Stories indexed with the term ‘go!pass’

DDA Funds Another Year of go!pass

Employees of participating downtown Ann Arbor businesses will be able to use their go!passes to ride the bus for another year, without themselves paying a fare for any of their bus boardings.


This is another edition of the go!pass, subsidized by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. A swipe through the fare box of an AAATA bus lets its holder ride AAATA buses an unlimited number of times.

Their fares will be paid by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority – out of $674,264 that the DDA board has authorized to support the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s getDowntown program.

That amount includes operational and administrative overhead … [Full Story]

Column: Let Data Steer Local Transit Policy

Voters in Ann Arbor as well as in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township will be asked sometime in 2014 to approve a transit millage – to be levied by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA). A vote by the AAATA board to place a question on the ballot is likely to come at its Feb. 20 meeting.

Fixed-route AAATA ridership by year by category: no additional subsidy (blue); go!pass downtown employees (red); University of Michigan affiliates (yellow). (Data from AAATA charted by The Chronicle.)

Fixed-route AAATA ridership by year and by category: no additional subsidy (blue); go!pass downtown employees (red); University of Michigan affiliates (yellow). (Data from AAATA, charted by The Chronicle.)

If it’s approved, the five-year millage will be used to pay for a range of service increases, focused on increased frequency for some existing routes, new routes, longer hours of operation and added hours on weekends.

In that context, I think it’s worthwhile to start getting a firmer grip on current ridership levels and historical trends.

In the last 10 years, AAATA fixed-route ridership – the “regular bus,” as contrasted with paratransit services – has grown from 4.2 million in fiscal year 2004 to 6.4 million rides in 2013. That’s about 50% growth.

And ridership in FY 2013 was consistent with that continued upward trend. But the trend this year was just slightly upward: The 6.4 million fixed-route rides provided in 2013 was barely up from 6.35 million rides in 2012 – about a 0.8% increase.

Two programs that offer financial subsidies to passengers – MRide and go!pass – showed a greater increase in ridership than the most recent overall trend. Rides taken on AAATA buses through the University of Michigan’s MRide program showed an increase of about 5% between 2012 and 2013 – from 2.61 million to 2.74 million rides. And rides taken with the go!pass, funded in largest part by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority – increased about 4% between 2012 and 2013 – from 604,000 to 629,000 rides.

I’m going to use the term “out-of-pocket ridership” for those rides not supported through an additional subsidy from the go!pass or MRide programs. Out-of-pocket ridership actually showed a decrease of about 3% from 2012 to 2013 – from 3.15 million to 3.04 million rides.

A more detailed look at the historical ridership data by category has implications, I think, for reasonable community expectations for future out-of-pocket ridership – if a millage is approved and service improvements are implemented. And that more detailed look also has implications for a reasonable basis for negotiations between AAATA and the University of Michigan on the financial component of the MRide deal.

Here’s a quick summary of my thoughts. I think the success of the five-year improvement plan should be measured in part by increases in out-of-pocket ridership. I think the MRide agreement between UM and the AAATA should include not just a fare component but also a component to cover UM’s “local share.” And I think the go!pass program should be conceived as a tool to help increase general out-of-pocket ridership, not just serve to benefit people who have a formal affiliation with downtown Ann Arbor.

You’ll find a more detailed analysis of these issues below the fold. This column also includes more charts – and even some maps with colored dots. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor DDA: We’ve Been Good Stewards

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (March 6, 2013): In a main agenda item, the DDA board authorized a $300,000 grant to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission – for renovations to the 64-unit Baker Commons public housing facility. It added to the $280,000 grant made late last year for the replacement of the Baker Commons roof.

DDA board member Keith Orr delivered extended remarks in response to a proposal currently being weighed by the Ann Arbor city council that would make amendments to the city ordinance governing the downtown development authority.

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member Keith Orr delivered extended remarks in response to a proposal currently being weighed by the Ann Arbor city council that would amend the city’s ordinance governing the DDA. (Photos by the writer.)

The grant award had come at the request of AAHC executive director Jennifer L. Hall, who’s proposing a major change to the way the 360 units of public housing are administered. The approach involves privatization and project-based vouchers.

The DDA’s support for public housing also surfaced at the meeting as a talking point for board members in the context of a proposal being considered by the Ann Arbor city council – which would amend the city ordinance regulating how the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) capture works. The amendments would clarify existing language in the city ordinance in a way that would favor the other taxing authorities, whose taxes are captured as a part of the DDA’s TIF. The council postponed action on that proposal at its March 4, 2013 meeting. In that context, at the DDA’s March 6 meeting, board member Sandi Smith raised the specter that the DDA would in the future not be able to support affordable housing in the same way it has done in the past.

In addition to clarifying the question of how TIF is calculated, the amendments would prevent elected officials from serving on the board and would impose term limits for board service. Board members took turns at the start of the meeting arguing that the DDA had been a good steward of public dollars and that the amendments to the ordinance are not warranted. Board members indicated that they didn’t think their service as volunteer members of a board was being afforded adequate respect by the city council.

The board comments followed a turn at public commentary at the start of the meeting from Brendan Cavendar of Colliers International, a commercial real estate services firm. His commentary departed from the typical pattern of someone signing up to address the board for up to four minutes. Instead, Cavendar had been invited to appear, and responded to prompts from board members to deliver a range of positive responses, including: future tenancy of the former Borders location; rising rents in the downtown area; and affirmation of the importance of the downtown public parking system.

The city’s public parking system is managed by the Ann Arbor DDA under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor. The monthly parking usage report is featured at every board meeting. But the March 6 meeting featured the parking system in an additional way. The board decided to award the full $50,000 of a discretionary management incentive to the DDA’s subcontractor – Republic Parking – for operation of the public parking system. It’s an annual decision, but it’s the first time in the last five years that the full amount has been awarded. The decision was based on good performance on metrics tracked by the DDA, according to the board.

In a third voting item, the board authorized $610,662 in support of getDowntown’s go!pass program, which provides a subsidy to cover the cost of rides taken on Ann Arbor Transportation Authority buses by employees of participating downtown businesses. To participate, a business must purchase a go!pass for all employees, at an annual cost of $10 per employee. Roughly 6,500 downtown employees are provided with go!passes through the program. [Full Story]

DDA OKs Bus Pass Funding for Downtown

Ann Arbor downtown workers who are employed by participating companies will continue to have the fare for their rides on Ann Arbor Transportation Authority buses covered by the go!pass program – as a result of a $610,662 grant from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Holders of a go!pass do not themselves pay a fare to board the bus. Rides are subsidized by the DDA and to a much lesser extent by employers.

The DDA board voted to approve the grant at its March 6, 2013 meeting. The total grant to the getDowntown program breaks out as follows:
YEAR 2014
getDowntown … [Full Story]

DDA Preps Budget for Transportation, Cops

The Jan. 25, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s operations committee featured a preview of budgets for the fiscal years 2014 and 2015. For FY 2014, the DDA budget calls for $23.1 million in expenditures against $23.4 million in revenues. That would add about $300,000 to the total fund balance reserve, which is projected to end FY 2014 fiscal at around $5.5 million.

City Apartments under construction. (View is at First & Washington looking east) The bottom two floors are a parking deck, which is on track to be turned  over to the city and the DDA  on March 15, 2013.

City Apartments, a Village Green residential property under construction on Feb. 4, 2013. (View is at First & Washington looking east) The bottom two floors are a parking deck, which is on track to be turned over to the city and the DDA on March 15, 2013. It will expand the capacity of the public parking system by almost 100 spaces. (Photo by the writer.)

The surplus from FY 2014 would be used in the FY 2015 budget, which calls for $23.8 million in expenditures against $23.5 in revenues, leaving the DDA with about $5.2 million in total fund balance reserve at the end of FY 2015.

DDA revenues come from two main sources – tax increment finance (TIF) capture and Ann Arbor’s public parking system.

Besides operation and capital maintenance of the parking system, revenues to the public parking system are used by the DDA to support the getDowntown program’s go!pass subsidy. So one focus of the Jan. 25 DDA operations committee meeting was budgeting for that program. The go!pass is a bus pass that downtown employees obtain through their employers, who pay $10 annually for passes for each of their employees. In a presentation made to the operations committee, Michael Ford – CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority – requested a total of $623,662 to support the getDowntown program, including the go!pass subsidy. That compares with $553,488 granted by the DDA last year. For FY 2014, the DDA’s draft budget calls for a $600,000 allocation that could cover most of that request.

This year’s draft budget also calls for $250,000 in parking revenue to be spent on a possible arrangement with the city of Ann Arbor to pay for additional downtown police patrols. Based on the conversation at the operations committee meeting, it’s not a topic on which any recent detailed talks have taken place. But DDA executive director Susan Pollay indicated a strong interest in having those conversations with the city. If that didn’t lead to an agreement with the city, she said, then the DDA board was certainly not obligated to spend the money in that way.

Another $300,000 in the FY 2014 budget that could be used somewhat flexibly is in the TIF fund budget, labeled “capital construction.” It could be used to fund sidewalk improvements between William and Liberty along State Street to facilitate patio dining for restaurants along that strip – or streetscape improvements for William Street, or even alley improvements near the Bell Tower Hotel, Pollay told the committee.

The full DDA board will be asked to approve the FY 2014 and FY 215 budgets at its Feb. 6 meeting. The DDA’s fiscal year is in sync with the city of Ann Arbor’s fiscal year, which begins on July 1. The city council will settle the city’s FY 2014 budget by May 20 – the council’s second meeting in May. While the city uses a two-year planning cycle – which begins fresh this year – the council approves its budget just one year at a time. [.pdf of draft DDA budgets FY 2014-15] [.pdf of FY 2013 six-month financial statements] [.pdf of monthly parking reports] [Full Story]

Column: Pass Go, Collect Bus Pass – And More?

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. [Full Story]

Transit: Ridership Data Roundup

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

Amtrak train and AATA Bus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Briefed on Downtown Sidewalks

As the Nov. 8, 2011 general election approaches, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is considering the implications that a ballot question might have on the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) district. The ballot question asks voters to approve a sidewalk repair millage that would levy a new tax of 0.125 mills. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.


Part of the discussion at the DDA transportation, operations and construction committee meeting included the “two-inch” rule on vertical sidewalk displacement. A law working its way through the state legislature would establish that a city is presumed to have maintained a sidewalk properly, but that can be rebutted by evidence showing that the proximate cause of an injury was a “vertical discontinuity” defect of 2 inches or more in the sidewalk. (Photo by the writer.)

Members of the DDA’s transportation, operations and construction committee were briefed on that and a number of other issues at its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 28. (The committee has a combined function for what were at different times in the past three separate committees.)

The committee was also briefed on: (1) the status of the getDowntown program; (2) a parking communications plan aimed at evening employees; (3) the financial picture for the city’s public parking system; and (4) the results of a parking customer satisfaction survey.

Committee members were somewhat surprised and disappointed to learn that the city council’s policy on the use of proceeds from the proposed sidewalk millage would place restrictions on using millage money inside the boundaries of the DDA’s TIF district.

The city council’s Aug. 4 resolution authorizing ballot language for the proposed 0.125 mill tax places a limitation on the use of funds inside the TIF district, though the wording on the ballot does not include the limitation. The resolution states that inside the DDA district, only those sidewalks adjacent to single- and two-family houses (but not other commercial properties) would be included in a millage-supported sidewalk repair program.

A resolution of intent on the use of the sidewalk millage, which includes the restriction inside the DDA TIF district, was postponed from the council’s Sept. 19 meeting, and will be taken up by the council again on Oct. 3.

At their Wednesday meeting, DDA committee members were also apprised that the getDowntown program, which draws the majority of its funding from the DDA, will not be folded into the DDA as had previously been planned. Instead, the program’s two staff members will remain employees of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The getDowntown program’s status has been a question since the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce (now the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber) two years ago pulled out of the four-way partnership that supported getDowntown. The remaining three partners are the city of Ann Arbor, the DDA and the AATA.

The committee was also briefed on elements of the DDA’s communications plan that’s aimed at downtown evening employees, in connection with possibly extending parking meter enforcement hours past 6 p.m. Other parking-related issues on the committee’s agenda included a structure-by-structure breakdown of the financial performance of the city’s parking garages, as well as an overview of the results of a regular parking system survey used to evaluate Republic Parking, the DDA’s parking contractor.

This report focuses on sidewalks and getDowntown. [Full Story]

AATA Reduces Charge for go!pass Rides

At its Aug. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized a change to the price it charges for rides taken under the go!pass program. The go!pass can be purchased by downtown Ann Arbor employers for their employees at a cost of $5 per pass annually.

The change authorized by the board might go unnoticed for holders of the passes, who do not pay fares to board the bus, but will include an increase from $5 to $10 for the annual fee paid by employers. That’s an increase that will be implemented by the getDowntown program, which administers the go!pass program. However, in the action taken on Aug. 24, the AATA is actually lowering the price per go!pass ride.

Here’s why. Holders of the go!pass card can board the bus without paying a fare, and there are no limits on the number of rides that can be taken with the card. The cost of such rides is funded in small part by the $5/card fee paid by employers, but in largest part by revenues from the city’s public parking system provided through the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. At its June 2, 2010 meeting, the DDA authorized three years worth of funding for the go!pass program. For the second two fiscal years of that funding, approval amounted to $438,565 (FY 2012) and  $475,571 (FY 2013).

The number of rides taken using the go!pass has increased each year for the last decade, but has jumped significantly during the last year. [.jpg graph of go!pass ridership] In the past, the AATA has priced go!pass rides in a way that matches the revenue per go!pass ride to the amount that bus riders would pay if they paid the full fare under a regular 30-day pass – the cheapest full-fare option. So, as go!pass ridership has increased, the total amount charged by the AATA for the rides has also increased.

In the past, the DDA has increased its level of support to match what the AATA has charged. As the DDA is under increasing financial pressure due to the new public parking system management contract recently signed with the city of Ann Arbor, as well as a possible need to return excess tax increment finance (TIF) that was collected, it’s not anticipated that the DDA will be able to increase the amount it contributes to the go!pass program.

Given the levels of funding now pledged by the DDA, the price that employers would need to be charged per go!pass per year would be $26 – if the same policy is maintained of charging for go!pass rides so that their cost matches what the cheapest full-fare option would be.

In recent presentations to the DDA, Nancy Shore, the director of the getDowntown program, has recommended an increase from $5 to $10, not to $26. The advisory board of getDowntown has approved the increase to $10.

The action taken by the AATA board on Aug. 24 essentially sets the charge for go!pass rides at a flat rate – equal to the DDA’s current level of pledged support, plus an estimate that the total employer contribution (at $10/pass/year) would be $71,000 per year, based on the roughly 7,100 go!passes sold to employers so far this year. That is, the price charged for go!pass rides for the next two fiscal years will be $509,565 and $546,571, respectively – independently of the number of rides taken by go!pass holders.

The board’s action translates to a decision to accept a $16/pass/year shortfall in revenues from go!pass rides, compared to what the previous pricing policy has been, or roughly $113,600 (16*7,100).

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

DDA Elects Officers, Gets More Parking Data

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting and annual meeting (July 6, 2011): Other than the ritual cancellation of its monthly meeting for August, the DDA board did not have any items on its agenda for July that required a board vote.

Bag of Rocks

To honor her past year of service as chair of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board, Joan Lowenstein was presented with a plastic bag full of gravel. (That was only part of the token of appreciation.) To Lowenstein's left is Gary Boren, who was elected chair for the next year. (Photos by the writer.)

But during the meeting, parking issues were a focus, as they usually are.

First, board member Roger Hewitt reported to the board that additional data on usage of the city’s public parking system will now be available from Republic Parking. The DDA manages the city’s public parking system under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor – the DDA subcontracts out the day-to-day operations to Republic Parking. The new kind of data measures the number of total parking hours used by parkers against the total number of parking hours that are available in the system. Based on that measure, the parking system has seen a 1.72% increase in usage over the first five months of 2011, compared with the same five months of 2010.

Second, one of the major allocations of public parking revenue the DDA makes is to the getDowntown program, a partnership among the DDA, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and the city of Ann Arbor. As part of a three-year funding plan for the getDowntown program approved in June 2010 for fiscal years 2011-13, the program will receive roughly $500,000 from the DDA for FY 2012 and FY 2013, the bulk of which is to subsidize the cost of rides for holders of a go!pass. The go!pass is a card that allows employees of downtown businesses to board AATA buses on an unlimited basis without paying a fare.

The getDowntown program employs two people, including director Nancy Shore. At Wednesday’s meeting, Shore gave the full board the same presentation she’d given the board’s transportation committee earlier in the month. Part of the board discussion involved which of the three funding partners – the DDA, the city of Ann Arbor or the AATA – would employ the two getDowntown staffers in the future. One possibility, which based on Wednesday’s meeting seemed likely, would be for the DDA to add the two getDowntown staffers to its administrative payroll.

At its annual meeting, convened just after the monthly board meeting, the board elected new officers for the coming year, all with unanimous consent: Gary Boren, chair; Bob Guenzel, vice chair; Keith Orr, secretary; and Roger Hewitt, treasurer.

In recognition of her service, outgoing chair Joan Lowenstein was presented with a token of appreciation by the DDA staff: a plastic bag of gravel, and a necklace featuring a lump of gravel as its centerpiece.

The connection to gravel in Lowenstein’s gift was the underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue, which is currently under construction. The board got its regular update on the status of that project, as well as commentary from the owners of two immediately adjacent restaurants – Jerusalem Garden and Earthen Jar – which have seen their business drop by 30-50% during the construction.  [Full Story]

DDA Gives 3-Year Grant to getDowntown

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (June 2, 2010): At its regular monthly meeting, the DDA board voted to approve three years worth of funding for the getDowntown program and the go!pass bus passes, which getDowntown administers for downtown employees.


Before the meeting of the DDA board: Russ Collins and Keith Orr. Collins is not demonstrating to Orr how to snag a foul ball at a baseball game. (Photo by the writer.)

The program is currently in a transition year as the four-way partnership that supports it was reduced to three partners when the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce dropped out last year, citing financial pressures. That leaves the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, and the Ann Arbor DDA as getDowntown funding partners.

In other business, the board approved the application of LEED certification for its underground parking garage on South Fifth Avenue, currently under construction.

The board began a discussion on a payment-in-lieu program for required onsite parking (PILOP) for downtown developments.

The board also heard a pitch from Tamara Real for additional support for a web portal currently under development by the Arts Alliance. [Full Story]

DDA Tackles Transportation

At its annual retreat held at the end of October, the DDA board agreed on a work plan for the coming year that included a new committee focused on transportation. That subset of the board met for the first time on Wednesday, Nov. 26 – the day before Thanksgiving.

The chair of the committee, John Mouat, had hoped to focus on sketching out a general strategy for how the committee would approach its work on this fairly broad topic – one that ranges from the ways that various transportation systems in southeast Michigan interconnect to the clearing of snow from a particular stretch of sidewalk. But that plan had to be balanced with the need to discuss two specific resolutions coming before the whole board at its next meeting on Dec. 3. [Full Story]