The Ann Arbor Chronicle » CEO 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]

]]> 0
Transit Center Construction Manager Hired Fri, 27 May 2011 19:15:34 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (May 19, 2011): In a relatively brief meeting, the AATA board handled two pieces of business: (1) approving a contract with its CEO Michael Ford; and (2) hiring a construction manager for the reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center, AATA’s downtown hub.


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

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

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

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

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

Construction Manager for Blake

The board was asked to consider a contract with Spence Brothers for up to a total of $384,000 to oversee two major construction projects for AATA: (1) demolition and reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center on Fourth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor [$253,000]; and (2) expansion of the bus storage facility at the AATA headquarters located at 2700 S. Industrial [$131,000].

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

At its May 12, 2010 meeting, the AATA board had approved a $343,439 contract with DLZ Michigan Inc. for architectural and engineering services to reconstruct the transit center.

At this month’s board meeting, CEO Michael Ford asked Terry Black, AATA’s manager of maintenance, to give an update on the Blake Transit Center reconstruction project. They’re still working on design and aesthetics, Black reported.

Remaining issues include working on a 10-foot-wide green strip as a border with the federal building property on the north side of the site. The AATA and the city of Ann Arbor are also still working out an agreement on a city-owned 6-foot-wide strip along the southern part of the parcel’s western half. The construction manager contract, on which the board would be voting, Black said, would provide a check and balance on the design firm. From there, the project could start rolling, he said.

In reporting out from the planning and development committee, AATA board member Rich Robben noted that in the resolution on the Blake Transit Center construction manager contract, the fees could be as high as $384,000 – but might turn out to be less because it’s negotiated under the Brooks Act.

The federal Brooks Act requires that the selection of contractors be based on qualifications, not price. The AATA received proposals from the following firms for the construction manager work:

  • Braun Construction Group, Farmington Hills, MI
  • The Christman Company, Livonia, MI
  • DeMaria Building Company, Detroit, MI
  • Irish Construction, Howell, MI
  • T. H. Marsh Construction Company, Ann Arbor, MI
  • O’Neal Construction, Ann Arbor, MI
  • Owen-Ames-Kimball Co., Grand Rapids, MI
  • Park Avenue Consultants Inc., Ann Arbor, MI
  • Phoenix Contractors, Ypsilanti, MI
  • White Construction Co. Inc., Detroit, MI
  • Spence Brothers, Ann Arbor, MI

The breakdown for the Blake Transit Center work and the bus storage expansion to be awarded to Spence Brothers is (1) $253,000 for BTC, and (2) $131,00 for the bus storage. In a staff memo, the Spence Brothers’ proposal is evaluated as being in line with industry standards when expressed as a percentage of total construction costs: 5-6%. That translates to $4.2-5.0 million for the project. Funding sources for the transit center reconstruction, based on previous Chronicle reporting – from December 2009 and October 2010:

  • $1.6 million federal grant
  • $0.4 million state match (25% of $1.6 million)
  • $0.735 million federal grant
  • $0.183 million state match
  • $1.0 million federal state-of-good-repair match

Outcome: The construction manager contract was unanimously approved by the board.

CEO’s New Contract

Before the board for approval was a new employment contract with its chief executive officer, Michael Ford, who was hired in the summer of 2009. [For a report on Ford's April 2009 final interview: "AATA, CEO Candidate Start Talks"]

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

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

Roger Kerson led off board commentary by saying that Ford’s efforts on the transit master plan (TMP) have been extraordinary. Sue McCormick added that she wanted to say how pleased the board is to move forward with another contract. Board chair Jesse Bernstein said he was especially pleased that they have a clear process for evaluating the CEO, which ties performance to the budget. David Nacht said he appreciated the leadership of Bernstein and McCormick for providing to the board a timeline on the budget process and CEO evaluation process in a simple, laid out presentation.

Nacht said he’d appreciated the work of the committee – Bernstein and McCormick – who had negotiated the new contract with Ford. He noted that it’s difficult to negotiate a contract with a serious professional in the current economic climate, when there’s a need by the community to watch every nickel spent. At the same time, Nacht continued, the AATA has to respect the level of performance it’s getting. The community should feel comfortable. Bernstein said he is thrilled with the job Ford has done. The board and the AATA have accomplished a great deal over the last couple of years, and could not have done it without Ford’s leadership, Bernstein said.

Anya Dale added that through her work with Washtenaw County as a planner, she talks to representatives from other communities. And they report how wonderful it’s been talking to representatives of the AATA – she felt it was the first time the AATA has been a real leader.

Charles Griffith reported that he’s heard sentiments similar to those Dale had reported. He said he’s glad Ford has decided to stick with the AATA and to sign up for another year. Hopefully, Griffith said, he’ll sign on for many more.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the new contract.

Board: Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its May 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 the CEO, Michael Ford. The board also heard commentary from the public. Here are some highlights not included elsewhere in the report.

Comm/Comm: Board Reappointments

In his report to the board, CEO Michel Ford acknowledged the reappointment of Charles Griffith and Rich Robben to the AATA board through May 2016. Their nominations were confirmed by the city council at its May 2 meeting. He thanked Griffith and Robben and other board members for their support and help in moving the AATA forward.

Comm/Comm: Rail Transit Funding

Ford reported the recent news that some funding for rail transit had come through the Michigan Dept. of Transportation from the Federal Rail Administration – the city of Ann Arbor had been awarded $2.8 million for the Fuller Road Station project. [Recent Chronicle coverage: "PAC Gets Update on Fuller Road Station"]. Ford called it “exciting news,” and said it gets the city closer to an intermodal facility. He pointed out that the station is included as a part of the AATA’s transit master plan (TMP).

Comm/Comm: Connector Study

Ford reported that the Plymouth-State connector study project continues to move forward. URS, which is the consultant on the project, had given a presentation to the board a couple of months ago, Ford reminded board members, and will give a presentation to the city probably sometime in the fall. The next steps would include a preliminary engineering and environmental assessment, Ford said. [Coverage of the URS presentation to the AATA board: "AATA: Transit Study, Planning Updates"]

Comm/Comm: Transit Master Plan, Governance

Ford said the leadership team for the transit master plan had met, moderated by board chair Jesse Bernstein. Community outreach meetings continue to take place. [A Chronicle column that includes reporting from one of those meetings, which took place in Ypsilanti: "Column: Chevy Volt – Private Transit Choices"]

Discussions on the governance of a countywide authority continue, said Ford. He’s continuing to meet with representatives of various municipalities. He reported that Ann Arbor Township and Superior Township will sign an Act 7 agreement – that will allow their joint participation and representation in a countywide transit authority. By way of background, Act 7 is the Urban Cooperation Act of 1967. [.pdf of Act 7] It’s not specific to transit issues, but rather provides a framework for different units of local government to form agreements with each other. [Previous Chronicle coverage on countywide transit authority governance: "Concerns Aired Over Transit Governance"]

Board member Roger Kerson asked Ford for more details on governance discussions. He asked what Ford was imagining as far as sequencing and timing.

Ford said he’d met with Ann Arbor Township and Superior Township officials, and that they had actually voted on an Act 7 accord. Ford said he’d also talked to other local units, but no others had yet voted. He hoped everything would be in place by fall – that is, that each group of governmental units in the sections of the county that had been identified would get to determine their participation in a countywide transportation authority, based on Act 7 agreements. Ford said that the AATA has a lot of work ahead of it in the next several months. By fall, he said, an “unincorporated group” should be able to start forming.

Comm/Comm: Living Wage

Reporting out from the planning and development committee, Rich Robben spoke about a living wage policy that the AATA has been considering at the committee level. AATA staff had provided some information to the committee, Robben said, and had followed calculations by the city of Ann Arbor. Staff will make updates based on committee suggestions, and it will likely come back before the committee for its June meeting. The committee may recommend that it come before the full board.

By way of background, the board had passed a resolution at its Dec. 16, 2010 meeting to explore some kind of living wage standard for its contractors. The city of Ann Arbor’s ordinance for its contractors is tied to federal poverty guidelines and was earlier this month increased by a percent. [Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Law Nudges Living Wage Upwards"]

Comm/Comm: Ridership, Fuel Prices

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Charles Griffith said they went over AATA’s financial and performance reports as usual, and found the agency is in pretty good shape financially – it’s doing well on its performance metrics, he said.

The ridership on the express routes – from Chelsea to Ann Arbor, and from Canton to Ann Arbor – have shown some increase in ridership, Griffith said. That’s probably due to efforts on the part of staff and the University of Michigan to send email alerts, as well as a promotional 10-ride ticket sold at a discounted rate to try to get people into the program, he said. Performance on those routes will continue to be monitored, Griffith said.

Jesse Bernstein followed up a few minutes later by asking if there was any data about the impact of fuel prices, or if that would not be apparent until next month. Phil Webb, AATA’s controller, told Bernstein that ridership has increased, but it’s difficult to say how much is attributable to fuel costs. As far as the AATA’s own fuel costs, Webb said, the organization is actually under budget, because the AATA buys fuel futures contracts.

Comm/Comm: On-Time, Website, Rotating Auditor

Continuing his update from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Griffith said the committee had received a report on on-time performance. In a report they’d heard a few months ago, they had focused on very late buses. More recently, they’d looked at each time point – a bus might arrive at its route end at the Blake Transit Center on time, but be late at time points along the way.

The committee had also received a presentation on website development and information architecture, Griffith said. “It’s not exactly fun reading,” he allowed, but it gives an idea of what the architecture of the AATA website is. The committee had provided a little bit of input for the wording on the top buttons on the site, and would receive more updates as the website redesign progresses.

The committee had started discussion about an auditor rotation policy, but had not gone into detail, because committee members wanted to have board member Sue McCormick at a meeting before they proceeded. She had been the one originally to raise the issue. [McCormick had raised the issue at the board's Sept. 16, 2010 meeting, when board members approved a contract with Rehman as its auditor, but only for one year.]

The issue needs to come before the board at its next meeting so that there will be time to issue a request for proposals in time for next year’s audit, Griffith said.

Comm/Comm: Local Advisory Council – Driver Appreciation

Jody Slowins reported out from the AATA’s local advisory council, beginning by saying that she’d been involved with the LAC for more than 12 years. In that time, she said, the whole tenor has changed a lot. People initially wanted to be on the council and just wanted to complain. It’s evolved into a more involved council, she said. The LAC has been working on a new driver appreciation program. She extended compliments to the staff liaison to the LAC, Brian Clouse – he’s been a wonderful connection between AATA and the council, she said. The driver recognition program program would recognize people for positive behavior. She hoped drivers would try to aspire to be recognized. The program would be about rewarding people, instead of cutting them down in a punitive way.

Comm/Comm: Accessible, Affordable Transportation

Thomas Partridge spoke during both opportunities for the public to address the board. He introduced himself as a Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor resident, and advocate of county residents who need and deserve public transportation the most in the current economic climate: middle-income families, students, seniors and disabled people. At the most recent Ann Arbor city council meeting, he reported, the increase of taxicab rates “sailed through” council’s approval. Even though the council consists all of Democrats, they didn’t even discuss the issue he’d brought forth during the public hearing, he said – namely, the general negative impact on those who need AATA’s service.

Partridge asked that the AATA board continue to make accessible, affordable transportation and para-transit its top priorities and to keep rates affordable and expand the service countywide. The board should find subsidies to reduce rates for seniors and disabled people. He noted that one reason Michael Ford was hired as AATA’s CEO was to institute an affordable, accessible countywide transportation system.

During his second turn at the podium, Partridge said the county needs transit on a more open, accessible and friendly basis than it’s currently being provided. He criticized the board for discussing issues in skeleton terms, with a predetermined agenda, and decisions already made. Agenda items are mentioned in passing and then given unanimous approval, he said. Discussions need to be more full and open.

Partridge said he’s critical of the board chair, the AATA’s CEO, the mayor and the city council for not making greater efforts to unite governmental units in county. Partridge said he attends Ann Arbor city council meetings as much as possible, and the sense he gets is that there’s not enough person-to-person contact between the AATA appearing in public in front of the city council and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Both of those organizations want to be in on the decision-making of this body, Partridge concluded. [The last occasion on which a representative of the AATA appeared at the city council was the Ann Arbor city council's Jan. 20, 2009 meeting. Then-board chair David Nacht appeared before the body to give councilmembers an update.]

Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Jesse Bernstein, Sue McCormick, Rich Robben, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale

Next regular meeting: Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]

]]> 0