Stories indexed with the term ‘public transit’

AATA Speaks Volumes on Draft Transit Plan

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (April 21, 2011): In its one piece of formal business, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority approved a resolution to disseminate the draft of a countywide transportation master plan, which it has been developing over the last year. At least five public meetings will be held in May to introduce the plan to the community.

Charles Griffith AATA

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board member Charles Griffith flips through his copy of the draft transportation master plan. (Photos by the writer.)

The plan currently comprises two separate volumes – one outlining a vision and the other outlining how that vision would be implemented.

[.pdf of draft "Volume 1: A Transit Vision for Washtenaw County"] [.pdf of draft "Volume 2: Transit Master Plan Implementation Strategy"]

A third volume, on funding options, is forthcoming. It will not include a detailed discussion of governance. But the tax revenue portion of future funding will depend in part on the future governance structure of whatever agency is responsible for public transit in Ann Arbor and the rest of the county. Options for future governance include a countywide authority, which could eventually supplant the AATA as the agency responsible for public transit. On Thursday, the board received an update from CEO Michael Ford on conversations he’s been having, and will continue to have, with elected officials about the governance of a countywide authority.

In general concept, a countywide transit authority could first be formed and exist simultaneously with the AATA, but with no source of tax revenue. At some point, probably not this year, a millage proposal to support the countywide transit authority would be put in front of voters across the county. And if that millage were to succeed, the AATA’s assets would be folded into the new countywide transit authority.

In other work at Thursday’s meeting, the board held a public hearing on its planned federal program of projects.

The board also entertained the usual range of reports from its committees. Highlights included the fact that ridership has increased in the last month slightly compared to last year, and cost per service hour is better than what has been budgeted. The board also received an update on efforts to improve its real-time information to riders by working with its current software vendor, Trapeze. [Full Story]

Concerns Aired over Transit Governance

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (April 7, 2011): At their working session, county commissioners heard – most of them for the first time – a proposal on structuring the board for a possible new countywide transit authority. It was not universally well-received.

Michael Benham, Wes Prater

Washtenaw County commissioner Wes Prater, right, talks with Michael Benham of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority following the April 7, 2011 working session of the county board. During the meeting, Prater raised concerns over the proposal for governance of a countywide transit system. (Photos by the writer.)

The tentative proposal includes allocating Ann Arbor seven seats on a 15-member board. While most of the other seats are based on population, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti would be given special consideration because both cities have millages dedicated to pay for public transit. [Ypsilanti – with a population of 19,435 compared to Ann Arbor's 113,934 – would be allocated one seat.] The assumption of the proposal is that those millages would remain in place, on top of another transportation millage levied on all county taxpayers. A countywide millage would require voter approval.

Commissioner Kristin Judge, whose district covers Pittsfield Township, protested the way board seats were assigned, saying it gave an unfair advantage to Ann Arbor. Commissioner Wes Prater, who represents southeast portions of the county, said he was “flabbergasted” that the governance plan had been developed so fully without consulting the county board, which under the current proposal would be asked to ratify the new transit authority’s board members. However, some individual commissioners were previously aware of the proposal, including board chair Conan Smith and Yousef Rabhi, chair of the board’s working session. Both Smith and Rabhi represent Ann Arbor districts.

Ronnie Peterson – a commissioner representing Ypsilanti and parts of Ypsilanti Township – expressed strong support for a countywide system, saying details of the proposal could be worked out. It’s important to have a board that allows for all parts of the county to take part in policy-making decisions, he said, noting that’s not the case with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board. Both Judge and Prater said they supported public transit, but were concerned about how the system might be structured.

The proposal for governance has been developed separately from a 30-year transit master plan, which the AATA has been working on for more than a year – a process that has included dozens of public meetings to solicit feedback. If the current proposal stands, a countywide transit authority would be formed to operate a system that could expand bus service throughout the county, as well as bring commuter rail to the area. Capital costs for the system are an estimated $465 million over the 30-year period, with roughly $100 million in annual operating expenses. AATA would be dissolved, and its staff and assets would be transferred to the new entity.

Thursday’s working session was attended by six of the 11 commissioners. Three of the four commissioners representing Ann Arbor – Barbara Bergman, Leah Gunn and Conan Smith – were not present. [Full Story]

“Smart Growth” to Fuel Countywide Transit

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (March 17, 2011): At its regular monthly meeting, the AATA board voted unanimously to adopt a “Smart Growth” scenario as the basis for a countywide transit master plan (TMP). The transit authority has been developing the TMP over the course of a planning and public engagement process that began in the summer of 2010.

Jesse Bernstein

AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein's green button was not selected in honor of St. Patrick's Day. It reads: I <3 Transit, (Photo by the writer.)

The final phase of that process included 20 public meetings in February, where three different scenarios were presented: Lifeline Plus, Accessible County, and Smart Growth. The three scenarios were nested subsets, starting with Lifeline Plus as a base, which would simply have expanded on existing services and focused on expanding services for seniors and disabled people throughout the county. Accessible County would have added fixed-route bus service to connect all the county’s urban centers. Smart Growth included all the features of Accessible County, as well as high-capacity transit along local corridors, plus regional commuter rail.

At Thursday’s meeting, board chair Jesse Bernstein characterized the TMP as a reflection of where the community wants to be 30 years from now. The entity that would be implementing the TMP, he stressed, would likely be organized under a different legal framework than the current AATA, which is an Act 55 transit authority, with a tax levied just in the city of Ann Arbor. The AATA board has actively discussed for at least the last two and a half years the idea of transforming the transit authority to a countywide funding source, possibly using Act 196.

The meeting included three other pieces of business: (1) approval of a contract for the AATA’s paratransit services; (2) acceptance of an auditor’s report on the AATA’s books from the previous fiscal year; and (3) approval of a contract for media services.

Also discussed, but not acted on, was a memorandum of understanding with the city of Ann Arbor for construction of a bus pull‐out on eastbound Washtenaw Avenue east of Pittsfield Boulevard. The bus pull-out is part of a larger project – a transfer center on the south side of Washtenaw Avenue at Pittsfield Boulevard, opposite Arborland mall – which will include a “super shelter.” The project is being funded with federal stimulus money granted to the AATA. The board was in favor of the agreement with the city, but was reluctant to vote on the memorandum absent a copy of the text of the memorandum itself. [Full Story]

AATA: Transit Study, Planning Updates

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Jan. 20, 2011): The AATA’s first monthly board meeting of the year featured a presentation on a connector feasibility study on the Plymouth and State street corridors. The study is now nearing completion.

Jesse Bernstein

AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein points to a pie chart projected on the screen as part of the presentation the board heard about the Plymouth-State street corridor connector study. (Photo by the writer.)

In their one main business item, the board approved the capital and categorical grants program for 2011-15. The program will form the basis for upcoming state and federal grant applications.

Board member David Nacht prefaced the discussion of the connector feasibility study by encouraging his colleagues to share their thoughts on it – because the board had argued a long time about whether to help fund the $640,000 study, along with the other partners: the city of Ann Arbor; the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority; and the University of Michigan.

In the course of their discussion, the board touched on another major planning initiative: the countywide transportation master planning process.

Beginning Jan. 31, the AATA is launching the final round of public engagement meetings to develop a countywide plan for transit. Currently the AATA is funded by an Ann Arbor transit millage, plus purchase of service (POS) agreements with other municipalities. Voters in the city of Ypsilanti passed a millage in November 2010 that will cover most of the cost of Ypsilanti’s POS, for example.

Twenty additional meetings on the countywide planning effort are scheduled at locations throughout the county, to get feedback on three transit scenarios developed so far. Transit options in the three scenarios – which the AATA has labeled Lifeline Plus, Accessible County, and Smart Growth – are nested subsets, starting with Lifeline Plus as a base, which expands on existing services and focuses on services for seniors and disabled people.

According to representatives of the AATA and its consultant on the project, Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), the goal of the last phrase of public interactions is not for people to appear at the meetings and simply vote for their preferred option. They’re interested in hearing what options from the various scenarios might be combined to build a “preferred scenario.” [Full Story]

AATA Mulls Living Wage, Adds Chelsea Trip

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Dec. 16, 2010): At their last meeting of the year, the AATA board unanimously approved a contract for janitorial services at the Blake Transit Center, which had been postponed from its November meeting amid concerns about how the new vendor was achieving its considerably lower cost.

From AATA documentation, before (left) and after (right) bus stop improvements at the Mallets Creek branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Board member Rich Robben had raised concerns regarding whether appropriate wages were being paid, but was convinced to support approval of the contract in part because of another resolution on the agenda. That resolution, which the board also passed unanimously, directed AATA staff to explore the possibility of a living wage provision for its contractors that would be similar to the ordinance used by the city of Ann Arbor.

The board also approved adding an additional return trip for the AATA’s commuter express service between Chelsea and Ann Arbor. The trip will leave Ann Arbor for Chelsea at 7:10 p.m. It was added in part due to feedback from current riders, who would have greater flexibility to work later on days when they take the bus to work. Many of the riders are University of Michigan employees. Robben, who is executive director for plant operations at the university, reported that the value placed on the express service by riders had been “bludgeoned” into him by some of his coworkers. He voted for the additional trip, along with the rest of the board.

The board was also given a presentation on the AATA’s bus stop improvement program, which featured several before-and-after slides. And among the topics reported out by the board’s committees and CEO Michael Ford was the on-time performance of AATA buses.

At the start of the meeting, during the time for communications and announcements, board member David Nacht noted the passing of Rev. S. L. Roberson, whose memorial service was taking place that evening. Nacht described Roberson as a force for equality in Washtenaw County and an important person in the community. Board chair Jesse Bernstein recalled having worked with Roberson in the ’70s at Ford Motor Co., and described him as an excellent person.

Bernstein concluded the meeting by thanking the AATA staff and the board for all their hard work this year, and suggested that next year they’d be asked to work even harder. [Full Story]

AATA Extends Countywide Planning Time

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Nov. 18, 2010): Starting things off on Thursday – an hour earlier than the board’s usual 6:30 p.m. start time – was an update from the consultant and AATA staff who are leading the community in developing a countywide transportation master plan (TMP).


Board members Jesse Bernstein and Sue McCormick confer before the start of the Nov. 18 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The steps outlined for developing the TMP include a chronology for identifying the following: a shared community vision; a transit needs assessment; transit options; a set of scenarios. The consulting team is in the midst of a phase that identifies a range of various options. The creation of various scenarios – combinations of different transit options – will constitute the final phase of work before production of the TMP in mid-April 2011.

That projected completion date reflects an extension of the original timeframe, which was originally set to conclude in late February. The extra time will allow for an additional step in the process – a step that will allow the consultant to present a set of scenarios without specifying any one of them as the recommended scenario.

To allow for the extra time, later in the evening the board approved a resolution increasing the $399,805 contract with Steer Davies Gleeve – the consultant AATA hired to help with the work – by an amount not to exceed $32,500.

In other business, the board discussed, but did not approve, a new janitorial contract for Blake Transit Center, which specified a different vendor from the current one. The new vendor’s bid came in at a cost a bit more than half of what had been budgeted for the year: $72,000 compared to the budgeted $126,069. Concerns by board members about how the cost savings were being achieved were serious enough that they chose, on a split vote, to table the issue.

In a move that did not authorize any current expenditure, the board adopted a compensation philosophy over which there was some brief but firm debate. Board member David Nacht weighed in against the idea of a public entity creating such a document – they’re only used to justify increases in payment but never decreases, he said. Expressing the view of the majority, however, was board member Sue McCormick, who stressed the importance of a public entity making a clear and transparent statement of how salaries are set.

The board entertained its usual range of committee reports and remarks from the public. [Full Story]

Know Your AATA Board: Roger Kerson

“I grew up in New York City, Queens, where the world was very different and mass transit was a daily part of everybody’s daily life,” says Roger Kerson. But Kerson opted for personal transit when he biked to the Sweetwaters café on West Washington to discuss with The Chronicle his recent appointment to the board of the  Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA).

Roger Kerson at the AATA board retreat on Aug. 10. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

The AATA, branded on the sides of buses as “The Ride,” aims to be the public transportation provider for Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, as well as all of Washtenaw County. Kerson is one of seven members on the AATA board.

While he may be the newest board member, Kerson does not lack for eagerness in promoting the AATA’s current initiative to develop a countywide transportation plan. “We’re engaged in a planning process,” he says, “for developing mass transportation and we encourage people to go to … We need to engage in a lot of conversation.” The Moving You Forward website seeks community feedback on every aspect of public transportation.

“Where do you live? Where do you work? Where do you shop? Where do you go to the movies? Are there ways in which you could reduce your carbon footprint by using transit, using the bike?” Kerson asks, adding that the AATA welcome views from all Ann Arborites and county residents, whether they use transit or not.

Encouraging that kind of communication is familiar ground to Kerson. He is currently a media consultant at RK Communications, his consulting firm. Kerson’s roots in Ann Arbor stretch from his time at the University of Michigan, where he graduated with distinction in 1980. “I think Woodrow Wilson was president then,” he quipped. Kerson stayed in Ann Arbor after college, soon becoming interested in journalism.

He began writing for a publication called The Alchemist, which he describes as “The Ann Arbor Chronicle in its day, before the Internet.” [Full Story]

Transit Forum Critiques Fuller Road Station

Chris Leinberger was blunt in his assessment of the proposed Fuller Road Station: If the parking structure is built as proposed, in 20 years it will be torn down.

Fuller Road parking lot

The city-owned Fuller Road parking lot, site of the proposed Fuller Road Station. To the south of the lot is the University of Michigan medical complex. (Photos by the writer.)

Speaking at a forum on transit-oriented development, Leinberger – a University of Michigan professor of practice in urban planning – said current plans for the joint UM/city of Ann Arbor project do a good job of incorporating different kinds of transit, from bikes and buses to perhaps, eventually, commuter rail.

But Leinberger criticized the project for taking some of Ann Arbor’s most valuable land and turning it into something that won’t generate revenue for the city. He told Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, that “whoever’s in your position 20 years from now will tear it down.”

Monday’s forum, held at the UM Art & Architecture building on north campus, was organized by members of the WALLY Coalition and the 208 Group, among others, to focus on local transit-oriented development efforts. Moderated by local developer Peter Allen, the event included presentations by Cooper, Richard Murphy of the city of Ypsilanti and Shea Charles, Howell’s city manager. [Full Story]

AATA on County Transit: READY, Aim, Fire

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Jan. 20, 2010): Board member Jesse Bernstein outlined a process Wednesday night for moving towards an expanded countywide transit service, which he characterized as “ready, aim, fire” – with a heavy emphasis on “ready.” A resolution passed by the board on Wednesday establishes a timeframe that would not begin the implementation phase of a plan until the beginning of 2011.

Jesse Bernstein

Jesse Bernstein, who chairs the AATA board's performance monitoring and external relations committee, outlined a plan for expanding service that sees the next six months devoted to making the organization more transparent and gathering information from the community. (Photos by the writer.)

The emphasis on community engagement and listening to the needs and wants of the people who might use an expanded service – before trying to design the specifics of the service – would not be something confined to this particular initiative. Said Bernstein: “This is not a one-shot campaign; this is how we’re going to behave going forward.”

The board adopted a resolution to advance their plan for the future of public transportation in the county.

The board also heard a presentation on the results of a survey of voter attitudes towards a possible transit millage in Washtenaw County. The survey measured support of a millage at 51% – with 17% and 34% of voters saying they’d definitely or probably vote yes, respectively.

In other business, the board adopted its capital and categorical grant program, approved a contract to replace some doors and windows at AATA headquarters, authorized an application to the Michigan Department of Transportation and approved a 21-month purchase-of-service agreement with the city of Ypsilanti. [Full Story]