tightening up of controls on payroll and who’s signing for what, and checking the vendor files to make sure that W-9 forms are in place.

Outcome: The board unanimously accepted the audited financial statements for the year ending Sept. 30, 2009.

Personnel Funding

A resolution before the board authorized the CEO to make some professional hires:

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Chief Executive Officer is authorized to utilize funds currently available within the FY2010 budget toward meeting AATA’s needs for sufficient professional personnel, [...]

Sue McCormick said she was supportive of the resolution’s intent but was concerned that it was open-ended – there were no funding limits and there was no indication of how many FTEs were to be added. Annis asked if McCormick was suggesting a friendly amendment on the fly – yes, replied McCormick.

After brief discussion, the board approved an amendment to specify “up to three FTEs.”

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the authorization to hire additional professional staff.

Other Public Commentary

In addition to the public commentary reported above, three others also spoke.

Sandra Holley said she wanted to draw the board’s attention to the new Plymouth Road park-and-ride lot and the impact it had on routes. To get from the north side of town to Domino’s Farms on a public route – which should be a 15-minute trip – took two hours. First you have to go down Pontiac Trail to downtown Ann Arbor, transfer at the Blake Transit Center, ride to the UM hospital, then take the shuttle. She also noted that A-Ride, the AATA paratransit service, does not consider Domino’s Farms to be inside Ann Arbor, so the fare was $9 each way, not the $2.50 fare inside the city .

In support of Holley’s depiction, Carolyn Grawi, of the Center for Independent Living, said it took a good hour spread over three routes to get from CIL to Domino’s. Grawi also alerted the board to the Transit Partnership Conference to be held April 1-2, 2010 at Mt. Pleasant, Mich. At the conference, attendees will work together to develop strategies to improve public transportation. Grawi called particular attention to the fact that one of the sessions will include participation from rural transit managers, which is germane to the AATA’s contemplation of a countywide expansion of its service.

Nancy Kaplan asked the board a question: How will the planned Fuller Road Station change bus service to that area? Board chair Paul Ajegba responded that he did not know if the logistics of that had been worked out. CEO Michael Ford indicated that there’s more work to be done on it, including modeling work. Jesse Bernstein said the advantage of a large enough bus terminus at that location was that it could handle a full busload of people. That meant it could perhaps bypass the downtown Blake Transit Center in bringing people to work at UM hospitals from Ypsilanti.

Kaplan followed up Bernstein’s comment by asking why it was not possible now to run a bus straight from Ypsilanti to the Fuller Road area. Bernstein explained that currently there is simply no location where passengers could get off the bus without blocking traffic. David Nacht wrapped up the public comment for the evening by appealing to board chair Ajegba to bring things to a close, saying that public commentary was not intended as a Q&A session.

Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Ted Annis, Jesse Bernstein, Paul Ajegba, Sue McCormick

Absent: Rich Robben

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]

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AATA Gets Advice on Countywide Transit Thu, 10 Dec 2009 21:18:35 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Transportation Authority special board meeting (Dec. 8, 2009): Late Tuesday afternoon at a special meeting, the AATA board heard from two consulting attorneys, as well as heads of three other Michigan transit authorities, on the subject of expanding the geographic scope of AATA service.

Jeff Ammon donut and layer cake

Jeff Ammon, a Grand Rapids area attorney who’s been consulting for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, explains legal options for establishing an entity that could expand the geographic reach of AATA service. Millage options use the metaphor of “donut” (upper left) and “layer cake” (middle right). (Photo by the writer.)

The meeting of the full board, with their five guests, came on the heels of a planning and development committee meeting. At that committee meeting Chris White, AATA’s manager of service development, gave highlights from a recently completed survey of Washtenaw County voters on their attitudes towards a possible countywide transportation tax.

Those who said they would “definitely” or “probably” vote yes on a 1 mill countywide millage eked out a 51% majority countywide.

However, Bob Foy, general manager of Flint’s Mass Transit Authority, repeatedly reminded the full board at their meeting: To get a millage passed, you need a product you can sell. In Flint, which is a countywide authority, Foy reported that the last millage was approved with 68% of the vote.

What the expanded transportation product might look like for Washtenaw County is not yet clear. At the planning and development meeting, AATA CEO Michael Ford indicated that AATA would be bringing in a consultant to address that issue.

The message sent at the board meeting by the two consulting attorneys – Jerry Lax and Jeff Ammon – was that there’s a difference between (i) deciding on the legal authority to be formed, and (ii) deciding on the desired service that AATA wanted to offer. When the board knew what countywide service it wanted to provide and how it wanted to fund that service, they said, at that point it would make sense to decide on the legal mechanism for establishing an expanded authority.

That authority could be established legally under either of the state’s enabling acts: Act 55 or Act 196.

Conversation about possible expansion to countywide service has been a part of AATA board discussions for at least a year. [Chronicle coverage: "AATA Plans for Countywide System" and "AATA Adopts Vision: Countywide Service"]

Act 55 versus Act 196

Jerry Lax, a former Ann Arbor city attorney and the current Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority legal counsel, and Jeff Ammon, an attorney out of Grand Rapids, laid out some of the technical differences between Michigan’s Act 55 (1963) and Act 196 (1986).

Length of Millage

One of those differences relates to the allowed duration of the millages. For an authority that provides regular bus service, both acts allow for a levy of a maximum of 5 mills, for a maximum of 5 years. Where Act 196 is more flexible is for transit service that includes a “fixed guideway.”

Vehicles that run on rails – street cars and commuter trains – are obvious examples, but bus rapid transit (BRT) is also a “fixed guideway” system. With a BRT operation, special reserved lanes and queue-jumping infrastructure at intersections allow buses to take priority over other traffic on the roadway, so that they have a “fixed guideway” within the roadway.

Act 196 allows a millage to be approved by voters for up to 25 years if it includes a fixed guideway project:

Taxes may be levied at a rate and for a period of not more than 25 years as determined by the public authority in the resolution calling the election and as set forth in the proposition submitted to the electors if the public authority seeking the levy is seeking the levy for public transit services that include a fixed guideway project authorized under 49 USC 5309.

[What is not entirely clear is how the current transportation millage levied by the city of Ann Arbor is consistent with the AATA Act 55 organization. Ann Arbor's millage has no end date, but Act 55 imposes a limit of 5 years.]

Political Subdivisions, Service Outside Area

Other differences relate to the political entities mentioned in the acts. Act 55, passed in 1963, was conceived as a way for cities to form transportation authorities:

From Act 55: Sec. 2. (1) The legislative body of any city having a population of not more than 300,000 may incorporate a public authority for the purpose of acquiring, owning, operating, or causing to be operated, a mass transportation system.

Act 196, passed in 1986, recognized that it’s not just cities that might want to form a transportation authority [emphasis added]:

From Act 196: Political subdivision means a county, city, village, or township.

Further, Act 196 provides the explicit provision for political subdivisions to band together to form an authority, and provides the added flexibility that parts of those political subdivisions, except for counties, may be designated as belonging to the area of the transportation authority:

A city, village, or township forming a public authority by itself or in combination with 1 or more other political subdivisions may provide that only a portion of the city, village, or township shall become part of the public authority. The portion of the city, village, or township to become part of the public authority shall be bounded by precinct lines drawn for election purposes.

Act 196 also lays out explicitly how transportation service to areas outside the boundaries of the authority can be provided – there’s no geographic limit to where service can be provided. Under Act 55, it’s not impossible to achieve service outside the area of the authority – the AATA does this through purchase of service agreements (POSAs).

Opting Out of the Authority

In describing how Flint’s MTA had achieved a countywide authority, Bob Foy said they went to the county board and asked them to join the existing Act 55 authority. There was a champion for the cause on the board who enjoyed the respect of other board members, and was able to achieve a unanimous vote to join the authority, making it a countywide entity.

One advantage to that approach, Foy said, was that once the county is on board, “you have everybody.” That is, a township within the county could not, under Act 55, opt out of membership in the transportation authority once the county was a member.

Foy stressed that this was not the same as getting a millage passed countywide or providing service countywide. It just meant that you had the opportunity to go to all the voters of the county and ask them to pass a millage to support the service you wanted to provide.

In contrast to Act 55, a recent amendment to Act 196 gives any political subdivisions that get included in an Act 196 transportation authority the opportunity to opt out:

(7) An authority that forms under this act on or after May 1, 2006 shall notify all political subdivisions or portions of any city, village, or township that are included in the authority that the political subdivision or portion of the political subdivision is included in the authority. The authority shall include in this notification notice of the right to withdraw from the authority under this section. The political subdivision or portion of the political subdivision that is notified has 30 days after receiving the notification to withdraw from the authority pursuant to subsection (5).

Taking the AATA and the city of Ypsilanti as an example, if the Washtenaw County board of commissioners were to vote to join the AATA under its existing Act 55 authority, the city of Ypsilanti (among others) would be included in that Act 55 authority. Any millage levied – in the city of Ypsilanti and across the county – would need to be approved by county voters. So Ypsilanti would have no choice about being in the authority, but voters would have a choice at the polls about whether to approve the associated millage. It’s possible to wind up with a countywide authority, but no funding source.

On the other hand, if the AATA first formed an Act 196 authority, and then the Washtenaw County board of commissioners voted to join the AATA under that new Act 196 authority, then the city of Ypsilanti (among others) would have to be property notified that it had been included, and would have 30 days to withdraw if it so chose. Withdrawing would mean that Ypsilanti voters would not be included in any ballot question on a millage related to that authority – because they wouldn’t be living within the area of the authority.

Technical Paths to Countywide Service

Attorneys Jerry Lax and Jeff Ammon laid out at least three different funding options for expanding AATA service.

Piecemeal Service Contracts

On this scenario, the geographic area of the legal authority would not change – it would remain the city of Ann Arbor. To add service to more areas of the county, the AATA would add contracts with individual municipalities, much as it does now. Into the mix was also thrown the possibility of contracting with Washtenaw County for service coverage in areas that did not otherwise have a contract with the AATA.

This approach illustrates that the service coverage area need not necessarily be the same as the geographic area defining a transit authority.

A contract-by-contract model could be pursued under Act 55, without changing the AATA to an Act 196 authority. However, the recommendation from the two attorneys was to convert AATA to an Act 196 authority. Conversion to an Act 196 authority provides the advantage that transit topics are laid out in more detail to provide explicit guidance, there’s not a geographic limit on service, and there’s a possibility of a millage lasting up to 25 years if it’s used to pay for some kind of rail or bus rapid transit system.

Those advantages would put the AATA in a better position to lead future countywide transit efforts.

The County Forms an Act 196 Authority  (Layer Cake Millage)

A second option presented to the board for funding expanded transit service was for two transit authorities to exist simultaneously. The second authority would be established by the county under Act 196. The resulting geographic area from which this Act 196 authority would potentially draw a millage would be the entire county – minus any municipalities that chose to withdraw within 30 days of being notified that they’d been included in an Act 196 transit authority.

Voters in the geographic area of the new Act 196 authority – the county minus possibly some subset of the county – would then have to approve any millage that might be levied.

Assuming the city of Ann Arbor did not exercise its right to withdraw from the Act 196 authority formed by the county, and assuming that voters in the county’s Act 196 area approved a millage, then Ann Arbor voters would pay two millages – one mandated in the city charter, and the other to the new Act 196 authority.

This is what Jeff Ammon called a “layer cake” approach – a countywide millage would be layered on top of the Ann Arbor city millage.

With two transit authorities, a natural question is: Which transit authority actually owns the buses and operates the service? On the scenario sketched out at the board meeting, the county’s new Act 196 authority would exist primarily as a funding mechanism. In exchange for agreed-upon levels of service, the county’s Act 196 authority would turn over its millage money to the AATA, which would continue to operate the service.

Bill Schomisch, who’s head of Kalamazoo Metro Transit and who attended the special AATA board meeting to share the Kalamazoo experience, described how Kalamazoo is a “layer cake” model, with the other transit authority existing as a funding mechanism for the KMT. Schomisch also told a cautionary tale about what happens if the millage fails to be renewed – they’d finally succeeded in getting a millage passed in May of 2009, but they had to operate for one year on reserves.

The County Forms an Act 196 Authority (Donut Millage)

This scenario begins the same way as the “layer cake” approach – the county would form an Act 196 authority. But on this path, the city of Ann Arbor would exercise its statutory option to withdraw from the authority within 30 days. With respect to a potential millage source, that would leave the area around Ann Arbor as the “donut” to the “hole” left by Ann Arbor.

The existing AATA would then provide transit service in areas outside of the “hole” by contracting with the Act 196 authority.

Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid, the Grand Rapids’ transit system, which includes six cities as part of an Act 196 authority, described the funding for their system in this way: the “hole” has contracts with the “donut.” [Varga joined the meeting by phone.]

Comparing the “layer cake” to the “donut,” one difference is that for a given amount of revenue needed from the new Act 196 authority, the millage rate would need to be higher on the “donut” approach, because Ann Arbor’s property tax base would be left out of the equation.

Public Comment, Politics and a Morsel of Analysis

During time for audience comment, Nick Sapkiewicz of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) asked a question of the guests that spoke to some of the diplomatic and political efforts that would be necessary for countywide expansion: How do you determine representation on new transit authority boards?

Foy reported that for Flint’s MTA, the county’s board of commissioners appointed five positions, the city appointed five positions and one was appointed by the “education community.” Varga described how the city of Grand Rapids appointed five board members, with the other six cities in the authority appointing two each. Varga said that at one point, three of the six mayors served on the board.

AATA special board meeting

At the conclusion of the AATA special board meeting, questions and comments were entertained from the audience. (Photo by the writer.)

From the audience also came a question about balancing the service needs of different communities when it came to funding through contracts: How do you determine what level of service to offer, compared to a community’s ability to pay? The implicit background to the question was the ongoing challenge the city of Ypsilanti has faced in paying the full amount of the service contract it has with the AATA.  Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber and councilmember Peter Murdock attended the special meeting on Tuesday, with Schreiber offering his encouragement to the board to go down a path to countywide funding and service. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Buses for Ypsi and a Budget for AATA"]

From Grand Rapids’ Varga came the reply that even low density areas should get good service. And from Foy came the explanation that what they looked at in evaluating service levels was not miles driven or number of routes, but rather the question of whether they were meeting the needs of their riders.

Carolyn Grawi, of the Center for Independent Living, elicited from Schomisch the fact that advocates for disability (Friends of Transit) had helped pass the millage in Kalamazoo.

Jim Mogensen cautioned that while some of the advice was along the lines of there being several different legal mechanisms for doing things, the lesson from the guests and the AATA’s own experience was: “History matters. When it happens and why it happens matters.” He remarked that every system seemed to be cobbled together.  The cobbling together in the AATA’s case, he said, involved purchase-of-service contracts that seemed like a mechanism to lay claim to a local match for federal funding.

Mogensen often comments at AATA board meetings on the theme of contrasting interests: commuters versus residents. Transit service designed primarily to serve basic transportation needs of residents who use the system to get around could look much different from a system designed primarily to get people to their jobs.

Whether an expanded system looks more like a commuter system or more like a basic transportation system could factor into whether there’s support for membership by municipalities in a countywide Act 196 authority. And it could factor into the level of support for a millage in different areas of the county.

A system that featured connections between urban areas in the county would likely appeal to commuters, while a service that included door-to-door service for outlying county areas might look attractive to out-county dwellers.

As described by Flint MTA’s Foy, the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. The MTA provides something Foy called “through-the-door” service – a driver of a van will come into a rider’s dwelling to provide assistance with putting on coats and galoshes for those who would like it. The MTA also provides commuter service to the Delphi plant in Troy.

Like the Flint MTA, the AATA currently offers paratransit services through its A-Ride program, and is currently piloting commuter express buses between Chelsea and Ann Arbor, and Clinton and Ann Arbor. Ridership on those commuter bus pilots has not met expectations.

Chris White, of the AATA

Chris White, AATA’s service development manager, highlights survey results for the planning and development committee. To White’s right is AATA controller, Phil Webb. (Photo by the writer.)

At the planning and development committee meeting that immediately preceded the full board meeting, board member Sue McCormick focused on the geographic distribution of millage support measured by the survey that Chris White had reported out.

Groups of 235 respondents had been selected in four different mutually exclusive areas: Ann Arbor, non-Ann Arbor urbanized areas, western townships, and eastern townships.  The support for a possible countywide millage was strongest in Ann Arbor, followed by other urbanized areas, then western townships and eastern townships.

If western and eastern townships opted out of an Act 196 organization formed by the county, then the survey results indicate that chances of passing a transportation millage would increase. That would need to be balanced against the diminished millage revenue that their inclusion would otherwise bring.

What the survey revealed most clearly, said White, was that the state of the overall economy would be the major factor affecting possible millage support. When people feel like the future is uncertain, they’re less likely to support an additional millage, no matter what it’s for.

Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Ted Annis, Jesse Bernstein, Paul Ajegba, Sue McCormick, Rich Robben

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]

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Buses for Ypsi and a Budget for AATA Fri, 25 Sep 2009 04:00:17 +0000 Dave Askins WALLY poster on the wall of the AATA board room (Photo by the writer.)

WALLY poster on the wall of the AATA board room. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Sept. 23, 2009): At its Wednesday afternoon meeting, the AATA board approved a recommendation from its planning and development committee to use $220,000 in  federal stimulus funds to maintain bus service to the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. It’s a temporary measure, with the expectation that by fall 2010, a longer-term funding mechanism will be found for Ypsi buses.

The board also approved a roughly $25 million budget for its 2010 fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 20, 2010. It was about $1 million more than board member Ted Annis wanted to see – he dissented both from the planning and development committee’s budget recommendation as well as from the board’s vote to adopt it.

The longer-term solution to funding Ypsi buses, as well as Annis’ dissent on the budget, were partly reflected in the physical surroundings of the AATA board room. Sometime in the last month, two framed posters have been hung on the wall there – one shows the proposed WALLY north-south rail route that extends through northern Washtenaw County into Livingston County, and the other is a map of Washtenaw County. Both show regions broader than the current AATA millage area.

It’s a voter-approved countywide millage that offers one possibility of funding Ypsilanti buses. And Annis contended at the board’s meeting that in order to sell voters on such a millage, the agency’s operating costs needed to be reduced from the $102 per service hour that the adopted budget reflects.

Ypsilanti Buses

The board considered a resolution brought forward out of the planning and development committee, to use $220,000 in federal stimulus funding to bridge a gap in funding for bus service to the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Townships. The arrangement goes through June 2011. [See previous Chronicle coverage: "Federal Money May Save Bus #5 for Ypsi"]

By way of background, bus service in communities outside of Ann Arbor is funded through Purchase of Service Agreements (POSAs) with AATA. In contrast, bus service in Ann Arbor is funded through a transportation property millage (tax) that is currently levied on property inside the city limits at a rate of just over 2 mills.

Board chair David Nacht led off deliberations by asking what amount of federal stimulus funds the board had initially been discussing to be used for bridging the funding gap for the Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township POSA agreements.  Dawn Gabay, deputy CEO of the AATA, clarified that the amount initially discussed had been lower – $101,000. But that amount, she said, included service reductions. [Those reductions had included the elimination of Route #5 and reduced hours on Routes #10 and #11.]

Nacht then declared it was unfortunate that Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township found themselves in their current financial situation. “Let’s be plain about it,” he said, “it’s a subsidy – a transmission of wealth to the eastern side of Washtenaw County.”

Three men sitting at a table looking at pieces of paper AATA board meeting Ann Arbor

From left: AATA board members Ted Annis, Charles Griffith and Jesse Bernstein. They're looking over the text of the resolution that extended federal funding assistance to Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. (Photo by the writer.)

But then Nacht continued, “I support that subsidy.”  Noting the regional dynamic of the economy, Nacht said it was in the broader interest of Ann Arbor taxpayers to think about transportation in “a thoughtful and non-parochial way.”

Board member Ted Annis, who chairs the planning and development committee, said it was an obvious and straightforward decision to make: using $220,000 out of around $6.5 million in federal stimulus funding to bridge the POSA gap. However, he stressed – as he had done at the planning and development committee’s meeting – that the money came from the federal government. The fact that the money would be paid directly to the AATA to provide bus service was an argument in favor of the move, he said.

Board member Charles Griffith noted that it’s a short-term solution to a problem that is expected to continue. In a context where some of the service is funded through POSAs and other service is provide through a millage, he said, it’s important to find longer-term solutions and to do so in “an expeditious manner.”

Board member Paul Ajegba emphasized the fact that the stimulus funding was being authorized because of the good-faith effort Ypsilanti was making to establish a more stable funding source, saying that a letter from the city of Ypsilanti had been requested to specify that commitment. [A resolution passed by the Ypsilanti city council called for the council to put a Headlee override millage on the ballot in November 2010, which would be dedicated to fund Ypsilanti transportation – if no progress was made in putting the AATA on a countywide funding base.]

Outcome: The use of federal funds to bridge the funding gap in the POSAs for Ypsilanti and for Ypsilanti Township was unanimously approved.

AATA FY 2010 Budget


Budget Background

The city of Ann Arbor levies a transportation millage at a rate of just over 2 mills. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s state equalized value, or SEV. So the owner of a house with a market value of $200,000, and a corresponding SEV of $100,000, pays $200 a year towards funding bus service in Ann Arbor.

The transportation millage for Ann Arbor was passed by voters in 1973, and has no end date.

In the proposed AATA budget, revenue from the Ann Arbor transportation millage is expected to contribute $9.7 million, or 38% of AATA’s $25.4 million budget:

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority Proposed Operating Budget
Fiscal Year October 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010   


$ 9,699,574 Local Tax Revenues
  1,141,278 Purchase of Service Agreements
  4,334,150 Passenger Revenue
  6,753,976 State Operating Assistance
  3,169,840 Federal Operating Assistance
    361,200 Interest and Other

$25,460,018 TOTAL REVENUES


$ 5,825,945 Operations Wages
  1,255,055 Maintenance Wages
  2,650,112 Management Wages
  4,178,738 Fringe Benefits

$14,100,801 SUBTOTAL 

  1,662,820 Purchased Services
  1,686,200 Diesel Fuel and Gasoline
  1,273,292 Materials & Supplies
    419,237 Utilities
    485,000 Casualty & Liability Costs
  5,125,083 Purchased Transportation
    410,435 Other Expenses
    260,000 Local Depreciation

$25,422,868 TOTAL EXPENSES



Public Commentary on the Budget

Thomas Partridge spoke at the start of the meeting during time allotted to the public for comment on agenda items. Partridge criticized the budget as proposed for continuing the discriminatory policies of the AATA in all parts of Washtenaw County, including the area where the transportation millage is levied, namely the city of Ann Arbor. Partridge said that the board had neglected its responsibility to put forward as a part of its budget a plan for countywide transportation that was equitable and just for the most vulnerable among us.

Later, at the end of the meeting, Partridge would follow up on a similar theme by pointing out that there had been a candidate for the 7th Congressional District election of 2008 who had still not managed to achieve the restoration of paratransit service in the area he had wanted to represent. [Partridge named the Lakestone Apartments (formerly Eagle Pointe) off Jackson Road as a specific example.] As Partridge drew out the description, board chair Nacht recognized himself, so that when Partridge named that 2008 candidate, Nacht was already smiling in acknowledgment.

Deliberations on the Budget

As a part of opening deliberations on the budget, board chair David Nacht drew out the fact that the proposed budget had not enjoyed unanimous support of the planning and development committee. It had been a 2-1 vote of the three-member committee. The committee’s chair, Ted Annis, had been outvoted by his colleagues, Paul Ajegba and Rich Robben.

So Nacht asked Ajegba to give a statement of support, to be followed by an explanation from Annis.

Ajegba commended AATA staff as well as Annis for their work on the budget. Staff had identified around $900,000 worth of cuts to achieve the budget that’s being proposed, he said. The difference in opinion had to do with whether to implement an additional $1 million in cuts, which had been advocated by Annis. Ajegba said he was in agreement with many of the cuts proposed by Annis, but he felt that they needed a more gradual implementation. He expressed concern that the quality of service could drop if they were implemented too rapidly.

Annis clarified that the cuts he’d identified were designed to achieve a goal of $96 per bus service hour. In terms of dollars per bus service hour, the proposed budget translates to $102. He cited an analysis done by Dick Porter, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Michigan, which concluded that the AATA is $4.4 million less efficient than average, when compared to 20 comparable-sized agencies.

As one example, Annis cited the Bay City transportation system: Bay Metro, which serves Bay County. [The  110,000 population of Bay County, the millage area for Bay Metro, is roughly parallel to the population of Ann Arbor. Bay Metro is organized under Michigan's Act 196, and levies a countywide millage at a .75 mill rate. The period of the millage is five years.] Annis noted that Bay Metro operates at a rate of $85 per bus service hour.

Annis said that he wanted to stress that AATA staff had agreed to look at the University of Michigan bus system, which operates at the rate of $55 per bus service hour.

The AATA, Annis said, was “too fat.” The agency needed to “go on a diet,” he concluded.

Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, responded to Annis by saying that he had discussed some of the findings of Porter’s study with Porter and that closer examination might reveal that in some cases the comparisons were not “apples to apples.”

For his part, Nacht was curious to know how many employees were covered by the $1.5 million line item for health insurance – he wanted to know how much the AATA was spending per person. The answer from Ed Robertson, head of human resources, was 190 employees plus 15 retirees. Doing a quick calculation in his head for the dental portion of the coverage, Nacht concluded, “$1,000 – that’s a lot of money for teeth.”

Robertson explained that beginning in FY 2011, hourly employees will begin to pay towards their own health coverage, which was something that management personnel had already been doing for a number of years. This prompted Annis to wonder what the potential impact of the possible national health care reform would be on AATA’s health coverage costs.

Paul Ajegba took care to emphasize that he and Rich Robben had not opposed the additional cuts per se that had been proposed by Annis, but that they felt that implementing them more gradually was important as far as assuring continued quality of service.

Annis reiterated the connection of the budget to the likelihood that voters would approve a countywide millage: “If we want to get to a countywide millage, we need to get costs in line.” He noted that in Bay County, voters approved the millage every five years by a wide margin. [According to the Bay County clerk's office, for the Nov. 2, 2004 vote, which authorized the .75 mill levy through 2010, there were 32,606 yes votes and 20,509 no votes.]

Board member Charles Griffith drew out the importance of evaluating cost efficiencies on an ongoing basis, as opposed to the end of the year when the budget was being prepared. In response to Griffith, Annis pointed to the process improvement teams that Rich Robben had introduced, based on Robben’s experience as the executive director of plant operations at the University of Michigan. Noting some cost reductions for telephones, Nacht said that when he saw things like that in the budget, it was clear to him that someone had been looking for “how to save a nickel” on an ongoing basis.

This prompted Annis to tick off some costs he thought could be reduced. He asked Nacht if he knew that there were four full-time people who answered phones at the AATA. There were also 2.5 full-time positions dedicated to mowing grass and keeping bus shelters clean, Annis said.

Nacht allowed that there were cheaper ways of getting information to people than having them call a person and ask, but that he’d on occasion found it useful to call up the AATA from a bus stop to ask when the bus was coming. Ford pointed out that technology was being explored to provide bus arrival information. [A pilot program for real-time tracking can be found here.]

Outcome: The 2011 budget was approved, with dissent from Annis.

Additional Cuts Proposed by Annis

When Annis said he’d identified an additional $1 million in cuts that would bring the AATA’s bus service hour cost down close to $96, what was he talking about?

Here’s his list of ideas:

  • $20,000 Eliminate Michigan Public Transit Association (MPTA) membership
  • $24,000 Change the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) membership from Corporate ($26,000/year) to Individual ($2,000/year or so)
  • $225,000 Cut overtime of $455,000/year by 50%
  • $250,000 Reduce executive headcount by two FTEs net
  • $125,000 Reduce mid-level executive headcount by two FTEs
  • $100,000 Reduce “ExtraBoard” [This is the daily job bank. A dozen or so extra people report in the morning to cover unscheduled absences. The idea is to cover absent bus drivers.]
  • $85,500 Bring the go!pass programs in-house (without adding headcount) and eliminate the payment for the getDowntown program
  • $112,200 Redesign the Ypsilanti Transit Center so that private security is no longer needed
  • $65,000 Redesign the Blake Transit Center in Ann Arbor so that contracted security is no longer needed. [This does not necessarily entail converting to a canopy with no inside warm area or bathrooms. The BTC is currently being reviewed by an architectural firm for remodeling or reconstruction, and this would be incorporated as a design objective.]
  • $100,000+ Outsource the facility maintenance and vehicle cleaning, currently $485,000/year
  • $60,000 Remove one FTE from vehicle service and maintenance
  • $30,000 Reduce custodial services for dry areas from daily to MWF
  • $100,000 Eliminate external media advertising of $102,000 and use the advertising on buses themselves

Countywide Millage

The theme of a countywide millage vote was woven throughout the meeting. It came up specifically as a reality during question time for the CEO when Ted Annis asked to see a copy of a survey questionnaire that was being prepared to gauge support for a possible millage. The survey is part of an overall marketing plan.

Later, during deliberations on the budget, it was mentioned that on Oct. 3 an on-board rider satisfaction survey would begin. Annis asked if a “taxpayer satisfaction survey” was being planned.

Board Officer Elections

The board elected its officers for the next year by acclamation. Paul Ajegba will be the board chair, Ted Annis will be its treasurer, and Charles Griffith will serve as secretary.

In the nomination process during the last month – which Jesse Bernstein had been appointed to administer at the board’s previous meeting – both Ajegba and Nacht had expressed their interest in serving as chair, which was a repeat of last year’s scenario. Whereas last year it was Ajegba who stepped aside, this year Nacht bowed out before the election took place.

In electing the new chair, a moment of levity resulted when Nacht misspoke in asking for any other nominations for “the new CEO.” Annis joked that Michael Ford, who’s been the AATA’s CEO a little over two months, was “visibly shaken” at Nacht’s miscue.

Bank of Ann Arbor

Representatives of the Bank of Ann Arbor, where the AATA parks some of its money, were on hand to give the board a presentation on the Certificate of Deposit Account Registry Service. CDARS is a way for local banks to offer the higher interest of a CD – as compared to a Treasury bill, for example – while at the same time covering an entire investment under FDIC insurance, even though the amount of that investment might exceed the FDIC limit on an individual CD.

This is accomplished under reciprocal agreements among banks within the CDARS network, which allows a bank to break down the amount of an investment into smaller CDs that meet FDIC insurance limits.

A concrete example provided at the meeting was for a 90-day investment of $5 million, invested with CDARS, which would yield $10,000 in interest, compared with the $1,000 it would earn if invested in a U.S. Treasury bill.

Public Comment

At the end of the meeting, several people spoke on various issues.

Carolyn Grawi: Grawi works with the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living. She encouraged the board to move forward with regional transit. She expressed her support for the board’s decision to help Ypsilanti bridge its funding gap, saying,”it’s important that we support our neighbors.”

Tim Hull: Hull is a University of Michigan student. He thanked the board for their support of Ypsilanti. He called the board’s attention to the situation at Arborland, where the relocation of the bus stops to Washtenaw Avenue, from inside the shopping plaza, had resulted in sometimes hazardous situations when bus riders tried to make connections. People wound up trying to run across the busy street trying to make their transfers. He suggested that it might be better not to offer and advertise transfers at all, if they could not be done safely.

Rebecca Burke: Burke is chair of the AATA’s local advisory council and she asked CEO Michael Ford to reappoint Joanne Weintraub and Karen Wanza to the council. They both had more than 25 years of experience with the AATA, she said, and she supported their re-appointment. She also asked that a representative of the AATA board attend the meetings of the LAC.

Sandra Holley: Holley expressed concern about an article in the Eastern Echo, the Eastern Michigan University student newspaper, that she said highlighted cuts to bus service to Ypsilanti that had caused unfounded rumors. She said someone needed to talk to EMU to get it straightened out.

LuAnne Bullington: Bullington thanked David Nacht for his service as board chair. She also thanked the board for their support of Ypsilanti. She suggested to Ted Annis that Kalamazoo and East Lansing would make better comparisons than Bay City, when evaluating the performance of the AATA. She also discouraged a comparison to the University of Michigan bus system, because they used student bus drivers. She did not want to see students driving AATA buses, she said.

Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Ted Annis, Jesse Bernstein,  Paul Ajegba

Absent: Sue McCormick, Rich Robben

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]

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AATA Board Gets City Council Feedback Thu, 22 Jan 2009 19:08:43 +0000 Dave Askins AATA Board (Jan. 21, 2009): Board chair David Nacht began the meeting by saying, “It’s great to be here in a supportive environment,” possibly an allusion to his annual AATA update given the previous evening to Ann Arbor’s city council. Nacht then spent some time briefing his board colleagues on reaction from councilmembers and setting the wheels in motion to get them some answers to their questions.

Public commentary at the start and at the end of the meeting covered a range of topics, from snow removal at bus stops, to the status of RideTrak (it’s back on line a few days earlier than scheduled), to the proposed fare increases, to accessibility issues, to the AATA’s Capital and Categorical Grant Program. This last item was the subject of one of the two resolutions considered by the board (the board approved the 2009-13 plan), the other being its annually required notification of intent to apply for financial assistance from the state. [Meeting Packet 4MB .pdf]

Nacht’s Presentation to Ann Arbor City Council

The topic of board chair David Nacht’s remarks to Ann Arbor city council the previous evening was threaded throughout the entire board meeting.

Board meetings begin with communications and announcements. Nacht reported that he’d spoken in front of Ann Arbor’s city council and that councilmembers Stephen Rapundalo and Marcia Higgins had asked some questions, made some comments, and that councilmember Carsten Hohnke had asked a question. But besides Rapundalo and Higgins, Nacht said, no one else on council had expressed an opinion with regard to AATA. To whatever extent that an Ann Arbor News article about the presentation had left the impression that council as a body had shot down a proposal or made some decision, Nacht wanted to clarify that this was not the case.

He allowed, however, that it was true that he was “grilled” by two of the council’s members – and that it was a healthy process and a good back-and-forth.

[One of the questions he'd heard as a part of the grilling concerned the unavailability of RideTrak, which provides real-time bus information online and to hand-held devices.] Nacht asked AATA staff attending the board meeting if AATA’s Internet services had fully transitioned to the city’s data center. The report from Jan Hallberg, manager of information technology, was that there was some “cleanup” yet to do, but that everything was on line, including RideTrak. [Minutes from the performance monitoring committee meeting of Jan. 14, which are on pages 51 and 52 of the board packet, indicate that RideTrak had not been scheduled to be reactivated until Jan. 26.]

The topic would return at the end of the meeting during public commentary in the form of a query from Matt Hampel, who had arrived at the meeting just after it was announced that RideTrak service had been restored.

Matt Hampel: Hampel made a brief inquiry about the status of RideTrak, saying that it was useful to him as a bus rider to know exactly when the bus was coming.

After hearing that it was back up and running, Hampel asked why it had been down for six weeks and had only now been restored. Hallberg explained that  AATA’s IT system, which she characterized as “vast,” had been transferred to the city of Ann Arbor’s data center during that time period. She declined comment beyond that, but Nacht pointed out that the interruption in AATA’s Internet service was a matter of public record.

During question time for Dawn Gabay, AATA’s interim executive director, the city council presentation made by Nacht came up again.

Nacht requested that Gabay initiate correspondence with councilmembers Higgins and Rapundalo to address the questions they’d raised. In connection with this, board member Charles Griffith asked if there was some kind of analysis that had been done about the assumed effect on ridership of higher fares. Board member Ted Annis said that work had been done and the calculations had been made. Gabay said the work had been done some time ago, and Griffith indicated he was keen to see it. It was agreed that the data needed to be sent along to councilmember Higgins, who’d raised the question.

Nacht also asked about the situation that Higgins had referenced at the council meeting of a trip from the north side of Ann Arbor to the south side taking 1 hour and 15 minutes. Nacht said that it was his understanding that if one timed the routes correctly, depending on how “north side” was defined, it was possible to make the trip to Briarwood Mall in considerably less time than that. He asked that Higgins be provided with options available in the schedule.

Nacht reported that Rapundalo had expressed clearly his concern about raising fares, but said that he was not sure what the specific nature of Rapundalo’s concerns were about level of service. Nacht suggested that staff might watch the replay on CTN and that any specific questions they could identify needed to be given a response to Rapundalo.

The question of travel times discussed at city council’s meeting arose again during public commentary from Jim Mogensen at the end of the board meeting.

Jim Mogensen: Mogensen characterized the nearly two-hour bus trip described at city council’s meeting [by councilmember Carsten Hohnke] from Jackson Road to Lakewood Mall as theoretically possible but unlikely. However, he described a situation where he needed to attend a meeting at Catholic Social Services, and calculated that if he’d taken the bus, he would have had to leave two hours early, in order to make sure that he got to the meeting on time. Mogensen concluded that there are situations where trip time is a problem, even in the urban area.

Mogensen’s second concern related to the proposed fare increases. He drew an analogy to the health care system, whereby if you have insurance, there’s a negotiated lower price that the insurance company pays, but if you don’t have insurance, you have to pay the full value of what the hospital says it costs – and you get a bill, and you get it fast. With the AATA, Mogensen said, we have a lot of people in the system who have the fare paid for them, but people who have to pay cash, have to pay more. He said that’s why he’d brought up at the last board meeting the importance of having as much access as possible, and to make it as easy as possible to get discounted fare packages.


The two resolutions on the night’s agenda, which were passed unanimously without discussion, were (i) the adoption of the Capital and Categorical Grant Program, and (ii) the application for state funding eligibility to the Michigan Department of Transportation. The text of the resolutions is on the PDF pages 71 and 72, respectively, of the [Meeting Packet 4MB .pdf]. The grant program that was adopted runs from pages 38 to 49.

Accessibility and the AATA

In public commentary at the beginning of the meeting, Tom Partridge addressed the grant program on the agenda.

Tom Partridge: Partridge began by stating that the board needed to provide reasonable accommodations to seniors and people with disabilities by providing a desk or flat table top, as well as more open space for wheelchair access, so that people might more properly address the board. He also asked that a timing light be provided, but that timing and topic requirements be waived for seniors and people with physical challenges. On the subject of the agenda items, Partridge said that there should be a resolution on the agenda that would reorganize the AATA to emphasize a system around the most vulnerable in our community. As far as the Capital and Categorical Grant Program, which was on the agenda, Partridge said he’d seen no evidence of the AATA board’s recognition of the needs of the most vulnerable segments of the population. He asked that the board pass a resolution asking staff to bring forward by the Feb. 1 deadline (for the CCGP application) plans and proposals for substantial grant programs to ensure improved service for disabled bus riders and senior citizen bus riders.

Following Partridge’s remarks, Ted Annis provided some information that responded in part to Partridge’s comments. He said that the AATA spent about $5 million per year for on-demand services: A-Ride, senior taxi, senior ride, and ride-share. These programs, said Annis, served people with disabilities who were unable to use fixed-route services. Annis pointed out that he himself was eligible for the senior taxi service. And he concluded by saying he wanted to remind people of what a great job the AATA did for older people and for people with disabilities.

Accessibility of services was also a theme of Carolyn Grawi’s remarks during public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting.

Carolyn Grawi: Grawi distributed copies of Access magazine, which is the annual publication for the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living. She pointed out that the AATA is an advertiser in the magazine.

She reported that an increased number of people were coming to the center trying to learn how to use the transit system. She said that the center did not have anyone currently who was dedicated to training people in how to use the system. She said she’d signed up three people for the A-Ride program, and was concerned that people were getting signed up but weren’t getting any information on how to use the system. She said that of course the CIL tried to provide the information, but that she’d also heard through contacts with the A-Ride program that they get a lot of questions about how and when the system can be used. People often have questions when it’s after hours, she said, and new users sometimes don’t know what questions to ask. In that light, she asked for the re-institution of a training program so that general ridership programs as well as SelectRide and A-Ride could be used more effectively.

Another challenge she identified was the definition of “will call” rides, in particular in connection with attendance of community meetings, which have unpredictable ending times. Another requirement, that there be an hour between each reserved ride, made for a long planned day, if someone needed to go to a doctor appointment, then pick up a prescription, and drop by the grocery store on their way home.

Nacht suggested to Gabay that the services of a social work or public policy intern could perhaps help with some of the training issues.

Also related to accessibility were the remarks from getDowntown director Nancy Shore, focusing specifically on snowbanks as a barrier to boarding the buses.

Nancy Shore: Shore noted that the snow banks were making it difficult for bus passengers to get on and off buses, and that in cases where the bus stops were supposed to be maintained by property owners, that was clearly not happening. She wondered if there was a service standard that was relevant to the issue. She identified it as an issue for seniors as well as for anybody who isn’t able to climb over the snow. Shore said that she hadn’t seen any indication that something was being done about it, and she wanted to bring it to the board’s attention again. She gave a specific example of the stop near Liberty Lofts by the railroad tracks.

Gabay said that where there are snow banks that passengers can’t get through, the policy was to stop at the nearest clear driveway.

Board member Jesse Bernstein asked about the stops where property owners were supposed to clear stops, but were not doing it. Gabay said they did follow up on those situations by contacting the property owners and rectifying it. Nacht suggested putting the “nearest driveway” policy on the AATA website.

Accessibility was also a theme of Tom Partridge’s remarks during public commentary at the conclusion of the board meeting, in terms of the lack of meeting broadcasts on CTN.

Tom Partridge: Partridge noted that the board met right across the street from the CTN studios, but that the public had no access to the meetings through recording and broadcast on CTN. He also said that locally there were no impressive forums with prominent figures like Nobel Prize winner Al Gore. He suggested that the AATA board support an invitation to Barack Obama to come to Ann Arbor to discuss his plans for taking the country out of a serious depression that affected the most vulnerable residents. He asked that the board not approve the proposed fare increases. He said that participants in the senior group ride program and the disabled participants of the  A-Ride program should not be paying a penny in fares.

The Board Packet

The [Meeting Packet 4MB .pdf] is fairly dense with facts and data. As a scanned PDF file it has no text that’s machine searchable. What follows is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to pique readers’ interest enough to dive into it in a directed way that might yield some insights or at least factoids from the material left as comments.

The planning and development committee meeting minutes from Dec. 2, 9, 16  are included on pages 9-18. PDC meeting minutes of  Jan. 6, 13  are on pages 26-35. Ted Annis, who chairs the planning and development committee, highlighted the following topics as issues they’d worked on:

  • WALLY  (north-south commuter rail)
  • Ann Arbor Transportation Plan Update
  • Blake Transit Center Improvements (list of needed repairs on page 50)
  • Contingency plans in the event of declining revenues
  • Capital and Categorical Grant Program (pages 38-49)
  • Exploration of making AATA a countywide entity (an Act 196 organization)

Other highlights from the packet include current and proposed fare structure, pages 20-23 [in a .txt file here: proposed fare increases]. Previously reported in The Chronicle are the public hearings scheduled on the matter: Ann Arbor District Library, Multipurpose Room, 343 S. Fifth, Ann Arbor: Tues, Feb. 10, 1-3 p.m. and Tuesday Feb. 17, 6-8 p.m. In Ypsilanti, hearings will be held at City of Ypsilanti Council Chambers, One S. Huron St., Ypsilanti: Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009; 4-7 p.m. and Thurs. , Feb. 26 1-3 p.m. [confirm dates]

The service standard report starting on page 60 includes a raft of metrics used to evaluate service (including complaints and compliments, only the former having a subset of “valid” items). On-time service is one of the metrics, but due to an upgrade in the software last fall, it currently is not being reported. The software was configured to report only trips more than 9 minutes behind schedule as “late,” whereas the actual standard for “lateness” is 5 minutes:

The percent of trips on time is not yet available. The recent upgrade to a new version of the Advanced Operating System resulted in a change that provides inaccurate summary information. The raw data is accurate and staff is working to correct the problem.

Thus, for bus data geeks who have the technical skills to collect and archive the real-time on-time data from RideTrak, there’s currently an analytical gap that could be filled, with the added benefit that the data could be analyzed at one’s leisure for various lateness standards, not just 5 or 9 minutes.


Ypsi Invite: Nacht also announced that he’d received an email from Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber, inviting him to speak to Ypsilanti city council about the AATA.

Stimulus Package: Bernstein asked Gabay to talk about any work the AATA might be doing as far as proposing items for the economic stimulus package that might be coming down the pike. Gabay said they were working with the Michgian Public Transit Association to get a coordinated mix among public transit agencies in the state of Michigan. In the next 8-10 days, Gabay said they expected to get more information from the state about what the process will be with respect to dollar amounts and timing.

Present: Ted Annis, Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, David Nacht, Paul Ajegba

Absent: Sue McCormick, Rich Robben

Next meeting: Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave. [confirm date]

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