Stories indexed with the term ‘regional transit authority’

AATA OKs AirRide; Survey Results Positive

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Feb. 16, 2012): The board’s monthly meeting began with a presentation from Hugh Clark of CJI Research Corp., which conducted a survey of Washtenaw County voters in late 2011 to measure their attitudes toward paying an additional 1 mill tax for countywide transit.

Transit Tax Graph

Survey results on the question of supporting a 1 mill tax for transit. (Image links to .pdf with higher resolution image.)

The results were generally consistent with those of a survey conducted two years ago by the same company. Asked toward the start of the interview if they would support a 1 mill tax for countywide transit, 54% of respondents said they definitely or probably would. Asked the same question toward the end of the interview, after receiving additional information, that figure nudged upward to 59%. That compares with “before” and “after” percentages of 51% and 58% two years ago. The geographic differences fell along predictable lines, with support strongest in Ann Arbor and weaker in the outlying townships.

Clark told the board that the four take-aways from the survey results are: (1) the AATA is highly regarded; (2) the public remains supportive of transit, even at a rate of a 1 mill tax; (3) the most compelling reason people give for supporting a tax for countywide service is to provide door-to-door service for seniors and people with disabilities; and (4) the most compelling reason people give for not supporting a tax for countywide service is a concern about taxes – not the efficiency of the AATA in its use of tax money. The board also heard caution during public commentary about the interpretation of survey results – they hadn’t yet seen the impact of negative advertising on any ballot proposal.

The survey comes in the context of an effort to establish an expanded countywide governance structure for the AATA, which might include asking voters to approve additional transit funding.

In its main business of the meeting, the board passed two resolutions that establish service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport. It’s expected to begin in April. One resolution set the fares for the service – basic one-way fare is $15 – while the other approved the contract with Indian Trails (Michigan Flyer) to provide the service based on a per-service-mile dollar cost. The service will be branded as “AirRide.” At the board table, David Nacht recalled how he’s wished for the moment when the AATA could offer such a service between Ann Arbor and the airport since the time he’d been appointed to the board – nine years ago.

The airport service is part of the AATA’s effort to expand services, as well as its governance and funding base, to a geographic area beyond the city of Ann Arbor. Of the $1 million the AATA has budgeted to spend from its reserves for the fiscal year 2012 budget, around $300,000 will go to support the airport service – though board members discussed the possibility that up to half of that could be recouped after-the-fact from federal or state grants.

In the context of the AATA’s effort to expand to countywide governance, the board passed a resolution at its Feb. 16 meeting expressing a basic policy position that a possible new regional transit authority – encompassing Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties – should not be allowed to have a negative impact on the AATA’s own provision of local transit services. The new RTA is described in a set of bills currently being considered by the Michigan state legislature. The boards’ resolution also explicitly states that any new RTA needs to have a funding strategy that is above and beyond current levels of funding for transportation.

Two days earlier, according to a report from the Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS), Washtenaw County commissioner Conan Smith testified before the senate’s transportation committee that he’d be open to giving up one of Washtenaw County’s two seats on a 10-member RTA board, in order to get the legislation passed.

In other business at the meeting, the AATA board also approved a $95,500 increase to the budget for its consultant on the countywide expansion effort. And the board authorized its annual application to the state for operating assistance – including a budget for expanded services.

Also discussed at the board meeting, though no formal vote was taken, was the AATA’s policy on the number of bags that passengers are allowed to carry on when using the A-Ride – the AATA’s paratransit service. Previously there was a two-bag limit. The policy has been revised so that the limit is not expressed in terms of a number, but rather in a way essentially stipulating that a passenger’s bags should not impinge on other passengers’ space – it’s a shared ride service. The change in policy was prompted by public commentary delivered at AATA’s November 2011 board meeting from a visually-impaired passenger who’d been denied a ride by the AATA’s contractor for the service, because he’d had too many grocery bags. [Full Story]

AATA on Regional Transit: It Needs Funding

At its Feb. 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board passed a resolution expressing its intent to continue to work to improve transportation services and in support of a new regional transit authority (RTA) described in legislation currently pending in the state legislature.

The position expressed by the AATA is that the funding for any new RTA for southeast Michigan, described in legislation introduced in the state legislature in late January, should be supported with funds above and beyond the level expended by existing public transportation service. [For coverage of the proposed legislation, see "Michigan Regional Transit Bills Unveiled"] The legislation would create a four-county region for the RTA that would include Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties.

From … [Full Story]

Michigan Regional Transit Bills Unveiled

Following an early morning announcement on Jan. 26 from state representative Rick Olson (District 55) – that a transportation improvement package for Michigan would be introduced in both houses of the legislature today – the text of the 17 bills is now available.

Southeast Michigan Transit Authority

Four-county region the regional transit authority (RTA) counterclockwise from Washtenaw County (orange): Wayne, Macomb, Oakland. Pushpin A is the location of the Detroit Metro airport. Major corridors on which rolling rapid transit would be provided include Gratiot (red), M-59 (yellow), Woodward (purple) and Michigan Avenue (green). (Map is by The Ann Arbor Chronicle. Routes are approximate, intended to illustrate the concept. Image links to dynamic Google Map with .kml file)

Much of the package deals with road funding, but some of the bills establish a regional transit authority (RTA) for southeast Michigan and its funding. Here’s a brief initial glance at some of the possible legislation.

HB 5309 establishes the region of the RTA as Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties. The counties are not mentioned by name, but rather are described in terms of their population – a move likely used to avoid the 2/3 majority vote required under Michigan’s constitution (Article IV Section 29) for the legislature to enact local or special acts.

The legislation specifically calls for rolling rapid transit (aka bus rapid transit) along four corridors: (1) a Woodward corridor, (2) a Gratiot corridor, (3) a northern cross-county line to operate between the city of Troy and the city of Mt. Clemens, and (4) a western cross-county 47-mile route between downtown Detroit and the downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center. The Ann Arbor line is described as including stations in Ypsilanti, the Detroit Metro airport, and Dearborn. [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]

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]