Stories indexed with the term ‘public transportation’

Differences on Countywide Transit Debated

Washtenaw County board of commissioners special working session (June 14, 2012): A wide-ranging discussion on proposed expansion of public transit in Washtenaw County revealed some sharp philosophical differences among county commissioners.

Michael Ford, Dan Smith

From left: Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, talks with county commissioner Dan Smith after the June 14, 2012 special working session of the county board, which focused on a plan for regional public transit. Smith put forward several amendments to a four-party transit agreement and articles of incorporation that were discussed at the session. (Photos by the writer.)

A three-hour working session was intended to be a chance talk through these issues prior to a formal board of commissioners vote on a four-party transit agreement and articles of incorporation for a new Act 196 transit authority. That vote might take place as soon as the county board’s July 11 meeting. These documents would set the framework for a broader public transit authority than currently exists in the county.

Washtenaw County is one of the parties to the four-party agreement, but with a unique role compared to the other three entities: the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which is spearheading this effort. Unlike those entities – whose governing bodies have already approved the transit documents – the county would not be contributing assets (AATA) or a millage (Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti). Nor would the county board be asked to put a countywide millage request on the ballot.

Rather, the county clerk would be asked to file articles of incorporation with the state – an action to create a transit authority under Michigan Act 196. When formed, the Act 196 board would have authority to put a funding proposal on the ballot for voters to consider. A financial advisory group that’s been working on this effort has suggested that revenues equivalent to a 0.5 mill tax would be needed to cover the cost of expanded services for the first five years. [.pdf of financial advisory group report]

Most of the comments and questions from commissioners at the working session related to issues of local versus regional control; the process by which local communities could opt-out or opt-in to the new transit authority; parity between Ann Arbor and other municipalities; and how details of the service and funding plan would be communicated. Dan Smith was the only commissioner who put forward specific proposals for amendments to the documents, which were discussed at the working session and covered many of these broad issues.

The original intent of the working session was to review any possible amendments from commissioners and take a straw poll to gauge the board’s sentiment on those amendments. Any consensus could then be reported back to the other three parties, for possible action prior to formal consideration by the county board.

Although eight of the 11 commissioners attended the June 14 session, two of them – Leah Gunn and Rolland Sizemore Jr. – left before straw polls were taken. Not attending were Rob Turner, Ronnie Peterson and Barbara Bergman.

Three possible amendments were considered to have sufficient consensus to discuss with a separate committee that helped develop the draft documents, which includes representatives from all four parties as well as an unincorporated Act 196 board. The three amendments relate to these questions: (1) Should the Act 196 authority be dissolved if a vote on funding fails in any of the jurisdictions? (2) What restrictions should be placed on board membership? and (3) Who should have the power to amend the articles of incorporation?

The outcome of that committee meeting, held on June 18, was to let the current four-party agreement and articles of incorporation stand for now. At the Ann Arbor city council’s June 18 meeting, councilmembers Sabra Briere and Christopher Taylor – who participated in a committee meeting earlier that day – reported to their council colleagues this consensus: AATA, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor would not consider any further amendments to the documents before a vote by the county board.

Wes Prater described Dan Smith’s amendments overall as being “absolutely necessary” to ensure proper oversight of the new authority. If the changes aren’t made, he said, there will come a time when the board will regret it: “Mark my words.”

Although it’s unclear which of the amendments might have traction, at this point it seems likely that there are sufficient votes on the county board to pass the four-party agreement and articles of incorporation in some form. [Full Story]

County Session Set on Transit Accord

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

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

Ypsi Council Re-Adopts Transit Accord

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

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

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

Ann Arbor Council Re-OKs Transit Docs

At its June 4, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council reconsidered and ratified an agreement among four parties on a framework for possible transition of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to a broader geographic service area, governance, and funding base.

The four parties to the agreement are the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.  In conjunction with the reconsideration of the four-party agreement, the council also approved articles of incorporation for the new Act 196 transit authority that would eventually need to be filed by Washtenaw County – on request from the AATA – in order to establish a new governance structure. According to the four-party agreement, even if a … [Full Story]

AATA Approves Countywide Transit Docs

At its May 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board approved two key documents related to a possible transition to a countywide transit authority – a four-party agreement and the articles of incorporation of the new authority.

The board’s resolution did not try to resolve differences between the versions of the four-party agreement that have now been approved by the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Instead, the board gave the four-party agreement its approval, contingent on resolution of the technical difference that has emerged between the Ypsilanti version and the Ann Arbor version – a difference that concerns a municipal service charge. The AATA board may need to vote again on the agreement, depending on how Ann Arbor … [Full Story]

Ypsi Approves Amended Transit Agreement

At its May 15, 2012 meeting, the Ypsilanti city council unanimously approved a proposed four-party agreement which establishes a process to create a new countywide transportation authority in Washtenaw County. The new authority, tentatively named the Washtenaw Area Transportation Authority, would be incorporated under Act 196 of 1986, and would replace the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority – with a broader geographic base for its governance, services and funding.

The four parties to the agreement are the AATA, the city of Ypsilanti, the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.

The Ann Arbor city council approved a version of the four-party agreement on March 5, 2012, after amending the version that the AATA had first presented. Amendments were made in several ways, and … [Full Story]

AATA Releases Draft 5-Year Service Program

At a special meeting held on April 26, 2012, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority voted formally to release for public review a five-year service and funding draft plan – part of a possible transition to expanded governance and service throughout Washtenaw County. The draft plan incorporates the advice of a financial task force that signed off on recommendations at its Feb. 29 meeting. [.pdf of draft five-year plan]

The plan will undergo a period of public review lasting 30-days.

The five-year program includes: (1) countywide demand-responsive services and feeder services; (2) express bus services and local transit hubs services; (3) local community connectors and local community circulators; (4) park-and-ride intercept lots; and (5) urban bus network enhancements. For … [Full Story]

AATA Receives Financial Group Report

At its April 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board formally accepted for further consideration the recommendations of a financial task force on funding for an expanded, countywide governance and service area.

The task force is currently “on hold” following its Feb. 29, 2012 meeting, when it made its recommendations to the AATA. A few days after that task force meeting, the Ann Arbor city council ratified its part of a four-party agreement – between the AATA, city of Ann Arbor, city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – that provides a framework for possible transition to a new governance structure for the AATA.

The April 19 board resolution addresses part of the reason that the task force was reluctant … [Full Story]

Bus Ridership Gains Continue for AATA

At its April 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board received as a part of its regular information packet the performance data on ridership, costs per mile and the like. For regular fixed route service on weekdays, ridership in March 2012 showed a gain of 8% compared to March 2011 – an average of 24,501 passengers for each weekday, compared to 22,639 per weekday in March of 2012.

That continues a trend since October 2011, the start of the current fiscal year for the AATA. Each month the average number of weekday passengers per month has been greater than the corresponding month in the previous year.

For the AATA’s paratransit service (A-Ride), the data from March show a slight decrease in the … [Full Story]

County Board Updated on Public Transit Plans

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (March 22, 2012): Commissioners got another briefing about transitioning to a countywide public transportation system, but several expressed concerns about some aspects of the proposal.

Michael Ford, Mary Stasiak

Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, talks with AATA community relations manager Mary Stasiak before the start of the March 22, 2012 Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session. Ford gave an update on plans for a countywide transit agreement. (Photos by the writer.)

Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, gave the presentation and fielded questions during the county board’s most recent working session. He touched on some of the same ground that he’d covered at the board’s Dec. 7, 2011 meeting, but provided updates on several actions that have taken place since then. Most significantly, the Ann Arbor city council has approved a four-party agreement that the county will also be asked to join. The agreement does not create a new transit authority, but sets out the process and framework – including a timeline – by which a new authority would be formed.

Ford stressed that the county would not be required to fund the new authority or put a millage on the ballot.  Nor would it incur liabilities for the entity. “Your role is important, but it’s limited,” he said. The county’s primary role would be to file articles of incorporation with the state to form the authority under Act 196 of 1986.

Some commissioners expressed unease with aspects of the process, and pressed Ford for details on several issues. Dan Smith was concerned about how residents in smaller townships would be represented fairly, noting that the residents themselves won’t be voting on whether to participate – that decision will be made by the governing bodies of each municipality. Wes Prater said his main objection is that the process requires municipalities to opt out, rather than opt in – he characterized it as throwing out a wide net and making people crawl out, rather than choosing to join. He predicted that at least 12 townships won’t participate.

Both Smith and Prater represent primarily rural districts. Yousef Rabhi, a commissioner from Ann Arbor, urged the board to take a more regional perspective, arguing that an insular approach among municipalities has plagued this county for a long time, and they need to move past that.

The March 22 working session also included a briefing on state legislative issues by Kirk Profit, a lobbyist for the county with Lansing-based Governmental Consultant Services Inc. This report focuses on the countywide transit presentation. [Full Story]

AATA Route 4: Continued Ridership Gains

As part of its performance monitoring and external relations information packet for the March 15, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board was provided with an update on the performance of Route #4 between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. The frequency of service was increased on the route starting in February.

Compared to a corresponding four-week period in February 2011, ridership on Route #4 was 26% greater. That compared with a system‐wide ridership increase of 12% for the same period – an increase attributed primarily to very good weather. Chris White, AATA manager of service development, is still cautious about drawing conclusions from the initial data, writing in an email to The Chronicle, “It is very positive, but please note that … [Full Story]

AATA Survey: Slim Majority Supports Tax

At its Feb. 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board received an overview presentation of the results from a survey of Washtenaw County registered voters about their attitudes towards paying additional taxes to support transportation countywide.

On a key question about survey respondents’ inclination to support a 1 mill property tax, asked towards the beginning of the survey, 54% answered that they would definitely or probably support such a tax. [On  a similar question asked on a similar survey in 2009, 51% of respondents across Washtenaw County answered that they would definitely or probably support a 1 mill additional property tax to support transportation. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value.]

Asked a similar question … [Full Story]

AATA Service to DTW on Feb. 16 Agenda

A proposal long in the works to provide public transportation service between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metropolitan Airport will appear on the agenda of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board at its Feb. 16 meeting. The AATA will contract out the service through Indian Trails (Michigan Flyer).

Details of the service include a one-way fare of $12 for advance reservation (and limited refundability) or $15 with re-fundability up to time of departure. Round trip fare would be $22 for advance reservation (and limited refundability) or $30 with refundability up to time of departure. The resolution also provides for an introductory promotional offer of $10 one-way and $20 round trip. Volume discounts also may be available for groups of up to eight people traveling together. [.pdf of ... [Full Story]

Four-Party Transit Delayed Third Time

At its Feb. 6, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to postpone until March 5 a resolution that would have established an agreement between Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, establishing a new framework for governance of local public transportation.

The four-party agreement would expand the area and level of transportation service provided by the AATA by expanding the geographic area of its governance structure. Specifically, under the four-party agreement, the AATA would be incorporated as a transportation authority under Act 196 of 1986.

The council’s postponement on Feb. 6 came at the AATA’s request. The council previously postponed the issue at its Jan. 9 and Jan. 23 meetings. Thirty-nine people spoke at a public hearing held on Jan. 23.

The delay by the council is due in part to a desire to hear a recommendation from a financial advisory group that was scheduled to meet on Jan. 27 – but that meeting was postponed. The group is a collection of more than 20 representatives of the public and private sectors, led by McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and retired Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel. They have met since the fall of 2011.

The day before the group’s scheduled meeting, a 17-bill package was introduced on Jan. 26 in the Michigan house of representatives that provides for the establishment and funding of a regional transit authority that would include Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties. However, the AATA has not explicitly cited that new legislation as the reason for the postponement of its meeting. The meeting is now expected to take place on Feb. 29.

Before voting to postpone action on the agreement until March 5, the council undertook an amendment to the agreement. To the text on termination was added: “The City of Ann Arbor may also withdraw from the new TA [transit authority] using any of the methods authorized by MCL 124.458. In the event that the city of Ann Arbor exercise any of the forgoing rights, Ann Arbor may terminate this agreement upon written notice to the other parties.” [.pdf of 4-party agreement as previously amended on Jan. 23, 2011]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Olson: Road, Transit Legislation Introduced

An emailed press release from state representative Rick Olson’s office on the morning of Jan 26, 2012 announced that legislation to improve road infrastructure throughout the state, as well as enable the creation of a regional transit authority for southeast Michigan, would be introduced in the state house and senate later in the day. Olson represents District 55.

From the press release: “The bipartisan, bicameral package aims to improve and maintain roads across the state, implement numerous reforms to the Department of Transportation and establish a funding source to be used only to directly improve roads, bridges and key infrastructure. The legislation also would create a regional transit authority in Southeast Michigan.” For background see “AATA in Transition: Briefed on … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Again Delays 4-Party Transit Deal

At its Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council again delayed action on a four-party agreement that would establish a framework for a transition of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to a countywide governance incorporated under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986.

The council postponed action until its Feb. 6 meeting, but not before undertaking several amendments to the text of the agreement. The council had previously postponed action at its Jan. 9 meeting and had set a public hearing for Jan. 23. A few dozen people appeared before the council to speak during the hearing.

The four-party agreement – between the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – would establish a framework for making a transition of the AATA to a countywide system of governance under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986.

The transition to a countywide governance and funding base is intended to (1) ensure stability of funding for transit connections outside of the city of Ann Arbor, which until now has depended on purchase-of-service agreements; (2) provide a higher level of transit service inside the city of Ann Arbor; and (3) expand the area where transit service is provided.

In the four party-agreement, the role of the two cities – Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – would be to pledge their current transit millages to the new authority, contingent on identifying a countywide funding source. The two cities currently levy millages that are designated for public transit and are passed through to the AATA. For Ann Arbor, that’s currently just over 2 mills. For Ypsilanti, which uses the proceeds of the tax – approved in November 2010 – to fund its purchase-of-service agreement with the AATA, the levy is just under 1 mill. [One mill is $1 for each $1,000 of a property's taxable value.]

As part of the four-party agreement, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor would agree that AATA’s existing assets would be assumed by the new Act 196 transit authority, and they’d also agree to assign their existing millages to the new Act 196 authority. But the asset transfer and the millage assignment would be contingent on identifying a countywide funding source for the new Act 196 authority.

Although the council postponed action, it did undertake several amendments to the accord.

Completely struck was a section that contemplated the possibility that “funding sources are elected to fund the NEW TA [transit authority] which do not require voter approval.” A new addition was the explicit requirement that the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti would need to vote to adopt the articles of incorporation that Washtenaw County would file to formally incorporate the new Act 196 transit authority. [.pdf of draft articles of incorporation]

A phrase was inserted in two spots (one for each of the cities) to place on the new Act 196 transit authority a requirement to the effect that the new authority must provide to Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti “at a minimum, the continued level of services provided by its predecessor-in-interest, AATA, …”

Another revision highlighted at the beginning of some relevant paragraphs the condition that must be met in order for the substance of the paragraph to apply, and expresses it in terms of time, not abstract logic: “After all of the Section 8 contingencies to Closing are satisfied, …”

Another revision accommodated the possibility that some municipalities might choose to opt out of an Act 196 authority if one were to be incorporated – by swapping in “authority-wide” for the phrase “county-wide.” Those amendments undertaken by the council are reflected in the marked up document: [.pdf of marked up four-party agreement]

An additional revision approved by the council stipulates that if Ann Arbor is the only municipality in the county that opts in to the Act 196 authority, then the agreement is null and void.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated that at the council’s next meeting, he’d bring forward a possible amendment to change the composition of the board of the new transit authority that’s described in the four-party agreement, so that Ann Arbor has a majority. The original version, which remains in place, calls for a 15-member board to which Ann Arbor would appoint seven members. Ypsilanti would have one seat, and a district that includes Ypsilanti and August townships would have two seats (the southeast district). Pittsfield Township would constitute a district. The other four seats would come from districts labeled as follows: west, north central, northeast, south central. [.jpg of map showing board composition of Act 196 transit authority]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall located, at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Transit Issue Raised at County Board

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 18, 2012): The Ann Arbor city council has been grappling with the issue of a four-party countywide transit agreement – a resolution regarding the accord is on Monday’s council agenda. And although Washtenaw County is one of the four parties being asked to approve the agreement, it hasn’t come before the county board yet as a formal resolution.

Stephen Kunselman, Mary Jo Callan

At the Washtenaw County board of commissioners Jan. 18, 2012 meeting, Ann Arbor city councilmember Stephen Kunselman talks with Mary Jo Callan, director of the joint Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community and economic development. Kunselman was on hand to air concerns about the proposed countywide transit authority. (Photos by the writer.)

However, the issue emerged at the board’s Jan. 18 meeting when two people – including city councilmember Stephen Kunselman – spoke during public commentary to share their views with county commissioners. Among Kunselman’s points was a concern that Ann Arbor might end up shouldering the burden for countywide transit, if most other communities opt out.

A few commissioners responded to the public commentary. Alicia Ping – who represents a district covering Saline and several townships in southwest Washtenaw – indicated that many people in her district were not inclined to participate in a countywide transit authority. Wes Prater expressed concerns about the process so far, calling it convoluted and confusing.

The main action at the board’s Jan. 18 meeting also reflected ties between the county and Ann Arbor – a presentation and vote on the consolidation of county and Ann Arbor 911 dispatch services. The proposal, which was unanimously approved, called for entering into a contract with the city from Feb. 1, 2012 to Jan. 30, 2017. The city will pay $759,089 annually for dispatch services. In addition, the county expects to receive an increase of $677,893 annually from 911 fees. The Ann Arbor city council had already approved the agreement at its Dec. 5, 2011 meeting.

Sheriff Jerry Clayton told commissioners that he believes the dispatch model they’re developing will be among the best practices nationally, and will be replicated by other dispatch operations in the country. This partnership between Washtenaw County’s two largest public safety entities will strengthen core police services in the county, he said.

In other action, the board gave initial approval to one of the last remaining contracts with a union representing Washtenaw County employees – a two-year collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Local 3052, representing 52 general supervisors. A final vote by the board is expected at its Feb. 1 meeting. Negotiations continue with four remaining bargaining units that have not yet reached an agreement on a new contract.

The board also approved a brownfield plan for Arbor Hills Crossing, a development in Ann Arbor at the corner of Washtenaw and Platt, and formally accepted a $3 million grant to support the Washtenaw County Sustainable Community project, which focuses on the Washtenaw Avenue corridor spanning Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti Township. Arbor Hills Crossing will be located along that corridor.

County administrator Verna McDaniel updated the board on turning over the Washtenaw Head Start program to federal officials, a move that commissioners had approved last year as part of the budget process. The county will end its 46-year affiliation with Head Start on July 31. McDaniel reported that the Washtenaw Intermediate School District is interested in applying to take over the program locally, and that federal officials plan to issue a request for proposals (RFP) during the first quarter of this year.

Not mentioned during McDaniel’s update was the status of an investigation begun last year into actions of the program’s two top officials, director Patricia Horne McGee and Lovida Roach, the program’s second-in-command. Responding to a follow-up query from The Chronicle, Diane Heidt, the county’s human resources and labor relations director, said the allegations that prompted the investigation were “founded.” Heidt said the county could not release details, but that no misuse of funds was involved. Horne McGee retired at the end of 2011. Roach will remain on leave until the county relinquishes control of Head Start, and at that point she will also retire, Heidt said.

The meeting also included a transition of sorts. Commissioner Leah Gunn has typically taken on the parliamentary action of moving the agenda at each of the board’s meetings, which entails reading off the agenda items. Gunn, who is not running for re-election this year, announced that Wednesday’s meeting was her “farewell agenda” – she would be relinquishing that task for the remainder of her tenure on the board. [Her term runs through the end of 2012.] After she completed the task this final time, Yousef Rabhi teased her, saying Gunn “moved the agenda very well.” [Full Story]

AATA in Transition, Briefed on State’s Plans

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Jan. 19, 2012): The AATA board’s meeting consisted of pro forma, ordinary business set against a backdrop of several transitions.

Rich Robben University of Michigan Ann Arbor Transportation Authority

Rich Robben's last meeting as an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board member was Jan. 19, 2012. (Photos by the writer.)

The board itself is in transition – Thursday was Rich Robben’s last meeting as an AATA board member. And the city’s transportation program manager, Eli Cooper, attended his first meeting since his nomination was confirmed by the Ann Arbor city council on Dec. 19, 2011. He replaces Sue McCormick on the board.

The AATA as an organization is also possibly in transition, as it seeks to establish a new, countywide governance structure under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986. To provide a framework for that move, AATA is asking three other entities – the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – to ratify an agreement with the AATA. The Ann Arbor city council postponed action on that agreement at its Jan. 9, 2012 meeting, but is expected to take action on Jan. 23. A public hearing on the four-party agreement is scheduled for that council meeting as well. CEO Michael Ford reported that the text of the four-party agreement is currently being revised, to promote clarity.

And as the AATA works on a possible move to countywide governance of public transit in Washtenaw County, Michigan’s state legislature may also act to establish a regional transit authority (RTA) for southeast Michigan that would add Washtenaw to Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties.

The AATA board got a briefing on possible upcoming RTA legislation from Dusty Fancher, a consultant for the Michigan Public Transit Association (MPTA). Fancher, who’s employed by Midwest Strategy Group, stressed that the RTA legislation – for which no details have yet been released publicly – comes in the context of a larger transportation infrastructure agenda being pushed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. That larger agenda includes a focus on funding for roads.

Like the move to a local countywide governance, the funding for an RTA would probably include a request to voters for additional taxes. If the state’s RTA legislation were passed before the November 2012 election – and if a decision also were made to place a ballot request to Washtenaw County voters to fund more transportation within the county – that would potentially result in two transportation tax initiatives in the same election.

How likely is it that the state’s RTA legislation would be passed before the November 2012 election? Fancher said that if nothing were passed by March 2012, she’d bet money that nothing would happen before November. Also at the AATA board meeting, Clark Harder, executive director of the MPTA, indicated that it’s important to understand that Snyder does not currently have the votes within his own Republican Party to push the RTA package forward.

Against that backdrop of transition and many unknowns, the AATA went about some regular business with quantifiable, known facts. The board authorized the purchase of up to 25 vans to provide van pool service. The board also authorized its capital grant program for the next five years, which allows for an additional $1.5 million of federal and state grant money to go towards the reconstruction of the downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center.

The board also heard its usual range of public commentary and reports from committees. [Full Story]

City Planners Preview SEMCOG Forecast

A widely used forecast of population, employment and other community indicators – prepared by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) – is being revised through 2040. At a working session on Tuesday, Ann Arbor planning commissioners were briefed on the preliminary results of that work, which will likely be finalized and released in March.

Wendy Rampson

Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city of Ann Arbor, at the Ann Arbor planning commission's Jan. 10, 2012 working session. Behind her are students from Huron High School, who attended the meeting for a class assignment. (Photo by the writer.)

The forecast is used as a planning tool by local governments and regional organizations, and is updated every five years. A preliminary forecast from 2010-2020 has been distributed to communities in southeast Michigan, including Ann Arbor, to get feedback that will be used in making the final forecast through 2040. At a public forum in Ann Arbor last month, SEMCOG staff also presented an overview from its preliminary 2040 forecast for Washtenaw County.

For the county, the initial forecast shows the population growing from 344,791 in 2010 to 352,616 in 2020 – a 2.2% increase. By 2040, the county’s population is expected to reach 384,735, an increase of about 40,000 people from 2010.

The population in Ann Arbor is projected to stay essentially flat, while some of the county’s townships – including the townships of Augusta, Lima, Manchester, Saline and Superior – are expected to see double-digit growth.

Total employment for the county is expected to grow 20.6% through 2040, from 236,677 jobs in 2010 to 285,659 jobs in 2040. About 50% of all jobs in the county are located in Ann Arbor.

The forecast has implications for policy and planning decisions, including decisions related to transportation funding. For example, the forecast will form the basis for SEMCOG’s 2040 long-range transportation plan, which is expected to be released in June of 2013.

The transportation issue was highlighted during Tuesday’s planning commission meeting. And in a follow-up interview with The Chronicle, Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, expressed concerns that the forecast might underestimate population and household figures.

Cooper said he’s trying to ensure that SEMCOG has all the data it needs to inform good decision-making. For example, a list of recent and pending developments that SEMCOG is using doesn’t include some major new residential projects, he said, such as The Varsity Ann Arbor. [.pdf of development list used in SEMCOG draft forecast]

This forecast comes in the context of several major transportation projects that are being discussed within the county. That  includes a possible countywide transportation system and a potential high-capacity transit corridor in Ann Arbor that would run from Plymouth Road at US-23 through downtown Ann Arbor to State Street and southward to I-94.

The discussion at Tuesday’s working session centered primarily on SEMCOG’s draft forecast for Ann Arbor through 2020. The meeting covered other topics, including an update on the planning staff’s 2012 work plan. This report focuses on the SEMCOG forecast. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Delays 4-Way Transit Accord

At its Jan. 9, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to postpone a decision – until Jan. 23 – on a four-way accord between the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County. The agreement among the four parties would set up a framework for, and contingencies on, the transition of the AATA to a countywide transit authority, incorporated under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986. AATA currently operates under Act 55 of 1963.

One expected move did not materialize at the council’s Jan. 9 meeting but was mentioned during deliberations as a possibility: To change the proposed balance of representation on the board of a new countywide transit authority. The idea would be to add another seat representing Ann Arbor on the board.

The proposed balance of 7 Ann Arbor seats on a 15-member board has been publicly discussed as early as April 2011. When presented to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners on April 7, 2011, the 7/15 Ann Arbor representation was met with objection from some commissioners as too-heavily weighted with Ann Arbor appointees.

In conjunction with postponement of the decision on the four-party agreement, council set a public hearing on the agreement for its next meeting on Jan. 23. [Full Story]

AATA Preps Stage for Future Transit Choice

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

Sue McCormick AATA board member

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ann Arbor to Consider 4-Way Transit Accord

At a working session of the Ann Arbor city council on Dec. 12, 2011, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford described the legal and governance mechanisms by which the AATA would like to transition to offering countywide transportation services. [For general background on a variety of transportation issues, see recent Chronicle coverage: "Washtenaw Transit Talk in Flux"]

A key part of the transition to countywide service is a four-party agreement to be struck between the AATA, Washtenaw County, the city of Ypsilanti and the city of Ann Arbor. Highlights of the four-party agreement include the role of Washtenaw County – it would approve, sign and file the articles of incorporation for the new transit authority, under Act … [Full Story]

Lawsuit Filed Over Rejected AATA Bus Ad

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

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

Washtenaw Transit Talk in “Flux”

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Oct. 20, 2011): Over the last two weeks, several significant developments in transportation planning have unfolded in and around Ann Arbor, not all of them at the most recent meeting of the AATA board.

Michael Ford

AATA CEO Michael Ford adjusts the microphone for board member Charles Griffith at the board’s Oct. 20 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At an Oct. 10 Ann Arbor city council work session, the council received an update on the high capacity connector study for a geographic area that broadly connects the boomerang-shaped swath from Plymouth Road and US-23 down through Ann Arbor to South State Street.

Most significantly, the swath connects the University of Michigan’s north, central and medical campuses. The basic conclusion of that study was delivered to the AATA board several months ago: Sufficient ridership exists in the core of that area to support some kind of high-capacity “fixed guideway” system like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), light rail, or elevated guideway.

What’s new are the steps that are now being taken to secure funding for the next phase of the connector study: An analysis that will yield the “preferred alternative.” That alternative will include selection of a specific transportation technology, as well as proposed routes and station locations.

Funding for part of that alternatives analysis was announced on Oct. 13 by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation – $1.2 million has been awarded to the AATA. However, that funding won’t cover the cost of the environmental study component of the project.

Related to that project, on Oct. 19 the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) policy board voted to add the alternatives analysis to its Unified Planning Work Program. Next up will be formal action by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and the Michigan Dept. of Transportation that will facilitate funding applications to the Federal Highway Administration by the spring of 2012. Work on the study might begin before complete federal funding is in place.

The high-capacity connector study is taking place in the context of AATA’s countywide transportation master plan, which the board approved earlier this year, after more than a year of development. On Oct. 20, a day after the WATS policy board vote, the first meeting of a group was held that could become the board of a new countywide transportation authority. That new authority could be formed under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986 – the current group is called the U196 board, short for “unincorporated Act 196.” Their first meeting was relatively informal, but members determined to schedule meetings for November and December instead of waiting until January 2012.

The following week, on Oct. 26, Gov. Rick Snyder gave a speech outlining key components of a sketch for improved transportation infrastructure in the state. The speech included a call for the formation of a regional transit authority in southeast Michigan that could include Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties.

Two days later, on Oct. 28, the content of the governor’s speech was part of the focus of conversation for a transportation financial planning group, led by former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel and McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz. The group convened its second of four meetings that it expects to hold before the end of the year. In early 2012, the group is expected to deliver a white paper to the U196 board with recommendations on funding options for countywide transit.

At that meeting, the group heard from Dennis Schornack, a special advisor to Snyder on transportation. Schornack sketched out the contents of a still “somewhat secret” three-bill package that would establish a regional transit authority (RTA), including Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. Reaction of the financial planning group to the RTA seemed sanguine. The idea of possibly funding transit through vehicle registration fees (enacted on an ad valorem basis), as an alternative to floating a countywide transit millage, appeared to be the most attractive aspect of the possible RTA.

Berriz concluded that Schornack’s presentation had thrown the group’s conversation into a state of flux.

Amid that activity, the AATA board did its part to keep the existing buses running, by convening its regular monthly meeting on Oct. 20. Of its action items, the most significant was a resolution authorizing its CEO to begin negotiations with Michigan Flyer to contract for bus service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro airport.

Given the possibility that an RTA could be in Ann Arbor’s future, Schornack’s advice on the Detroit-Ann Arbor airport contract was this: Keep it short-term. [Full Story]

U196 Board Convenes First Meeting

The unincorporated version of a possible future Act 196 countywide authority in Washtenaw County met for the first time on Oct. 20, 2011. Act 196 of 1986 is a state enabling statute that explicitly provides for the formation of a transit authority at the county level. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority is formed under Act 55 of 1963.

The meeting comes in the context of the culmination of the AATA’s transportation master planning effort and the review of various financing options now taking place by a group of more than 20 financial experts from the private and public sectors. The financial group is led by former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel and McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz.

Membership in … [Full Story]

Countywide Transit Finance Group to Meet

CEO Michael Ford’s written report to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board for its Sept. 15, 2011 meeting included a partial list of members in the group tapped to review the funding options report for the countywide transit master plan. At the meeting, an updated list was circulated. They’ll meet for the first time on Friday, Sept. 16.

At the board’s August 2011 meeting, Ford had announced that McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and Bob Guenzel, retired Washtenaw County administrator, will be co-chairing the panel of financial and funding experts. They are tasked with reviewing the report on funding options and making recommendations that will form the basis of a countywide governance proposal.

That governance proposal is expected to come from … [Full Story]

More Steps for AATA Toward County Transit

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority special board meeting (July 19, 2011): The four members who attended Tuesday’s special meeting of the AATA board voted unanimously on a raft of resolutions, ranging from infrastructure projects to more action toward a countywide transit authority.

Blake Transit Center

The AATA's Blake Transit Center Fourth Avenue entry.

The latter item – authorizing AATA resources to support formation of an unincorporated Act 196 board (U196) – was approved without discussion. The resolution also authorized the board chair, Jesse Bernstein, to appoint three members to the U196 board.

In a related item, board members approved a $193,317 extension of AATA’s contract with Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), the London-based consultant hired last year to work on developing AATA’s transit master plan. SDG will work on implementing the plan – some board members indicated they’d like to see the consultant include more local resources as the process moves forward. The original contract with SDG was for $399,805. It was previously extended and increased at the AATA board’s Nov. 18, 2010 meeting by an amount not to exceed $32,500.

The infrastructure projects approved at the July 19 meeting include an expansion of AATA’s bus storage facility – in part to accommodate growth if a countywide transit entity is formed. Other projects entail replacement of bus hoists, a blanket contract for concrete work, and detention pond and landscaping improvements.

AATA board meetings are typically held on the third Thursday of the month, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown boardroom, where the meetings are televised by Community Television Network (CTN). Tuesday’s special meeting, called in order to move ahead on some of these projects, began at 1 p.m. at the AATA headquarters on South Industrial, and was not videotaped. It was attended by more than a half-dozen AATA staff members, but not by CEO Michael Ford. Only four of the board’s seven members attended – it takes four members to make a quorum. [Full Story]

AATA Finalizes Transit Plan for Washtenaw

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meetings (June 3 and June 16, 2011): The AATA board met twice in June – first at a special morning retreat held at Weber’s Inn on  June 3 June 6, and again 10 days later for its regular monthly meeting.

Michael Ford Slide Act 196 Local Participation

Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, presents a possible board configuration for a countywide transit authority at the board's June 3 meeting at Weber's Inn. (Photos by the writer.)

On both occasions, a significant focus was the AATA’s countywide transit master plan. At the June 16 meeting, the board approved the final version of the first two volumes of the plan, which had previously been released in draft form. The two volumes cover a vision and an implementation strategy. A third volume, on funding options, is not yet complete.

The plan is the culmination of over a year of work by AATA staff and a consulting firm to perform a technical analysis and gather public input. The goal was to create a document to guide transit planning in the county over the next 30 years. The timing of the next step – beginning to translate a neatly formatted document into reality – will depend in part on a third volume of the plan, which has not yet been finalized. The third volume will describe options for how to fund expanded transit service in the county. Countywide transit funding will ultimately be tied to the governance structure of some entity to administer transit throughout Washtenaw County.

And governance is a topic that’s ultimately reflected in the actual wording of the resolution that the board adopted at its June 16 meeting on the transit master plan. The resolution authorizes transmittal of the documents not just to the public, but also to an unincorporated board, described as an “ad hoc committee” that will work to incorporate a formal transit authority under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986. [AATA is currently incorporated under Act 55 of 1963.]

For the last few months, CEO Michael Ford’s regular monthly reports to the AATA board about his activities have included his efforts to meet with individuals and representatives of government units throughout the county to discuss participation in the governance of a countywide transportation authority. June continued that trend. So wrapped into this combined report of the AATA board’s last two meetings is a description of the June 2 visit that Ford and board chair Jesse Bernstein made to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners.

At its June 3 retreat, the board also voted to shift some funding to the AATA staff’s work associated with the countywide transit master plan.

At its June 16 meeting, the board handled some business not specifically related to the transit master plan. The board adopted two policies that it has previously discussed: one on the rotation of auditors, and the other on a living wage for AATA vendors. They also received updates on the expansion of service to the University of Michigan’s East Ann Arbor Health Center and to the Detroit Metro airport.

Progress on those two fronts led board member David Nacht to suggest that the kind of movement and progress the AATA was demonstrating, even without additional money that could come from a countywide funding source, showed that the agency’s future plans deserved support from the community. [Full Story]

Transit Center Construction Manager Hired

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


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

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

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

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

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

AATA 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]