The Ann Arbor Chronicle » transportation millage it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 AAATA Gears Up for More Accessible Service Sat, 02 Aug 2014 15:56:23 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (July 24, 2014): The board’s meeting this month was the next-to-last one before the initial expansion of services that the transit authority will be implementing. The expansion results from the new millage that was approved in a voter referendum held on May 6, 2014. The rollout of additional service is scheduled for Aug. 24, while the board’s next meeting is three days before that.

From left: AAATA strategic planner Michael Benham, Ed Vielmetti (background) and CEO  Michael Ford, talked after he meeting.

From left: AAATA strategic planner Michael Benham, Ed Vielmetti (background) and CEO Michael Ford, talked after the meeting.

The board barely achieved a quorum – with six of 10 board members attending. Anya Dale presided over the meeting in the absence of board chair Charles Griffith.

The board received some updates on the preparations for implementing that expanded service plan. And three of the board’s July 24 voting items were related at least indirectly to the additional services: a plan for acquiring 20 new buses; adjustments to the current fiscal year’s operating budget; and a tweak to the AAATA’s mission statement.

The mission statement was modified to highlight “accessible” as the kind of transit services that the AAATA aspires to provide. The change to the mission statement also reflected the addition last year of the word “area” to the name of the organization. That name change came as the result of adding the city of Ypsilanti as well as Ypsilanti Township as members of the authority. Previously, the city of Ann Arbor had been the sole member. The additional services will be paid for with a millage levied on property owners from all the member jurisdictions.

The fiscal 2014 budget ends Sept. 30. Revenues were adjusted to reflect the millage revenue. Of the additional $4,543,695 in local millage revenues, $3,850,000 is being put toward next year’s FY 2015 budget. Adjustments to this year’s budget include changes to reflect the hiring and training of 11 new bus drivers, bringing the total to 138 drivers. An operations supervisor, two new vehicle mechanics, an additional service crew member, and a human resources administrative assistant will also be added.

The additional 20 buses the AAATA is acquiring for the service expansion are spread over the next three years, with two to be acquired this year, 11 in FY 2015 and 7 in FY 2016. The buses for FY 2015 and 2016 will be paid for with the additional local millage funds, while the buses this year will tap a federal grant with matching state funds. A public hearing was held on the federal grant application that will include those two buses.

Potential future expansion of services – in addition to those to be implemented starting Aug. 24 – was also reflected in a voting item on the board’s July 24 agenda. The board approved an increase in the contract with SmithGroupJJR from $105,200 to $800,000 – to continue study of north-south commuter rail options between Howell and Ann Arbor. An earlier phase of the study for the WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway) project identified a segment of the Ann Arbor Railroad right-of-way, between Liberty and Washington streets, as a preferred location for a downtown Ann Arbor station. A portion of the work is being paid for with a $640,000 federal Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP) program grant.

The final voting item on the board’s agenda was a $234,360 contract with GZA GeoEnvironmental to perform environmental cleanup work at the AAATA headquarters building at 2700 S. Industrial Highway. The cleanup, which involves contamination from a gasoline leak that was identified in 2010, is covered by insurance.

At its July 24 meeting, the board also heard its usual range of updates, reports and public commentary, much of which highlighted the idea of accessibility.

AAATA Mission Statement

The board considered an update to the organization’s mission statement – to reflect the new name of the organization and a few other concerns. The proposed modified mission statement, which reflected board discussion at its June 10 retreat, read as follows [added words in bold, deleted words in strike-through]

It is the Mission of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority to provide accessible useful, reliable, safe, environmentally responsible, and cost-effective public transportation options for the benefit of the Greater Ann Arbor Area Community.

The mission statement had been last affirmed over five years ago at the AAATA’s Feb. 18, 2009 board meeting.

The word “useful” was critiqued by some board members at the June retreat as too modest an attribute, and they argued for “valuable” instead. Ultimately, the consensus was that this positive, goal-oriented attribute could be incorporated through adding the word “benefit.”

Inserting the word “accessible” was championed at the retreat by board member Jack Bernard. He works in the office of the University of Michigan’s general counsel and serves on the university’s council for disability concerns.

The insertion of the word “area” in the mission statement reflects the geographic expansion of the AAATA’s jurisdiction in 2013 to include the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township – as well as the formal change of the authority’s name to include “area.” [.pdf of memo on AAATA mission statement]

Mission Statement: Public Commentary

Thomas Partridge addressed the board’s mission statement. He said it needed to be expanded – to serve the needs of the most vulnerable riders. The operating budget needs to have additional funding to greater serve the most vulnerable riders in terms of disabled persons and senior citizens in particular, he said. And the board needs to answer how, with the passage of the millage, service will be targeted to the disabled people and seniors. Partridge did not see those priorities in the existing materials and the existing applications to the FTA for formula funding. He also questioned whether existing funding could be used to continue planning for a true countywide transportation system. Such a system is certainly needed to serve those areas of the county that do not have existing bus service, senior ride service, or paratransit handicap ride service, he said.

Mission Statement: Board Discussion

Roger Kerson reported out for the performance monitoring and external relations (PMER) committee. He noted that the revised mission statement was on the board’s agenda. He pointed out that there had been some debate about the use of the word “useful.” He urged the board to take a careful read of the proposed new language, saying that the issue should not be re-debated at every meeting – the board should adopt a mission statement that it really likes.

During question time, Jack Bernard talked about the image of the “service star” in some of the marketing materials and how it matches up with the mission statement. He asked that the board continue to think about how that star is going to look after the mission statement is adjusted. He put a plug in for “accessibility” to be added into that graphic.

When the board came to the item on its agenda, Kerson was asked to read aloud the new mission statement, which he did. Larry Krieg said he rather lamented the demise of the word “useful” but was willing to live with a mission statement as it stands. He felt it would require too much revision of planned materials to change it now. In some ways, usefulness is so fundamental to the mission of any transit organization that it almost goes without saying. So Krieg could live without saying it, as long as the AAATA remembers that it needs to be useful to the community – that is why it’s there.

Jack Bernard thanked his board colleagues for including the word “accessible.” He also appreciated the fact that the word had not been relegated to the end. So often, accessibility is relegated to an afterthought at the end of the statement. Putting it at the beginning heralds that all the programs, services and buses are to be accessible to all – people who have disabilities, older passengers, kids, people with resources and people who don’t have a great deal of resources. It’s the entire community that they are trying to serve. So he commended the board for stepping up to this and including the word “accessible.”

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to adopt the new mission statement.

Mission Statement: Accessibility

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford noted that during public commentary at the planning and development committee meeting, there had been a request for additional information at bus stops to aid passengers. The AAATA is considering redesigning its bus stops and changing the size of the signs to provide more information on each side of each sign, he said.

During question time, Jack Bernard thanked Ford for talking about the expansion of information at the bus stops. He felt it was a very important thing. But as the organization thinks about doing that, he wanted to encourage people to be aware of a general trend across organizations: When more information is provided, the font tends to be shrunk. He encouraged the AAATA, as it thinks about the real estate of the sign, to understand that there’s a cost associated with shrinking everything down – because it ends up not having a great deal of utility.

Bernard asked that a QR code be included, as more information is added on bus stops signs. That would enable somebody to get that information and then enlarge it or get expanded information using a mobile device. Those QR codes are a very efficient way to drive people to information that they want, which can not be included on the sign. He allowed that not all riders have a smartphone, so essential information still needs to be included on the physical sign. Increasingly, however, riders are connected with mobile devices.

Ford responded to Bernard by saying that staff just had a meeting about QR codes and signage, and they discussed issues of color contrast, placement and height. So Ford welcomed Bernard’s comments.

During public commentary time at the conclusion of the meeting, Ed Vielmetti responded to Bernard’s suggestion about QR codes. A local example of where that’s being done is the University of Michigan’s transit system, he said. There are QR codes on a number of the university’s bus stop signs. You put your phone up to it, it beeps, and it gives you a link to information that is specific to that individual stop – so it is not general information about the system, or general information about the line that you’re on, but rather it’s information relevant to your exact location. That is immensely helpful, Vielmetti said, especially if you are in an unfamiliar spot wondering where the bus goes, or when the bus coming, or if it is even running right now. It’s not a trivial exercise to assemble real-time, pinpoint information for thousands of stops, he ventured, but he called it a worthwhile goal.

Also during public commentary at the end of the meeting, Thomas Partridge told the board that he had attended the AAATA’s meetings numerous times over more than a decade, pleading for greater assistance for the most vulnerable riders – including handicapped riders and senior citizens. He questioned whether the board and administration of the AAATA comprehended and absorbed the full range of difficulties that disabled people and senior riders have in using the system.

Earlier in the meeting, during his report from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson noted that a new web developer has been hired on staff: Preston Stewart. Kerson felt it was a good transition to bring the web project in-house so that the AAATA is not at the mercy of a contractor. If you think about the core functions of the agency, Kerson said, the ability to communicate regularly with its customers in an efficient and up-to-date manner is not an add-on – that is a core function. He called Preston’s previous experience very impressive.

Bernard said he was thrilled to hear that a new web developer had been hired. It remains continually important for the website to be accessible. He said that strides have been made, but the website was not yet completely accessible. He hoped that the web developer would be provided any support that he needed to make the AAATA website as accessible as it can be. Bernard asked if the new web developer had any experience in accessible websites. Ford was not sure, but said the AAATA was focused on that issue.

New Buses

The board considered a change to its capital and categorical grant program – in order to acquire new buses needed to implement expanded services. The services will be funded by the new millage that voters approved earlier this year on May 6, 2014. The expanded services are scheduled to begin on Aug 24.

The plan is add a total of 20 new buses over the next three years to the AAATA’s existing fleet of 80 buses. Total cost for the vehicles is $9 million.

The initial service expansion will not require many additional buses – as expanded services focus on extended hours of operation. But over the five-year service expansion, new route configurations and higher frequency services will require the additional vehicles. By year, here’s how the bus acquisition breaks down:

  • 2014: 2 buses for service expansion. Federal grant and state matching funds ($1,016,250). [Tentative: clean diesel.]
  • 2015: 11 buses for service expansion. Local funds from new millage ($4,903,300). [Tentative: clean diesel.]
  • 2016: 7 buses for service expansion. Local funds from new millage ($3,187,100). [Tentative: clean diesel.]

A tentative decision appears to have been made to specify the drive train on the new buses as conventional clean diesel, as opposed to the hybrid electric technology used by 52 of the current 80-bus fleet. However, no final decision has been made on the technology choice. The incremental cost per bus for the hybrid technology is nearly $200,000.

Minutes from the board’s July 8, 2014 planning and development committee show that AAATA maintenance manager Terry Black has indicated a final decision on the type of power unit for the buses needs to be made by November or December of 2014 – and certainly no later than February of 2015. The battery packs for many of the existing hybrid buses are reaching the end of their projected life, and the AAATA is also weighing the hybrid-versus-conventional diesel decision for replacement of those buses.

Among the issues to be weighed for the hybrid-versus-conventional diesel decision are fuel savings and noise reduction associated with hybrids. At the AAATA’s June 10 meeting, Black reported that for the newer clean diesel models, there is not a significant difference in the fuel economy. Some of the AAATA’s existing hybrid buses have had some transmission problems, which have resulted in a cost of $50,000 per bus. Even though that cost has been covered under warranty, the manufacturer is looking toward reducing the warranty coverage.

The board’s planning and development committee is supposed to receive a report on the hybrid-versus-diesel issue at its August meeting.

Outcome: When the board reached the voting item on its agenda, there was no additional discussion. The board unanimously approved the amendment to the capital and categorical grant program.

New Buses: Federal Grant Application

While most of the new buses needed for the expansion of service will be purchased with new millage funds, at least two buses will be purchased with federal grant money. A public hearing was held on the federal grant applications, which essentially mirrored the capital and categorical grant program already approved by the board last year, with the exception of some “livability” funds that the AAATA had been awarded a few months ago.

Chris White, AAATA manager of service development, explained that the public hearing was about the FY 2014 program of projects. The program of projects and the public hearing notice had been published in the Ann Arbor News twice. And it had been posted on the AAATA website for the last 30 days. No written comments had been received either by mail or by email at that point, White said. He then reviewed the entire program.

The projects in this program come directly from the capital and categorical grant program that was adopted by the board in December 2013 – with one exception, White said. When the AAATA was developing the capital and categorical grant program, a process was used that was open to the public. That included three meetings of the planning and development committee, and the board meeting at which the program was actually adopted. Any additional comments received that night would be included in the record for the Federal Transit Administration to review, White said.

White explained that the amounts in the program – Section 5307 ($6,457,306), and Section 5339 ($752,049) funds – are formula funds that are allocated to the Ann Arbor urbanized area. The southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA) is now the designated recipient for those funds, but the RTA has given the AAATA the authority to program that money and to make applications directly to the Federal Transit Administration for those funds. Livability Section 5309 ($813,000) funds are discretionary, White said.

There was also an amount for 5307 carryover ($622,969), White said. Those are funds from last year that the AAATA did not program. The funds are available to the AAATA for the two years following their appropriation. So the AAATA always uses up the money, but not always in the year that the funds are appropriated.

The total program is for the use of a total of $7,521,000 in federal funds. The total amount available is $8,645,324, so about $1.1 million will be carried over into FY 2015, White said.

White then reviewed the items in the program – nine small “expansion buses.” These are buses that AAATA will purchase that the paratransit contractor now provides for A-Ride service, White explained. So these buses are not to expand A-Ride service, so much as for the AAATA to provide that service directly, he clarified.

The second item on the list of projects is three large buses for expanded service. Those buses will use the federal Livability Section funds – the discretionary funds that the AAATA received. The AAATA had been informed that it had received approval for funds during the year – just a couple of months ago. And they were not included in the capital and categorical grant program, because the AAATA didn’t think it had the funds for the buses at that time.

White noted that this item was labeled as “up to three large buses.” He explained the $813,000 was actually not enough for three full buses – it’s enough for two buses and a fraction of a bus. The AAATA must record “up to three” in order to spend the entire amount, White said. Those are buses for the AAATA’s expansion for the five-year transit improvement program. The millage funds that were approved by the voters were programmed to buy expansion buses. Most of those buses will still be purchased from the local funds, White said. The livability funds would help the AAATA purchase two and a fraction of those buses.

All the other items on the program of projects are being paid for with the Section 5307 formula funds – computer-aided reservations dispatch for A-Ride, computer hardware and software, bus components (for hybrid buses), bus stop improvements (a Super Stop on Washtenaw Avenue), capital costs of subcontracted service, preventive maintenance and operating assistance.

New Buses: Federal Grant Application – Public Hearing

Jim Mogensen told the board that he thought it would be helpful in the future to have an issue paper that explains how the formula funds work. Is it because of the amount of service that we have? It seems that what is happening, Mogensen said, is you find out how much the funds are and then you figure out how to allocate the money in these various categories. But for someone who doesn’t have that information, it’s a little unclear how that would work. The other thing that would be helpful to know is what happens if for some reason federal money doesn’t come through. How would that impact how the funds are sorted out?

Tom Partridge questioned whether the existing formulas are sufficient to serve the most vulnerable paratransit riders. He said he heard no significant amounts being dedicated to extending and expanding the service that is available to handicapped riders or senior riders and other people who are disadvantaged in the community. He called on the AAATA to take steps before sending this on to the federal government. He called on the Federal Transit Administration to give priority for expansion of transit services for senior and handicapped riders.

FY 2014 Budget Adjustments

The AAATA fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept 30. At its July 24 meeting, the board considered an amendment to the budget for FY 2014 fiscal year to increase total expenses by $41,597 – from $34,073,795 to $34,115,392.

The proposed change also reflects adjustments to incorporate proceeds from the new millage, approved by voters on May 6, 2014. Of that additional $4,543,695 in local millage revenues, $3,850,000 is being put toward next year’s FY 2015 budget. Although that net amount of the expense adjustment is small, the infusion of new millage funds was offset by several hundred thousand dollars that were not spent this fiscal year for north-south commuter rail study.

It’s not uncommon for public bodies to make adjustments to the budget toward the end of the fiscal year.

The AAATA’s proposed amended budget reflected a number of changes related to the new millage and the service expansion that it will pay for. Among those changes are the hiring and training of 11 new bus drivers, bringing the total to 138 drivers. An operations supervisor, two new vehicle mechanics, an additional service crew member, and a human resources administrative assistant will also be added. [.pdf of detail on FY 2014 budget amendment]

The fares collected under the AAATA’s agreement with the University of Michigan are under budget for the year, because the proportion of the $1-per-ride fare booked as cash has decreased. A federal grant – which is recorded as federal operating assistance – has increased.

In the report to the board treasurer, AAATA controller Phil Webb reported an $81,254 surplus. But the report also noted an unrestricted net asset reserve amount of 2.64 months. The board’s reserve policy is to maintain at least the equivalent of a 3-month operating reserve.

FY 2014 Budget Adjustment: Public Commentary

Jim Mogensen addressed the board during the board’s first opportunity for public commentary at the start of the meeting. He said he’d always been very impressed with how detailed the information is about the operating budget. The AAATA presented both the standard operating budget and the extended notes. Because people are trying to understand how this all works, he suggested that materials also include a discussion of how the money is flowing in. For example, in the category of “special fares” – which related to the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, Washtenaw Community College and Eastern Michigan University – it would be helpful to have that broken out so that people could see how the total number is determined. He suggested that the board figure out a way to include that kind of information in the extended notes on the budget.

FY 2104 Budget Adjustment: Board Discussion

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson noted that the proposed budget revision includes the new millage funds and the expansion of service. The total amount of the adjustment is small because the AAATA spent less in a different area – namely, the north-south rail study. There were a few hundred thousand dollars not spent on that project in this fiscal year. So even though there is more than $42,000 going to new activities, the net effect is the increase that is included in the budget. The committee had discussed with staff the fact that the board wants to track as carefully as the AAATA can exactly how the new millage funds are used for the new service – so that the AAATA can report to voters on that in an ongoing way, he said.

The committee had reviewed financial reports. Budget-wise, the organization is under budget on both revenues and expenses, so that matches up fairly well, Kerson said. The news on performance reports is that over the year, ridership is down overall as a result of the severe winter weather. People stay home and work at home or make other arrangements so that they don’t have to travel, and that impacts the quantity of service that gets delivered, he said.

AAATA board member Eli Cooper.

AAATA board member Eli Cooper.

When the board came to the voting item on its agenda, Eli Cooper stressed that the amendment of the budget is a positive aspect of the effort, which is a culmination of the efforts that led to the successful millage. The budget amendment is needed, to incorporate resources to sustain the new services that are being offered. The AAATA needs to be able to account for the resources that have been bestowed on the organization, and they need to be vigilant to ensure that the pledges made with respect to the five-year service plan are kept. Those pledges should be kept in a way that is consistent with the mission statement – in a cost-effective manner.

The budget is a planning instrument expressing the AAATA’s plan as it moves forward, Cooper said. It’s not merely an item where the board says: Yep, the numbers all add up and we’re going to approve that. So Cooper asked that the board take a moment to reflect on the value and the meaning of the budget – as a device that reflects all the hard work and that prepares a platform for the services to be delivered in a manner that is fiscally responsible. That’s one of the challenges the AAATA as an authority does well with, Cooper said, and it needs to continue to do well with that. So Cooper was pleased to speak in support of this amendment to the operating budget – because of the work done in the last six months, the last year, and even before that.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the budget adjustments.

North-South Rail Study (WALLY)

The board considered an $800,000 contract with SmithGroupJJR for additional study of north-south commuter rail project. [.pdf memo for July 24, 2014 WALLY resolution]

Planning and work for north-south commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Howell in Livingston County has been going on for several years in a project that has been called WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway). The AAATA appears to be transitioning to a project label that incorporates “N-S Rail” as part of the description.

About two years ago, at its Aug. 16, 2012 meeting, the AAATA board approved the award of a $105,200 contract to SmithGroupJJR for “station location and design services” in connection with the WALLY project. The board’s authorization at that time included an option to increase the contract scope at a later date. That’s what the board’s July 24 item was proposed to do – increasing the total amount of the contract from $105,200 to $800,000.

Of that $800,000, a significant portion will be covered with a federal grant received by the AAATA in 2012 under the federal Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP) program. The federal grant award of $640,000 requires a $160,000 local match, which will be made by the Howell Downtown Development Authority, the Ann Arbor DDA and Washtenaw County – equaling a total of $143,000, with the remaining $17,000 to come from the AAATA.

The initial $105,200 contract with SmithGroupJJR was focused on a station location study and is now largely complete. The conclusion of that station location study was to identify a segment of the Ann Arbor Railroad right-of-way, between Liberty and Washington streets, as a preferred location for a downtown station.

The scope of the additional work under the contract considered by the AAATA board on July 24, 2014 will:

  • Thoroughly examine alternatives/supplements to N-S Rail service such as express bus, bus-on-shoulder and HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) options.
  • Complete the evaluation of boarding areas (stations) in terms of locations, costs and required features.
  • Estimate operating and capital costs at a much finer level of detail, taking into account new service concepts, rail right-of-way work, ownership changes, and railcar acquisition that has taken place since 2008.
  • Undertake a more rigorous approach to demand estimates in full compliance with FTA New Starts / Small Starts requirements.
  • Incorporate “green” concepts and operating principles.
  • Be accompanied by a robust public involvement effort aimed at informing stakeholders and testing public support for the service, governance and funding elements of the plan as they evolve.

The timeframe for the second phase of the study is about 18 months.

North-South Rail Study (WALLY): Board Discussion

In his report out from the planning and development committee, Larry Krieg noted that there was a federal grant of $640,000 to undertake the study. He noted that the city study would include not just the possibility of a rail corridor, but also the use of express buses, and high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on US-23. The study would take about 18 months, he said, and the federal portion covers 80% of the cost. Several organizations – including Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor, the Howell Downtown Development Authority – had contributed to the local match for that. Krieg concluded that the study had received a lot of support from around the region.

In his report out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson also commented on the north-south rail feasibility study. He felt that including express buses in the scope of the study is a very good idea – so that the AAATA would have a good sense of what the cost and time alternatives are.

Kerson said he was personally a big fan of trains and noted that the reason the board had a quorum for the meeting was because of the efficiency of DC Metro – which had gotten him from his meeting in Washington, D.C., that morning to Union Station, and then to another train to get to his plane. But that system had cost taxpayers billions and billions of dollars. And WALLY would cost millions and millions. “We can have a bus for thousands of thousands of dollars,” Kerson said, and probably have it in a matter of months, instead of years.

The AAATA had hit a home run with its service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport, he said, so the AAATA now knows how to provide that kind of service. AirRide is receiving very high marks for convenience and rider experience. So that’s in the AAATA’s inventory now of services it can deploy. Kerson wanted to see side-by-side from the feasibility report what it will take moneywise and timewise. He also wanted the study to find out people’s opinion about the different kinds of service. He felt that if people are exposed to that type of express bus service, they would really really like it, and it could be done in a cost-effective manner.

Outcome: When the board came to this item on the agenda, there was no additional discussion. The board voted unanimously to approve it.

Environmental Cleanup Work

The board considered a $234,360 contract with GZA GeoEnvironmental for environmental remediation work at the 2700 S. Industrial Highway headquarters of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

The need for the work dates back four years to 2010, when an in-ground gasoline leak was discovered during an upgrade to the fuel tank monitoring system.

The $25,000 insurance deductible through Chartis, the AAATA’s insurance company, has already been paid through previous work associated with this contamination. The current work – up to the $234,360 amount of the contract – will be reimbursed by Chartis for the total project price.

The work includes the following:

  1. Installation of new monitoring wells.
  2. Perform baseline groundwater sampling.
  3. Chemical analysis of groundwater samples.
  4. Anaerobic biodegradation bench scale study.
  5. Soil and dewatering excavation.
  6. Collection of excavation verification of soil remediation sampling.
  7. Introduction of selected bioremediation enhancement materials.
  8. Backfill restoration and concrete replacement.
  9. Groundwater sampling (will occur a year after remediation activities has been completed).
  10. Completed summary report that will be filed with MDEQ for satisfactory closure of incident.

Environmental Cleanup Work: Board Discussion

During his report out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson noted there are procedures and equipment in place to prevent that kind of leak from happening again.

AAATA controller Phil Webb

AAATA controller Phil Webb

Larry Krieg asked for clarification of the word “gas” in the report. Was it natural gas, diesel fuel, or gasoline? AAATA maintenance manager Terry Black explained that it was gasoline. There had been a connection on a tank that had probably been seeping for several years, he said. And it had previously been undetected.

Eric Mahler asked about the contingency costs. If the additional work is not necessary, he wondered if the money would be returned to the AAATA. AAATA controller Phil Webb explained that the AAATA would pay only for the work that was done. If additional work is needed, then there would be an additional negotiation about how that would be paid for. Webb also pointed out that it’s part of the insurance coverage the AAATA has. So the AAATA had worked with the insurance company on this project – which has been approved by the insurance company. The AAATA would be reimbursed through the insurance claim.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the contract for the environmental work.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its July 24 meeting, the board entertained various communications, including its usual reports from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, the planning and development committee, as well as from CEO Michael Ford. The board also heard commentary from the public. Here are some highlights.

Comm/Comm: Title VI Compliance

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford noted that the planning and development committee had heard from members of the public during public commentary at its meeting on the issue of Title VI compliance. The AAATA is close to completing the new requirements under Title VI, Ford reported. The full board had approve the Title VI policy earlier in the year, he noted, and the five-year transit improvement program will provide consistent service in the member jurisdictions, starting with the service improvements in August.

The performance monitoring and external relations committee was also working on revisions to service standards that would need to be approved by September, Ford noted. With those elements in place, Ford continued, the AAATA would be submitting all of its materials in October to the Federal Transit Administration about how the AAATA is meeting Title VI standards. The performance monitoring and external relations committee would be working throughout fiscal year 2015 on service standards, which are not required, but would be updates to Title VI material.

Jim Mogensen said that the previous week he’d attended two public meetings. The first was a University of Michigan’s regents meeting. His topic was public transit and the university. It was a topic that he talked to the regents about a couple of years ago, he said. At that time, he had said: Look, I’m probably gonna file a Title VI complaint against the AAATA – because there are structural issues the university needs to pay attention to when they merge their own transit plans with the AAATA’s. He’d suggested that because outside people would be looking in [to review Title VI compliance], one of the things the university should consider is providing transit out to its East Ann Arbor medical center. What he had not told the regents is that he had decided not to speak to the regents again until he actually filed the complaint. So he had not spoken to the regents for a couple of years.

He told the AAATA board to remain calm – because he had not actually filed a Title VI complaint yet. But he felt it was time to revisit the situation. The M-Ride agreement – between the University of Michigan and the AAATA – is being re-authorized next year and there was a year to figure it all out. So he suggested to the regents that this continues to be an issue – even with the new transit millage, because it is based on property taxes. And if you evaluate service based on municipal capacity, that will always be a challenge.

He suggested that the M-Ride agreement should be linked to the full actual fair, which is $1.50 – whereas the agreement now is for UM to pay $1 per ride. His suggested approach would recognize that what is happening was: People affiliated with the university have their fares paid by the university. The idea would be to tie it to the full fare. So, over the longer term, if fares for the general ridership went up, they would also go up for university affiliates, and would be linked to the university’s use of the transit system.

The second meeting that Mogensen had attended the previous Thursday was the WeROC (Washtenaw Regional Organizing Coalition) meeting. He brought up the Title VI issue up with WeROC – which had worked in support of the public transit millage. So Mogensen wanted to convey to the board that this was something he was working on, and that he was not working on it just by himself. He asked the board to please not short-circuit the idea before it’s given the opportunity to happen. Because sometimes, when you put ideas forth, things actually happen, Mogensen said.

Comm/Comm: Construction Detours; On-Time Performance

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford noted that there have been some challenges with construction and detours throughout the city. He ventured that everyone had felt the pinch of that. Some of the routes of been impacted by traffic backups, he reported, which affected the AAATA’s customer satisfaction and on-time performance. They’re doing everything they can to mitigate those issues, but it’s a difficult slog, he said.

AAATA board member Roger Kerson.

AAATA board member Roger Kerson.

Traveling right now in Ann Arbor is a pain in the neck because of all the construction, Roger Kerson noted during his report out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee. That’s true whether you’re walking, riding a bus, or in a car. And that is impacting the AAATA’s ability to meet on-time standards. They’re doing the best they can, but when virtually every major artery and every major entrance and exit to town has construction, and the buses just can’t move.

Kerson was surprised to hear about the situation on Pontiac Trail, where the AAATA literally cannot run the buses down the street and has to stop and turn around and have a detour. Obviously that is going to impact people there quite a bit, he said, but added: “We are at the mercy of the construction project.”

During question time, Larry Krieg asked about the difficulty in achieving on-time performance. He asked if any of the methods the AAATA was using to do the best it could, were impacting budget. Ford replied that they were actually suffering in that area. They are adding buses, and according to AAATA manager of transportation Ron Copeland, the estimate of the additional cost is $4,000-$5,000 a week. There is not a lot of bandwidth available to the AAATA, Ford said, and so they’re trying to do the best they can – trying to communicate as best they can with customers, and to get them where they need to go, as efficiently as they possibly can. He allowed it is costing the organization money to do that.

Comm/Comm: Public Comment – Compliments

Ed Vielmetti addressed the board during the first opportunity for public comment. He introduced himself as an Ann Arbor resident. He told the board that he rides the bus from time to time. As he’d look through the board packet before coming to the meeting, he noticed some of the statistics that were gathered and reported with respect to complaints about drivers and service – as well as compliments about drivers and service. He was surprised to see that the number of compliments was just 41. When he rides the buses, people are generally friendly with the bus driver and say hello and they seem to be cheerful about the whole process – especially in the summertime. Since he had never registered a formal compliment, Vielmetti wasn’t sure what the process was for doing that. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to send an email or fill out a form at the transit center. He had no clue about how he would add one to the number of compliments. He asked the staff to figure out what needed to be added to signage or to the RideGuide to let people know how they can report on how the ride went, and to encourage people to give positive comments.

Comm/Comm: BTC Public Art

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford noted that the planning and development committee had requested a summary of the evolution of the Blake Transit Center art project and the details on the warranty of the artist’s work. Issues of durability and the warranty had been discussed with the artist as a result of the PDC request, Ford said, and that agreement would be committed in writing. The AAATA is also documenting the award of the art project to this particular artist.

During his report out from the planning and development committee, Larry Krieg noted the committee had received an update on the artwork that was funded as a part of the new Blake Transit Center. The artist, Roberto Delgado, made a visit to Ann Arbor and had made photographs of the distinctive parts of the region so that those images can be incorporated into the artwork. The final artwork would be made of tile and would be vandal-resistant, Krieg said. Sue Gott had urged the AAATA to set aside funds for the maintenance of the art, saying that any outdoor artwork would require maintenance.

Comm/Comm: Art Fair Ridership

During his report to the board, Michael Ford noted that the Ann Arbor art fairs had taken place the previous week. Ridership for the AAATA’s art fair shuttle from Briarwood to downtown was up over 30% compared to last year, he reported. There were about 79 riders per service hour and the weather was great. He thanked everyone who was involved in the process.

Present: Eric Mahler, Eli Cooper, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale, Jack Bernard, Larry Krieg.

Absent: Susan Baskett, Sue Gott, Charles Griffith, Gillian Ream Gainsley.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]

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A2: Transit Tax Forum Fri, 11 Apr 2014 17:37:16 +0000 Chronicle Staff A video of a recent panel discussion on the May 6 transit millage has been posted on the Ann Arbor District Library’s website. Voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township will weigh in on a proposed 0.7 mill tax for expanded public transportation. Panelists at the April 7 forum included state Rep. Jeff Irwin, who supports the expansion; Gillian Ream Gainsley, a board member of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, which put the measure on the ballot; and former AATA board member Ted Annis and LuAnne Bullington, both of Better Transit Now, which opposes the tax. The event was moderated by the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area, and held at the downtown library. [Source]

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A2: Transit Tax Tue, 08 Apr 2014 19:12:18 +0000 Chronicle Staff WEMU reports on the April 7 public forum, hosted but the League of Women Voters, that focused on the proposed 0.7 mill tax for expanded public transportation. Voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township will vote on the issue on May 6. Panelists at the forum included state Rep. Jeff Irwin, who supports the expansion; Gillian Ream Gainsley, a board member of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority; and former AATA board member Ted Annis and LuAnne Bullington, both of Better Transit Now, which opposes the tax. [Source]

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County Board Briefed on Transit Tax Tue, 18 Mar 2014 16:29:21 +0000 Mary Morgan Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (March 6, 2014): Two months before voters will weigh in on a public transit millage proposal, staff with the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority briefed county commissioners about the initiative, and answered a wide range of questions.

Michael Benham, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Michael Benham, special assistant for strategic planning at the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. (Photos by the writer.)

The proposal – for an 0.7 mill tax to pay for expanded transit services – was placed on the May 6 ballot by the AAATA board on Feb. 20, 2014. The tax would be levied by the AAATA only if it wins a majority of support among voters across its three member jurisdictions: the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), an Ann Arbor commissioner who chairs the working sessions, pointed out that those three jurisdictions touch seven of the nine districts represented by the Washtenaw County board.

The three commissioners representing Ann Arbor – LaBarre, Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) – attended the March 6 working session. The two commissioners representing Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township – Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) – were absent. A small portion of Ann Arbor is in District 2, represented by Republican Dan Smith. District 4, represented by Democrat Felicia Brabec, includes a small portion of Ypsilanti Township.

Questions during the March 6 session included clarification that the millage revenues would not support rail service, and a query about why the tax proposal was being put forward in May rather than November, when turnout would be higher for the general election. Another issue raised was whether a property tax for this type of activity is fair, considering that residents of apartments don’t see the impact of a property tax as directly as a homeowner does.

Michael Benham, AAATA’s special assistant for strategic planning, noted that the possibility of rail service is part of the authority’s 30-year plan, but it’s not in the current five-year plan for expanded services that would be funded by the new millage. He told commissioners that a May election will focus attention on transit, while there would be many other issues in November competing for attention. Benham also stressed the urgency of moving ahead on more services, which will include increased service hours, greater frequency of buses along some routes, and expanded Dial-a-Ride services.

As for the fairness of a property tax, Benham pointed out that the AAATA has few available options for raising revenue, and that revenues from the new millage will leverage additional state and federal funding.

Most commissioners were supportive of the millage and expanded services, citing reasons of environmental sustainability, social equity and economic development. Rabhi said he wanted to make it clear that his support for the transit millage does not mean he supports using public transit to divide the community based on socioeconomic levels. People should be able to live in downtown Ann Arbor even if they don’t earn above the area median income, he said. The concept of “segregating our community along economic boundaries is one that sickens me,” he said, adding that he didn’t think AAATA’s five-year plan buys into a segregated vision for this area.

At the end of working session, six commissioners – including the three who represent Ann Arbor districts – announced their official support for the millage in a press release.

For additional background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “Tax Question Focus of Transit Board Meeting“; “5-Year Transit Plan: Possible Tax Vote Soon“; “Survey: Majority Favorable on Transit Tax“; “Transit Vote for A2 and Ypsi: May 6, 2014“; “Committee to Oppose AAATA Millage“; and “Column: Let Data Steer Local Transit Policy.”

May 6 Transit Millage: Presentation

Michael Benham, special assistant for strategic planning at the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, and Mary Stasiak, AAATA’s manager of community relations, reviewed the transit millage proposal that’s on the May 6 ballot.

In introducing the presentation, Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) – who chairs the board’s working sessions – noted that seven of the nine county board districts will be participating in the vote. “Some just have little parts,” he said, but the vote touches seven districts. Jurisdictions in the other two districts have the option of purchase-of-service agreements with AAATA, he added. [Only District 1 and District 3 – representing western and southwestern parts of the county – do not have any portion of the district within Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti or Ypsilanti Township.]

Benham began by describing the AAATA’s five-year transit plan, which was approved by the AAATA board at its Jan. 16, 2014 meeting. [.pdf of AAATA staff memo and 5-year transit plan cost analysis]

Mary Stasiak, Conan Smith, Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Conan Smith (D-District 9) of Ann Arbor talks with Mary Stasiak, AAATA’s manager of community relations.

The plan represents a 44% increase in the number of service hours that would be provided compared to the existing system – or about 90,000 additional service hours per year. That includes service running 60-90 minutes later on weekdays, and much later – from 3-6 hours, potentially – on weekends. It would allow people to go to a restaurant or entertainment venue and then “also get home from that venue,” Benham said.

The plan also includes more frequency of buses, especially along main routes, Benham said. Some routes – particularly on the west side of Ann Arbor, and the east side of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township – are being totally redesigned. For many years, several of these routes have been designed as loops that result in a “pretty circuitous ride for a lot of folks,” Benham said. So some routes will be split into two or three routes, he explained, and will be an “out-and-back” design instead.

Dial-a-Ride services would be greatly expanded under the five-year plan, Benham said. It provides trips for senior citizens and people with disabilities. The new feature will be called Dial-a-Ride Plus. If there’s extra capacity after the needs of senior citizens and people with disabilities are met, anyone in the service area could use it to be taken to the nearest fix-route bus stop.

Benham said there’s some misinformation in the community about the five-year plan. He stressed that there is no rail service in the five-year plan. The AAATA’s long-range plan for a 30-year period does include rail services, which Benham described as an R&D project at this point that’s funded with federal dollars.

Over 50% of residents have used the AAATA bus service, he continued, although only a fraction of the population uses it on any given day. So he addressed the question of why someone should support the service if they don’t use it. For the business community, employees depend on the bus service to get to work, Benham said. Customers use it, as do residents, he said. Visitors to town also use the bus system, if they don’t have a car and don’t want to use a taxi. Transit promotes a vital economy in the region, Benham said, and it promotes investment in the region.

Benham pointed to a 2009 economic impact study commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association and prepared by Glen Weisbrod of the Economic Development Research Group Inc. in Boston and Arlee Reno of Cambridge Systematics Inc. of Bethesda, Maryland. The analysis indicates that for every dollar spent on transit, “you’re getting multiple dollars in return,” Benham said, in business sales, labor income and value added to the regional GDP.

Based on a model used for a Michigan Dept. of Transportation study – “Economic and Community Benefits of Local Bus Transit Service” – the AAATA estimates a total $96 million in annual economic impact, Benham said, describing it as a conservative estimate.

Benham also highlighted the environmental impact of bus services. The fleet includes hybrid-electric buses that save energy and reduce pollution, he said. The AAATA estimates that the fleet saves 3,594 metric tons of CO2 each year.

The National Association of Realtors, which Benham described as a fairly conservative organization, is increasingly embracing transit because it raises property values and helps attract people to a community, he said. He cited a 2012 NAR transportation “toolkit” for Realtors, which explored the issue of transit and real estate.

Benham ticked through a series of quotes from community leaders, property managers and others who support public transit. He mentioned comments made by Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future Inc., who spoke to the Ann Arbor city council at a working session on Jan. 13, 2014 about the importance of transit.

Millennials – defined as people under 39 years old – are driving less than previous generations, Benham said. According to data from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Millennials drive 23% fewer miles and use public transit 40% more than did their counterparts in 2004.

Benham also reviewed the recent expansion in membership of the AAATA. The city of Ypsilanti joined the authority in August of 2013, followed by Ypsilanti Township in December. There’d been a lot of discussion about the addition of these two jurisdictions, he noted, but ultimately all approvals – by the governing entities of Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Ann Arbor, and the AAATA – had been unanimous.

Andy LaBarre, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) of Ann Arbor, chair of the county board’s working sessions.

The AAATA also has relationships with other local communities, Benham said, through purchase-of-service agreements (POSAs). Current agreements are with Superior Township and Pittsfield Township, but talks are underway for possible POSAs with Saline, Scio Township, Dexter and others, he said. “We’re hearing a lot from other folks in the county who are interested in talking to us.”

Benham stressed that each community “pays its own way.” It’s another thing that there’s been some misinformation about, he said. The AAATA runs a balanced budget, he added, with existing millages paying for existing services. In the case of POSAs, the contracts involve direct payments based on service hours, he explained. Service-hour costs include administrative and planning expenses.

But in order to provide additional services, he said, the AAATA needs additional funding. The AAATA board voted on Feb. 20, 2014 to put a millage referendum on the May 6, 2014 ballot. That’s the final element of the plan, Benham said. “It basically is now up to the voters.”

The request – on a 0.7 mill tax that would be levied to pay for additional services over the next five years – would need a majority of votes across the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township to be approved.

Benham described the increased service levels for a range of AAATA programs, including VanRide, NightRide, AirRide (the shuttle to Detroit Metro airport) and ExpressRide. He also reported on survey results of 842 registered voters in the three-member jurisdictions of AAATA, conducted in late 2013 by CJI Research. Over 90% had a favorable impression of The Ride, Benham said, noting that Fortune 500 companies would be jealous of that result.

Regarding support for a transit millage, the survey found more than 60% of respondents would support it, he said.  [For Chronicle coverage of those survey results, see: "Survey: Majority Favorable on Transit Tax."]

The AAATA isn’t taking any of this for granted, Benham said. In a comparison with peer institutions, the AAATA found that its costs per service hour were 18% higher than the peer median. That might be shocking, he said, until you consider that the AAATA’s “ridership productivity” (the passenger trip per service hour) is 50% higher than the peer median. The result, he said, is that AAATA’s operating cost per rider is 17% lower than the peer median. The comparison is with 20 transit organizations nationwide, he said, that were picked by a research group – not by AAATA.

Benham wrapped up by saying that the five-year plan would offer trips to riders to more places, more often, with more hours – and that for the community in general, more benefits. He said AAATA would appreciate the support of commissioners in this effort.

May 6 Transit Millage: Board Discussion

Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), whose district primarily covers Pittsfield Township, said she supported the expansion, for the economic and environmental reasons that Benham had cited. There are also reasons to support it that relate to human services, she said, to get people where they need to go. She noted that her small business is on Route 4, and she and her partner always makes sure that their office is located on a bus line so that clients can get to them easily. [Brabec is a psychologist, with a practice located on Washtenaw Avenue.] She was excited to see increased services planned for Route 4.

Felicia Brabec, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) of Pittsfield Township.

Brabec asked Benham to elaborate on the return on investment for this millage. He replied that there would be an estimated $32 million in total from individual savings – in large part from people who would otherwise be using a different mode of transportation. Also included in that figure are some of the social service costs that would otherwise be incurred by social services agencies providing transportation.

The estimated $96 million in annual economic impact is based on a multiplier effect of AAATA’s expenditures on the economy, Benham said, by creating indirect and induced expenditures.

Brabec also asked for more details about the peer comparisons. Benham said that if you look at AAATA’s cost on a per-service-hour basis, the costs are higher. But on a per-passenger basis, AAATA’s costs are significantly lower, he said. AAATA invests more on a per-hour basis, he added, “but it pays off, because our ridership is 50% higher on a per-hour basis.” Brabec thought the comparison is more credible because it was done by an outside entity that picked the 20 peer institutions.

Brabec also supported the expanded Dial-a-Ride service, saying it’s important especially for residents in the county’s rural areas.

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) said he knew that the millage came about as a way to fund the five-year plan. He wondered how closely those two items were linked. Is the millage solely to be used for the plan? “It’s going to be used for the plan – that’s the reason we’re doing it,” Benham replied. The millage would be supplemented by purchase-of-service agreements with jurisdictions outside of the three-member AAATA, he added.

Rabhi wondered what the AAATA would say to someone who supports expanded transit and who supports spending more money on transit, but who doesn’t support certain aspects of the five-year plan. Benham said he’d start by asking what aspects of the plan the person doesn’t support. He said the AAATA has spent years talking to public officials and holding public forums, and has done a thorough job of uncovering the transit needs in the county. “Ultimately, I think we came up with something that really represents the consensus of the community,” Benham said. He was sure anyone could find something that they’d like to see in the plan in addition to what’s already there, but in general “we did our best to find a consensus point.”

Yousef Rabhi, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) of Ann Arbor. To the left is county administrator Verna McDaniel.

Rabhi asked who someone could talk to if they wanted to advocate for something to be included in the plan. “When you start talking about the price tag for something, people start paying a little bit attention,” Rabhi said, so the AAATA might start hearing from more people who hadn’t participated in the process of developing the plan. He knew the AAATA had done a great job of outreach, and he thought they’d done their homework. So how can people get involved now?

Mary Stasiak, AAATA’s manager of community relations, replied that there are lots of ways to provide input. She pointed to The Ride’s website, which includes a contact page that allows people to submit specific requests in detail. People can also call AAATA at 734-996-0400, she said.

The AAATA isn’t just going to stop taking suggestions, Stasiak stressed. All services are reviewed on an annual basis, she said, because circumstances change. As an example, she noted that Ypsilanti Community Schools has started a program of dual enrollment between YCS high schools and Washtenaw Community College. Right now, the AAATA routes require that students take a bus to the Ypsilanti transit center, then transfer to a bus that goes to WCC. The AAATA will look at how it can adjust to accommodate things like this, Stasiak said.

When the AAATA adjusts its services, she added, they seek public input as part of the process. Benham said it was important for the AAATA to establish the five-year plan “as our promise to the community. … but we don’t mean to imply that we’re inflexible,” he said. If conditions change, the AAATA needs to respond.

Rabhi asked if the millage ballot language refers to the five-year plan.

The wording of the ballot language is as follows:

To improve public bus, van, and paratransit services – including expanded service hours, routes, destinations, and services for seniors and people who have disabilities – shall the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority levy a new annual tax of 0.7 mills ($0.70 per $1000 of taxable value) on all taxable property within the City of Ann Arbor, the City of Ypsilanti, and the Charter Township of Ypsilanti for the years 2014-2018 inclusive? The estimate of revenue if this millage is approved is $4,368,847.00 for 2014. This revenue will be disbursed to the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority and, as required by law, a portion may be subject to capture by the downtown development authorities of the Cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, the Washtenaw County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, and the local development finance authority of the Charter Township of Ypsilanti.

Benham noted that the ballot doesn’t get into a lot of detail, so the AAATA is relying on the published five-year plan to make people aware of that level of detail. Rabhi noted that the ballot doesn’t mention the five-year plan specifically, and he was just trying to clarify that.

Rabhi then said that he’d heard back from some people who weren’t happy with the way that the AAATA had framed the discussion at the Jan. 13, 2014 Ann Arbor city council working session. Increasingly, he hears a tendency for people to think about downtown Ann Arbor as a place for high-end economic development, and that people who can’t afford to live there should live on the eastern part of the county. That’s something that he’s heard from people, Rabhi said. “I want to take this opportunity to say that I cannot disagree with that concept of things more.”

Some people are tying the AAATA’s expansion on the county’s east side with that concept, Rabhi added. He wanted to make it clear that his support for the transit millage does not mean he supports the concept of how this community should be developed. People should be able to live in downtown Ann Arbor even if they don’t make above the area median income, he said. “The idea of kind of segregating our community along economic boundaries is one that sickens me,” he said. He didn’t want anyone to think that AAATA’s five-year plan is buying into that segregated vision of the community.

Dan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Dan Smith (R-District 2) of Whitmore Lake.

Rabhi said he believed in a bus system because of the sustainability it brings. It’s an economic justice issue too, he said. If someone can’t afford to buy a car, they should be able to get around via public transit.

The expansion of public transit is necessary in order to have positive economic growth, economic justice and environmental sustainability, Rabhi said. A strong, robust public transit system helps build a more resilient community, and to enable a diversity of transportation beyond just cars. Options should be available for people who ride out of convenience or out of necessity, or out of a belief in building a more sustainable environment.

Rabhi was glad to see expansion into Ypsilanti Township, saying it will result in an interconnected community. He said he was proud of AAATA’s work and happy to support the millage.

Dan Smith (R-District 2) asked Benham to comment on the fairness of a property tax for this type of activity, considering that residents of apartments don’t see the impact of a property tax as directly as a homeowner does. He also noted that in different jurisdictions, property taxes are dramatically different. Smith said he realized that there were very few options for funding transit services.

Benham replied that AAATA was working with the options it has. The issue of fairness related to property taxes is a broader discussion, he added. Many jurisdictions rely on property taxes “for the same reason we do,” he said. “It’s what they have available to them.” Theoretically, there are other options like gas taxes, but right now those options aren’t available to AAATA, Benham said.

Dan Smith noted that this would be a new millage for residents – not a renewal of an existing millage. The AAATA is choosing to ask voters to approve it at a special election in May that AAATA will fund, he said, rather than wait until at least August, when there is a primary election scheduled, or the November general election, when there’s likely to be a much larger turnout. By waiting until November, the AAATA would be likely to get a much better voice of the residents, Smith said, rather than the much lower turnout in May or August. “It’s really hard to draw much of any type of conclusion beyond it passed or it failed with regards to community support, when you have such low voter turnout.”

Dan Smith said he understood the reasons why AAATA wanted to go for the millage in May, including the desire to start levying the tax and increasing services as soon as possible. But it seemed to him that since it’s a brand new millage, not a renewal, “you’d really want to get the largest number of voters to weigh in on this as you possibly could,” he said.

Benham noted that the AAATA has been working on this proposal for a long time, and “the need is so great that we want to get moving on this.” The AAATA gets emails and phone calls regularly from people who can’t get to Point A from Point B, he said. “In some cases those are just annoyances for people. In some cases the stories are really heartbreaking.” It’s time to get the service on the street, Benham said.

Dan Smith asked if Benham was concerned about potential negative ramifications on the AAATA if the millage fails in May with a low turnout, compared to getting a strong sense of how the community feels if the proposal were on the November ballot, with a better turnout.

Alicia Ping, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Alicia Ping (R-District 3) of Saline.

Benham replied that one of the advantages of a May election is that the proposal will get focused attention. So the community debate and discussion will be very focused on transit, he noted, whereas in August or November there would be a lot of other issues competing for attention.

As far as concerns over what might happen if the millage proposal fails, Benham said the AAATA staff and board have had many conversation with people in the community, and they’re told that the need for more transit services is there. If the millage doesn’t pass, the consequences aren’t so much about the organization, he said. Rather, it’s about the unmet needs in the community. The AAATA would continue to operate using the resources that it already has, he said.

Alicia Ping (R-District 3) clarified with Benham that pass or fail, the AAATA would still be able to contract with other jurisdictions for transit service. Yes, Benham said, but just not at the level that would be possible with the new millage. Even with the expanded services that a new millage would provide, he added, there will still be unmet needs. But the service level would take a great leap with resources from a millage.

Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) said he’s a city of Ann Arbor resident and plans to support the millage. “To me, it’s a relatively straightforward question of am I willing to pay the increased taxes with the increase of services,” he said.

LaBarre said he’s heard some people express concerns that the millage revenue would be used for rail service. He asked Benham to address that issue.

Benham replied that the AAATA has made the commitment “frequently and continuously” not to use millage funds for rail services. The mention of rail is in the 30-year plan, he noted, not the five-year plan. The AAATA hasn’t abandoned rail or other options for the future, he added, but they’ve been very clear that it’s not in the five-year plan or in the ballot language. The ballot mentions bus, van and paratransit, he said. “I don’t know how we can be much more clear than that.”

LaBarre then asked whether this millage proposal would in any way change the relationship between AAATA and Washtenaw County government. No, Benham said.

LaBarre wondered whether the millage, if approved, would improve AAATA’s ability or Washtenaw County’s ability – working with AAATA – to seek federal or state grants. Benham said the millage revenues will attract new state and federal funds. It’s calculated by a formula, so for every local dollar that’s spent on transit service, “we’re getting $2 or $3 of additional money from federal formula programs and from the state.” So the millage will leverage additional funds, he said.

May 6 Transit Millage: Board Discussion – Coda

Immediately after the end of the March 6 working session, a press release was emailed to The Chronicle from The Ecology Center, announcing that six out of the nine Washtenaw County commissioners are endorsing the transit millage. Those commissioners are: Felicia Brabec of Pittsfield Township (D-District 4), Rolland Sizemore Jr. of Ypsilanti Township (D-District 5), Ronnie Peterson of Ypsilanti (D-District 6), Andy LaBarre of Ann Arbor (D-District 7), Yousef Rabhi of Ann Arbor (D-District 8), and Conan Smith of Ann Arbor (D-District 9). [.pdf of press release]

The districts represented by these six commissioners cover most of the three member jurisdictions of the AAATA – Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

Public Commentary

Thomas Partridge advocated for a countywide public transportation system, and for the elimination of homelessness. The county needs to expand its affordable housing base, and to address the need for adequate health care. There are several things that county commissioners need to take the lead on, he said. Regarding the May 6 vote on the transit millage, Partridge said it’s very important for the public to support it.

Yousef’ Rabhi (D-District 8) thanked Partridge for his advocacy and his continued presence at the county board meetings.

Present: Felicia Brabec, Andy LaBarre, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Alicia Ping, Yousef Rabhi, Conan Smith, Dan Smith.

Absent: Ronnie Peterson, Rolland Sizemore Jr.

Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. The ways & means committee meets first, followed immediately by the regular board meeting. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.] (Though the agenda states that the regular board meeting begins at 6:45 p.m., it usually starts much later – times vary depending on what’s on the agenda.) Public commentary is held at the beginning of each meeting, and no advance sign-up is required.

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DDA Budgets for Transit, Housing, Parking Thu, 06 Mar 2014 17:18:00 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (March 5, 2014): Three main business items were approved by the board: submission of its FY 2015 budget to the city council, award of a $50,000 management incentive to its parking management contractor, and a resolution pledging to maintain or increase DDA funding of transportation programs, if the May 6, 2014 AAATA transit millage is approved by voters.

Roger Hewitt, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority

Roger Hewitt, DDA board treasurer. (Photos by the writer.)

The proposed budget shows $19.3 million in revenues from the public parking system and $4.8 million in tax increment finance capture. Overall, it shows $24,237,186 in revenues against $26,531,972 in expenses. The use of fund balance to cover the difference leaves the DDA with an estimated fund balance at the end of FY 2015 of about $3.3 million. FY 2015 runs from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015. [FY 2015 DDA budget breakdown]

The expenses include $353,344 in salaries and $245,894 in fringe benefits for four staff members, $7,075,571 in payments to Republic Parking for management of the public parking system, and $2.1 million for parking facility maintenance. Accounting for $3.19 million of the expenses is a payment made to the city of Ann Arbor, equal to 17% of the gross revenues to the public parking system.

Included in the budget is a $200,000 grant to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission – as part of a $600,000 request from AAHAC to support improvements to Baker Commons and Miller Manor.

The budget also includes $676,000 for support of the getDowntown program. The board also approved a resolution that pledged to work toward maintaining or increasing the DDA’s support for transportation programs. That resolution came in the context of an approaching May 6, 2014 transit millage ballot question. The 0.7 mill tax was placed on a May 6 ballot by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board on Feb. 20, 2014. The tax would be levied by the AAATA only if it wins a majority of support among voters across its three member jurisdictions: the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. The DDA board resolution came in part as a response to the fact that the DDA will be capturing a portion of the new millage under its tax increment finance (TIF) funding mechanism.

The board also approved the award to Republic Parking of the full $50,000 annual discretionary management incentive. Republic Parking’s contract with the Ann Arbor DDA covers just actual costs, but also includes a $200,000 annual management fee. Of the $200,000 management fee, $50,000 is awarded to Republic on a discretionary basis. It was last year, at the board’s March 6, 2013 meeting, when the DDA board decided for the first time in five years to award the full $50,000 of the incentive. The year before, at its Feb. 1, 2012 meeting, the board determined to award $45,000 of the discretionary amount. That matched the same figure awarded in 2011, 2010 and 2009.

The board also heard the usual range of reports from committees as well as public commentary. A highlight of announcements included the upcoming closure of the surface parking facility at the old Y lot, as the city-owned property is sold to hotelier Dennis Dahlmann. The closing is expected sometime between March 13-15. The lot is located on William Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues, across from the downtown library and south of the Blake Transit Center.

FY 2015 Budget

The board considered a resolution to submit its FY 2015 budget to the city council for approval. The 2015 fiscal year starts July 1, 2014.

The proposed budget shows $19.3 million in revenues from the public parking system and $4.8 million in tax increment finance capture. Overall, it shows $24,237,186 in revenues against $26,531,972 in expenses. The use of fund balance to cover the difference leaves the DDA with an estimated fund balance at the end of FY 2015 of about $3.3 million. FY 2015 runs from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015. [FY 2015 DDA budget breakdown]

The expenses include $353,344 in salaries and $245,894 in fringe benefits for four staff members, $7,075,571 in payments to Republic Parking for management of the public parking system, and $2.1 million for parking facility maintenance. Accounting for $3.19 million of the expenses is a payment made to the city of Ann Arbor, equal to 17% of the gross revenues to the public parking system.

The budget also includes $676,000 for support of the getDowntown program, as well as $300,000 in discretionary spending from parking revenues. Included in the budget is a $200,000 grant to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission – as part of a $600,000 request from AAHAC to support improvements to Baker Commons and Miller Manor.

The budget also includes $449,500 for a down payment on a possible elevator replacement at the southwest corner of the parking structure at Fourth & William, as well as possible debt payments on that project.

In taking the step first to submit the budget for approval by the city council, the DDA board is this year following the state’s enabling legislation for downtown development authorities: “Before the budget may be adopted by the board, it shall be approved by the governing body of the municipality.” In this case, the governing body is the Ann Arbor city council.

This is the first time in several years that the statutory procedure has been followed from the start. Last year, the DDA board first voted at its Feb. 6, 2013 meeting to adopt its FY 2014 budget (for the current fiscal year). That came in advance of the city council’s approval on May 20, 2013 of the city’s FY 2014 budget, which includes the DDA as a component unit.

The pattern followed last year – adoption by the DDA board of its budget in advance of the city council’s approval – had been the prevailing custom for several years. But the council decided at its May 20, 2013 meeting to revise the DDA’s budget in a way that made it significantly different from the one the DDA board had approved three months earlier. In addition to recognizing an additional $568,000 in tax increment finance revenue (TIF), the council’s action transferred an additional $300,000 from the DDA’s TIF fund to the DDA’s housing fund.

Then at the DDA board’s June 5, 2013 meeting, a vote was taken to re-adopt the FY 2014 budget that had been approved by the city council. The council’s $300,000 transfer from the TIF fund into the housing fund was echoed in the revision the council made on Nov. 18, 2013 last year to the local law regulating the Ann Arbor DDA. The following passage was added:

Tax increment financing seed funds for the Housing Fund shall be budgeted effective tax year 2016 at an amount no less than $300,000. Every year thereafter the minimum amount budgeted shall be adjusted at the same rate of increase as the increase in the total TIF capture. …

The 2016 tax year corresponds to the 2017 fiscal year. So the $300,000 figure is not required by law for another two years. At the March 5, 2014 board meeting, however, the budget was amended to add $100,000 to the housing fund expenditure line, at the request of board member Bob Guenzel. He’s long championed the cause of affordable housing and wanted to give the board some additional flexibility to spend additional money on that area, without making a mid-year budget change. Such a mid-year change would, based on remarks at the meeting, require city council approval.

In addition to the $200,000 grant to the AAHC, other housing fund expenditures for FY 2015 include $75,000 for a housing needs assessment.

FY 2015 Budget: Board Discussion

Roger Hewitt, the DDA board treasurer, noted that the operations committee had met the previous week, before the continued board retreat. The committee had come up with a budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. The fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30 each year. Based on the board’s discussion at the retreat, he and DDA executive director Susan Pollay, deputy director Joe Morehouse, and board vice chair John Mouat had frantically crunched some numbers, Hewitt said, trying to figure out how to incorporate the board’s ideas from the retreat into the upcoming budget.

Russ Collins.

DDA board member Russ Collins, who is executive director of the Michigan Theater. In the foreground is board member Al McWilliams.

Hewitt noted that some of the ideas would not be incorporated because the timeframe for design and construction would probably not fall within the next fiscal year.

Some capital funds were removed but enough for design and engineering was left to continue with the streetscape effort, Hewitt said. He noted that the budget was formatted according to the requirements of the city of Ann Arbor. [Considerable confusion unfolded subsequently about apparent mismatches between the totals shown in the two versions. The board's review of the budget was based on the kind of breakdown the board has historically used for its budget planning.] Hewitt then reviewed the more detailed breakdown – which is a version that the board has used historically to set its budget.

In addition to the standard budget elements, Hewitt ticked through several other highlights. He indicated that a $114,000 item was a marketing expense including some pedestrian counts and some discretionary funds. He noted that no money has yet been approved for that purpose but these were issues identified at the retreat.

Capital expenditures had been reduced a bit from the initial draft budget – because Hewitt felt it was going to be hard to get everything up and running and under construction for some planned sidewalk construction within one fiscal year. So the board is waiting on the sidewalks until the streetscape framework plan is done, Hewitt said. He indicated that the board wanted to get the results of the streetscape framework study – which would be completed by the end of this year – and then prioritize which sidewalk work should be done first. [The board authorized a $200,000 contract for development of a streetscape framework plan at its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting.]

For bonds and interest payments, Hewitt continued, those figures have been bumped up with the intention of doing the project on the Fourth & William parking structure – to replace the stairway and elevator tower as well as to undertake some pedestrian improvements on that structure. Hewitt noted that the project has not yet been approved, but money is being included in the budget for both the down payment on the bond and increased bond payments.

FY 2015 Budget: Elevator Project

John Splitt described the elevator replacement project in somewhat more detail later in the meeting.

Image from preliminary drawings by the Carl Walker design team for renovated elevator and stair tower for the Fourth & William parking structure.

Image from preliminary drawings by the Carl Walker design team for renovated southwest elevator and stair tower for the Fourth & William parking structure.

In addition to replacing the elevator and stairway tower, the board is considering doing some work on the south and east sides, using some surfaces that are more reflective and perhaps installing some awnings. The stairway and elevator towers would be glass-enclosed and would open up things significantly, he said. The design team from Carl Walker had been invited back to the next operations committee meeting this month, Splitt reported. He said the committee was expecting to see a more detailed schematic design with proposals on phasing of construction at its next meeting. He was not sure if the presentation would be ready at the April meeting of the full board – but he hoped so.

Mouat added that the current undertaking really is looking at a kind of a “master plan” for renovations to the structure and how they might be phased over time. Splitt ventured that the Fourth & William parking garage had at least 30 years – or possibly 50 – of life left in it. And he did not think it should live out the rest of its life with the current elevator and stair tower.

The project is estimated to cost on the order of $3 million, depending on whether it’s eventually approved by the board and the scope and staging of the improvements (which could include exterior cladding, awnings, and electronic real-time information signs for bus arrivals). Very preliminary drawings were provided to the DDA’s operations committee at its Feb. 26 meeting. That preliminary work was authorized by the DDA board at its Jan. 8, 2014 meeting. The team from Carl Walker Inc. will follow up with more detailed drawings and cost estimates for various options.

FY 2015 Budget: Housing

Roger Hewitt said that $200,000 would be transferred into the housing fund, with the intention of spending approximately $275,000 – including $200,000 as a grant to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission and $75,000 on a housing needs assessment. Hewitt noted that the housing fund balance from the previous year was anticipated at nearly $400,000, so there would be enough money to cover that.

Bob Guenzel.

DDA board member Bob Guenzel.

Later in the meeting, reporting out from the partnerships committee, Bob Guenzel reviewed the Ann Arbor Housing Commission’s grant request made to the DDA’s partnerships committee. The request had come from AAHC executive director Jennifer Hall. Guenzel ventured that most DDA board members were aware that the AAHC had made a request of $600,000 to support improvements to AAHC’s Baker Commons and Miller Manor. At the most recent partnerships meeting, Hall had presented additional financial information, he reported. A lot of the focus of the discussion had been on the timing of the payments from the DDA, Guenzel said. Hall had indicated it could be done over three fiscal years – $200,000 per year. No final action had been taken, Guenzel reported, and discussion would continue.

Some back-and-forth among board members unfolded as Guenzel expressed an interest in adding $100,000 in discretionary spending for the housing fund. He indicated that he was not aware of a specific grant request that would tap that money, but he felt it might be useful to go ahead and budget the money to avoid the need for a midyear budget amendment. The back-and-forth between Guenzel and Hewitt indicated that the DDA board believes that such a midyear budget amendment would require approval of the Ann Arbor city council. The board agreed to add $100,000 to the housing fund’s expenditure line under discretionary spending.

FY 2015 Budget: Parking

Parking revenue is based on the current rate structure, Hewitt said. The “miscellaneous” item in the budget is money the DDA gets from the University of Michigan as part of the shared-use agreement for the Forest parking structure, Hewitt explained. He also highlighted the $3.19 million payment to the city of Ann Arbor, which is the 17% of gross revenues from the public parking system. That percentage payment is specified in the contract under which the DDA manages the parking system for the city.

Hewitt explained the difference between the “parking maintenance” line item and the “capital costs” line item in the parking maintenance fund. Parking maintenance is for relatively small items of less than $5,000 apiece. Capital costs are major repairs – like chipping out concrete and replacing it, putting new sealant on, or major painting jobs. These are the sorts of things that are needed in the parking structures to keep them in good shape, Hewitt explained. And the parking structures are in good shape because the DDA has been undertaking this kind of maintenance for a number of years, he said. It’s important to put enough money into the structures to maintain them so that they can live out their entire expected useful life, Hewitt said.

Hewitt noted that the FY 2015 budget reflects a deficit in the parking and the parking maintenance funds. But there are sufficient reserves in those funds to cover that gap, he added. Hewitt floated the possibility of increasing parking rates in the future. “Down the road we may – we are undoubtedly going to have to start looking at some at least inflationary increases in parking rates to cover our costs,” he said.

The total fund balance across all funds, Hewitt concluded, is about $3.3 million. That’s approximately 14% of expenditures, he said. Ideally, the DDA would like to be in the 18-20% range. But Hewitt called 14% reasonable, given that the major construction project of the Library Lane underground parking structure had been completed and the desire of the DDA to maintain some kind of momentum going into the future.

Board member Rishi Narayan asked if the percentage of operating expenses that should be held in reserve was evaluated across all funds or by each fund. Some back-and-forth between Hewitt and DDA deputy director Joe Morehouse established that the auditor looks at fund balances in each individual fund.

Morehouse was also called on to explain the difference between fiscal year and tax year in the context of a new ordinance requirement, approved by the city council late last year, that the DDA budget a minimum of $300,000 per year for the housing fund. The ordinance refers to tax year 2016, which corresponds to fiscal year 2017, Morehouse explained. [The assessor assesses values on Dec. 31 of a particular year. That sets the basis for the taxes collected the following July, which is the next fiscal year.]

FY 2015 Budget: Transportation

In reviewing the budget, Hewitt also noted that the alternative transportation line item of $676,000 is for the go!pass program, which has not yet been approved.

Reporting out from the operations committee, Keith Orr reviewed the getDowntown program’s funding request. The operations committee had some questions and had asked getDowntown director Nancy Shore to break down some of the categories of requests into more specific items. Shore was going to return for the March committee meeting so that the funding request can be considered at the next DDA board meeting in April.

That budget includes enough to cover a transportation funding request for the AAATA’s getDowntown program, which the board will consider at its April meeting. The bulk of DDA’s getDowntown funding supports the go!pass, a program in which downtown employers can participate to allow employees to take unlimited bus rides at no cost to the employee. Employers pay $10 per employee per year for the passes. An “all-in” clause requires employers to purchase go!passes for all employees.

The fares for rides taken with a go!pass are covered in smaller part by the employer payment and in larger part by an annual grant from the DDA. The total grant request this year reflects an 11% increase from last year:

                         FY 2014    FY 2015
getDowntown             $ 40,488   $ 43,000
go!pass                 $479,000   $529,000
Transportation Options  $ 91,174   $105,264
TOTAL                   $610,662   $677,264


The board is expected to vote on the go!pass request at its April board meeting.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved submission of its FY 2015 budget to the city council for approval.

Transportation Resolution

The board considered a resolution that pledged to work toward increasing the DDA’s support for transportation programs.

The resolution came in the context of an approaching May 6, 2014 transit millage ballot question. The 0.7 mill tax was placed on a May 6 ballot by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board on Feb. 20, 2014. The tax would be levied by the AAATA only if it wins a majority of support among voters across its three member jurisdictions: the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

The DDA board resolution came in part as a response to the fact that the DDA will be capturing a portion of the new millage under its tax increment finance (TIF) funding mechanism. The ballot language itself highlights DDA tax capture among other TIF authority capture:


To improve public bus, van, and paratransit services – including expanded service hours, routes, destinations, and services for seniors and people who have disabilities – shall the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority levy a new annual tax of 0.7 mills ($0.70 per $1,000 of taxable value) on all taxable property within the City of Ann Arbor, the City of Ypsilanti, and the Charter Township of Ypsilanti for the years 2014-2018 inclusive? The estimate of revenue if this millage is approved is $4,368,847.00 for 2014. This revenue will be disbursed to the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority and, as required by law, a portion may be subject to capture by the downtown development authorities of the Cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, the Washtenaw County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, and the local development finance authority of the Charter Township of Ypsilanti.

The city of Ann Arbor’s financial staff are currently projecting the DDA’s TIF revenue for fiscal year 2015 to be about $4.8 million. Given the roughly 28 mills of tax on which the DDA captures taxes, that works out to a 0.7 mill equivalent of $120,000 (4,800,000/28)*0.7=120,000]. That’s consistent with the AAATA’s estimates of about $119,000 that would be captured from the 0.7 mill transit tax by the Ann Arbor DDA.

The DDA “resolved” clause of the resolution as amended at the meeting read:

Resolved, If the voters support approval of a new five-year transit millage, the DDA, which has been a long-time supporter of transit as a key strategy to meet its mission, will work to maintain or increase its support for transportation-related programs and projects.

Transportation: Public Commentary

Martha Valadez spoke to the board on behalf of Partners for Transit during public commentary at the start of the meeting, reminding the board that she’d also spoken at board’s Feb. 5, 2014 meeting. She was there to tell the board about the importance of the campaign to support the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s millage proposal, saying she hoped to get the DDA’s support for the millage proposal that will be on the May 6 ballot. She reviewed how the millage would be 0.7 mills for taxpayers in the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. [For detailed background, see "Tax Question Focus of Transit Board Meeting."]

Valadez talked about how one of the goals of the millage is to create a better connected urban core in Washtenaw County. She described how the volunteers who are working on the campaign are very committed to the work that they are doing, saying that the increased service would change a lot of people’s lives. She described how a volunteer at a meeting the previous night who lived in Ypsilanti Township would be able to work more hours in Ann Arbor and not have to worry about getting home late in the evening. She asked for the DDA board’s support for the five-year plan that this millage would support. She asked for the board to endorse the millage proposal or for individual board members to make endorsements on behalf of their businesses. She offered to set up appointments one-on-one with board members after the meeting to talk about the millage.

Ray Detter reported out from the previous night’s downtown area citizens advisory council meeting, saying that the CAC would support voter approval on May 6, 2014 of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s request for a 0.7 mill tax to improve transportation service. The five-year service improvement plan, Detter continued, would provide an additional 90,000 service hours for the greater Ann Arbor area.

Transportation: Board Discussion

Keith Orr introduced the item by saying that it was largely in response to the fact that a millage was being proposed by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. The last two “whereas” clauses are important, he said, because those clauses note that the DDA has a keen interest in supporting transportation:

Whereas, The Ann Arbor DDA has a keen interest in using these new millage funds for transportation-related purposes in support of the DDA’s Renewal Plan;

Whereas, These purposes may include and are not limited to such projects and programs as a future downtown circulator, repairs and enhancements to bus stops and bus shelters, the connector, bicycle facilities including bicycle parking, and other transportation-related facilities and services;

Orr explained that a certain portion of the new millage would be captured by the DDA. The resolution assures people that the DDA’s dedication to transportation would continue, he said, “recognizing that additional revenues would be coming our way.”

Russ Collins asked: “Why are we working to increase?” He ventured that the purpose of the resolution was to assure voters that the DDA would sustain its commitment, and that the DDA would not be withdrawing any funding. Orr responded to Collins by saying that about $90,000 of tax capture would come to the DDA – which he said coincidently was about the amount of support that the DDA had contributed to the LINK.

[The AAATA is estimating the DDA's capture of the millage at about $119,000. The city of Ann Arbor’s financial staff are currently projecting the DDA’s TIF revenue for fiscal year 2015 to be about $4.8 million. Given the roughly 28 mills of tax on which the DDA captures taxes, that works out to a 0.7 mill equivalent of $120,000 (4,800,000/28)*0.7=120,000], which is consistent with the AAATA’s estimate.]

By way of additional background, the DDA ended its support of the downtown circulator called the LINK in 2009 at its June 3, 2009 meeting. A breakdown of the cost of service funding for the LINK circulator from September 2008 to April 2009 was as follows:

$145,385  University of Michigan
$131,267  State operating assistance
$ 10,000  AAATA advertising revenues
$ 71,023  AAATA operating subsidy
$ 71,023  Downtown Development Authority


Orr stressed that the resolution was not a quid pro quo – that if the voters approve the millage that the DDA would undertake a particular action.

City administrator Steve Powers.

City administrator Steve Powers, who also serves on the DDA board.

Rather, Orr explained, the resolution was to make clear that the DDA understood that if voters passed the millage, then their expectation was that the millage would be used on transportation. John Mouat said Collins’ point was a good one, wondering if the DDA should commit to an increase.

The back-and-forth that ensued resulted ultimately in the addition of “maintaining” as an option along with increasing support.

City administrator Steve Powers indicated that the resolution was consistent with what the DDA has done with other taxing jurisdictions as far as investing the DDA’s tax capture back into facilities.

It’s also consistent with the discussion that’s going on now in Lansing, Powers said, involving DDA reforms.

This is the direction that the DDA might be forced to go in any case by the legislature, Powers ventured. He described pending legislation in Lansing as “an active possibility.”

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the resolution on maintaining or increasing support for transportation.

Republic Parking Management Incentive

The board considered a resolution awarding Republic Parking the full $50,000 of its annual discretionary management incentive. Republic Parking’s contract with the Ann Arbor DDA covers just actual costs, but also includes a $200,000 annual management fee. Of the $200,000 management fee, $50,000 is awarded to Republic on a discretionary basis. [.pdf of DDA staff memo on Republic Parking management incentive]

It was last year, at the board’s March 6, 2013 meeting, when the DDA board decided for the first time in five years to award the full $50,000 of the incentive. The year before, at its Feb. 1, 2012 meeting, the board determined to award $45,000 of the discretionary amount. That matched the same figure awarded in 2011, 2010 and 2009.

The direct costs for Republic Parking budgeted by the DDA for FY 2014 – the current fiscal year ending June 30 – are $6,569,316 out of about $19,348,016 in budgeted gross revenue for the parking system.

Part of the basis this year leading to the recommendation to award the full $50,000 was improvement in bi-monthly customer surveys over the year:

5-Excellent 42.8%
4 31.6%
3 13.3%
2 3.3%
1-Poor 2.8%
Non-Responsive 6.2%


The staff memo on the incentive notes that the DDA’s independent inspector’s cleanliness rates were 92.3% for the entire system, compared to 91.71% for last year.

The Dec. 31, 2013 accounts receivable balance for parking permit accounts was $22,920. That’s 4.4% of the average monthly billing, which is below the DDA’s target of 5%.

The memo also notes that the dead ticket average was 1.75% for the year, which is an increase from last year’s 1.01%. The target maximum for that statistic is 1.75%.

A staff memo accompanying the resolution awarding the $50,000 incentive cited additional factors:

  • Completion and opening of the First and Washington parking structure, including overseeing the installation of equipment, managing final construction-related maintenance, coordination of opening operations with the final construction in the garage.
  • Modernization of the parking equipment at two parking facilities.
  • Completion of a Library Lane parking structure office.
  • Implementation of reservation parking for Art Fair and the 1st NHL Winter Classic.
  • Outstanding success with the first time events of New Year’s Eve “Puck Drops Here” and NHL Winter Classic, despite the weather obstacles presented.
  • Maintaining of the parking facilities during the past extreme weather, which included removing large amounts of snow from the facilities and from parking meter areas in sub zero temperatures.

The Ann Arbor DDA manages the city’s public parking system under contract with the city of Ann Arbor. The contract calls for 17% of gross parking revenues to be paid to the city of Ann Arbor.

Republic Parking Management Incentive: Board Discussion

Roger Hewitt introduced the item by describing how the contract with Republic parking works: Republic’s costs are covered, but the contract also includes a management fee worth potentially $200,000 per year. Of that, $150,000 is guaranteed. The additional $50,000 can be awarded at the discretion of the board, based on performance. Hewitt directed everyone to the staff memo, which describes some of the objective and subjective criteria used for evaluating performance. Hewitt then reviewed the points of the memo in detail.

Hewitt noted that the surplus this past year was over $1 million, which he attributed in large part to the work of Republic Parking manager Art Low, working with new technology to make the operations as efficient as possible. Hewitt said he strongly endorsed awarding the full amount of the management incentive. “I cannot be happier with the job that Republic Parking has been doing on our system,” Hewitt said. He described Ann Arbor’s public parking system as one of the best maintained parking systems in the country.

Russ Collins added that a strict look at the statistics indicates that the parking system is generally on a very high level, and slightly above last year. Based on previous performance and current performance, Collins felt that the award of the full amount of the incentive was completely warranted.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to award the full $50,000 management incentive to Republic Parking.

Communications, Committee Reports

The DDA board’s meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown area citizens advisory council.

Comm/Comm: Fifth & William Parking Lot

DDA executive director Susan Pollay announced that the Fifth & William parking lot (the former Y lot) would be closed starting sometime between March 13-15, 2014. That’s because the city-owned property is being sold to downtown hotelier Dennis Dahlmann. Pollay said it’s very exciting and the DDA is looking forward to the new project being built there.

By way of background, a project has yet to be submitted to the city, and will take several months to make its way through the approval process. The Ann Arbor city council approved a purchase agreement with Dahlmann for the city-owned land, for $5.25 million, at its Nov. 18, 2013 meeting. One of the terms of the agreement is that Dahlmann must complete construction and receive a certificate of occupancy for the project on the site by Jan. 1, 2018.

Dahlmann made a proposal for the DDA to lease the property from him for $150,000 a year – so that the DDA could continue to provide public parking spaces there until construction of Dahlmann’s project could begin. The response from DDA operations committee members on Jan. 29 was unenthusiastic. They felt it would provide an incentive for Dahlmann to delay developing the land. They also felt that in the immediate vicinity of that lot, there was adequate parking – at the Fourth & William and the Library Lane structures. Finally, the DDA had calculated that with the $150,000 rent payment to Dahlmann, the net annual income to the parking system – assuming all 141 spaces in use – would be just $12,333 a year. [.pdf of DDA financial analysis of Dahlmann's proposal]

Comm/Comm: 120 W. Huron Hotel

Reporting out from the partnerships committee, Bob Guenzel described a request from First Martin Corp. Mike Martin had attended the partnerships committee meeting to make a request on behalf of the 120 W. Huron project – which Guenzel ventured most people knew was for a hotel. Martin had made a specific request for a DDA grant to support project elements that benefit the public – streetscape, additional lighting, LEED certification, historic preservation of the bus facade.

The committee had decided to defer the request while it considers whether it should create a new DDA partnership grant policy that would support projects like this, Guenzel reported. Guenzel indicated that a draft policy would likely be considered at the next committee meeting. A brownfield grant policy that had previously been generated – in response to the 618 S. Main project – was circulated as a possible template to use for the new policy.

Comm/Comm: Footing Drain Lawsuit

Ray Detter reported out from the previous night’s downtown area citizens advisory council meeting. He reported how there had been discussion of the recently filed lawsuit against the city of Ann Arbor, which challenges the legal foundation of the city’s footing drain disconnection ordinance. He reviewed how the ordinance was enacted in 2001, which established a program under which property owners can be required to disconnect their footing drains from the sanitary sewer system. The intent of the ordinance, he continued, is to diminish the risk of sanitary sewer overflows into the Huron River and sanitary sewage backups in homeowners’ basements.

Detter pointed DDA board members to the Feb.28 Ann Arbor Chronicle coverage of the issue. [See "Lawsuit Filed on City Footing Drain Program."] Detter noted that a motion for a preliminary injunction had also been filed in connection with the lawsuit, asking the court to order the city to stop enforcement of the footing drain disconnection ordinance. Among the lawsuit’s many claims, Detter continued, is that it violates the U.S. Constitution. Detter called it a very serious lawsuit. If the preliminary injunction were granted, he contended, it would have the immediate effect on downtown development as well as the development plans of the University of Michigan.

Comm/Comm: Courthouse Square

Ray Detter also reported that the CAC supports age diversity in the downtown. Courthouse Square – an apartment building for senior citizens at the southwest corner of Huron and Fourth – has been sold to Wickfield Properties, he said. The CAC was urging Wickfield, the DDA, the city council, and the entire community to help support housing projects that can help further age diversity in central Ann Arbor. He ventured that it’s not known yet what will happen with Courthouse Square.

Comm/Comm: Connector Study

An alternatives analysis is currently being conducted by the AAATA for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, then further south to I-94. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of transit mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops. The study has winnowed down options to six different route alignments.

Roger Hewitt reported out on the connector study, for which he serves on an advisory group. The group had reviewed some very preliminary cost estimates, and received a status report on the modeling project. The modeling project took a lot of demographic and transportation data to try to determine what ridership would be, based on placement of stations at different locations, Hewitt explained. It’s a very complex modeling that is used in the analysis, he said. The group is using the modeling techniques of the Washtenaw Area Area Transportation Study (WATS). The modeling project should be done by the middle of March, he said, and the information would be available by the end of March – as the group tried to determine what the final alignment of routes would look like. “We’re kind of slogging through the technical part now,” he concluded.

Comm/Comm: TiniLite

During public commentary at the end of the meeting, Changming Fan introduced himself as president of TiniLite World Inc., which been registered in Ann Arbor since 1996. He said he appreciated being in a democratic country and felt like he wanted to stand up and say something because he felt like he had the freedom to do that.

He told the board he was a graduate of the University of Michigan. He described himself as an entrepreneur and an inventor. He also said he loves the politics involved with public art and public safety. He wanted to contribute what he learned in China and at the University of Michigan to the city of Ann Arbor. He has developed the LED technology made by TiniLite since 1996, he said. There are a lot of things that we should do to make Ann Arbor be the best town it can be, he said. In 2005, Ann Arbor had become the first city to install LED streetlights. He said that Ann Arbor should continue that legacy by using LED lights to create art, using his technology. He wanted to make a positive impact in that way, he said.

Comm/Comm: Puddles

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Ed Vielmetti told the board he wanted to talk to them about snow. [He was reprising his remarks made at the Jan. 7, 2009 DDA board meeting.] He pointed out that there’s a lot of it and at some point it’s going to melt, and it would try to drain into the catch basins downtown. Some of the basins are currently blocked by snow and ice, he noted. There also are large and small piles of snow blocking pedestrian paths downtown. He said he’s tried to figure out who’s responsible for dealing with this issue and it’s hard to figure out. At that point DDA board member Russ Collins joked: “Engineers!”

Vielmetti said that sidewalk clearance is the responsibility of property owners, and clearing the street is the responsibility of the city. But Vielmetti said he wasn’t sure who is responsible for dealing with the puddles in the street that people have to walk around or not come downtown because it’s hard to cross the street. He thought that the DDA has a role in that.

As far as the narrow question of who should clear the catch basin, Vielmetti proposed that the DDA look into possibly partnering with the Huron River Watershed Council, which has an adopt-a-storm-drain program administered by Jason Frenzel. [Frenzel recruited volunteers for the program at last year's Green Fair.] Vielmetti described the HRWC’s program as for residential areas right now, but ventured that HRWC would be a point of contact for the DDA.

Vielmetti mentioned the intersection of Church Street and South University as one that had been bad in the past. It’s not a situation that can be looked at with pride, he said, and where we can say that all of Ann Arbor citizens can easily cross the street. He said he did not know who is responsible for it but he ventured that a better job can be done. And he figured that the dollar amounts involved would be small, compared to the benefit.

Comm/Comm: Public Art

In his report from the previous night’s downtown area citizens advisory council meeting, Ray Detter said the CAC wanted to state it supports continued efforts of the city – despite recent actions of the city council – or other groups and individuals to make sure that additional public art installations remain an important city goal.

Comm/Comm: Library Lot

Ray Detter also reported that the CAC reaffirmed its support for a public plaza, with a walkway to Liberty Plaza, as part of a plan to create tax-producing private development on a major part of surface of the Library Lane parking structure. The CAC also believes that any future private development should be pursued cooperatively, and should be integrated with an adjoining plaza, the Ann Arbor District Library, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority and all nearby public and private spaces.

Comm/Comm: Welcome to New UM President

Ray Detter said the CAC wanted to welcome the new University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel to downtown Ann Arbor. He said the Schlissel family would be “inhabitants of Sloan Plaza.” His family would live there while the university president’s historic home on South University Avenue is being renovated.

Present: Al McWilliams, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, Steve Powers, John Splitt, Rishi Narayan, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, John Mouat.

Absent: Cyndi Clark, Joan Lowenstein, Sandi Smith.

Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, April 2, 2014, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

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AAATA, City of Ypsilanti OK Finance Deal Fri, 18 Oct 2013 14:04:53 +0000 Chronicle Staff The board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has ratified its side of a transportation funding agreement with the city of Ypsilanti, which was admitted as a member of the AAATA four months ago, on June 20, 2013.

The AAATA board action was taken at its Oct. 17, 2013 meeting. The city council of Ypsilanti is scheduled to consider the agreement on Nov. 5.

The agreement recognizes the AAATA as the public transportation provider for the city of Ypsilanti. The agreement is to transfer the full amount generated by Ypsilanti’s 0.9879 mill transit tax authorized by voters in 2010 (estimated to be $273,797 in the year 2013), to the AAATA. However, the agreement calls for the AAATA to pay the city of Ypsilanti 1% of the amount generated by the millage to cover costs that include tax assessment, billing, collection, and various city clerk responsibilities.

The agreement also establishes reporting requirements on the AAATA to the Ypsilanti city council – including submission of its budget for comment, provision of the AAATA’s audited financial statements, and a quarterly activity report with information on ridership, budget variations, and other service metrics. The AAATA is also supposed to keep the Ypsilanti city council apprised of any long-term decisions. The two parties agree under the terms of the document to recognize that their obligation as public bodies is to “exist harmoniously for the public good.” [.pdf of resolution and AAATA-Ypsilanti agreement]

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

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Charles Griffith to Lead AATA Board Thu, 27 Sep 2012 23:02:02 +0000 Chronicle Staff Charles Griffith has been elected by his colleagues to lead the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board for the coming year. The vote for board chair was uncontested, as it typically is, and was taken at the board’s Sept. 27, 2012 meeting. Jesse Bernstein has served as board chair for the last two years and will continue to serve on the board, but said at the meeting he wanted to see the chairship rotated.

Griffith is climate & energy program director for the Ecology Center. He has already served for six years on the board, and his current appointment lasts another four years. He was re-appointed to the board on May 2, 2011 to another five-year term after first being appointed on Sept. 19, 2006. Members of the current seven-member AATA board will likely become members of the new Washtenaw Ride countywide authority’s 15-member board – which is not yet incorporated.

But the AATA board has called a special meeting for Oct. 2, 2012 to make a formal request of Washtenaw County to file the articles of incorporation for the new authority – under Act 196 of 1986. The incorporation of the new authority has statutory as well as contractual implications.

On the statutory side – because the incorporation by Washtenaw County of a new transit authority will include by default all the jurisdictions in Washtenaw County – the filing of the articles opens a 30-day window for jurisdictions to opt out of the arrangement. That can be accomplished through a vote of a jurisdiction’s governing body.

The contractual side would already be reflected in the filing of the articles. That is, the request made by AATA to Washtenaw County to file the articles of incorporation would be handled under a four-party agreement – which was ratified earlier this year by the AATA, Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor, and the city of Ypsilanti. That same contractual agreement would then govern the transition from the current AATA to The Washtenaw Ride. The transition would potentially not take place at all, unless a voter-approved funding source for the expanded services were identified by the end of 2014.

The AATA has indicated that a possible scenario is to ask voters in Washtenaw County to fund the new transit authority with a property tax of 0.584 mills – in an election that could come as early as May 2013. For a house worth $200,000, with a state-equalized value of $100,000, an 0.584 mill transit tax would cost that property owner about $58 per year. For an Ann Arbor resident with a $200,000 house, adding the 0.584 mill tax to the existing city transit tax of roughly 2 mills works out to a transportation tax burden of about $258 a year. Under the four-party agreement, the city of Ypsilanti’s transit tax would also be a part of The Washtenaw Ride’s funding.

The idea of putting a transit millage question before voters as early as May 2013 was not met with a universally positive reaction at a Sept. 25 meeting of Ann Arbor’s district advisory committee (DAC), which helps advise the as-yet-unincorporated authority. Tom Heywood, director of the State Street Area Association, feared that a millage would not pass if voted on that soon – because he thought there would not be adequate lead time to mount an effective millage campaign.

At the Sept. 25 meeting, DAC committee member Terri Blackmore, who’s executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study, was more sanguine than Heywood about the May 2013 timing. Also more positively inclined toward that timeframe was current AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein, whom Griffith is replacing as chair.

Bernstein has served the past two years as the board’s chair. His appointment to the board goes through May 1, 2013.

Other officers elected at the AATA board’s Sept. 27 meeting included David Nacht (treasurer) and Anya Dale (secretary). Determining membership on the planning and development committee and the performance monitoring and external relations committee was put off for the time being.

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

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AATA 5-Year Program: May 2013 Tax Vote? Fri, 07 Sep 2012 18:09:46 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Transportation Authority special board meeting (Sept. 5, 2012): At a meeting called for the purpose of ratifying and releasing the final draft of a 5-year service plan, the four members of the AATA board who attended voted unanimously to approve its release. [.pdf of final 5-year transit program] Publication of the 5-year plan is a required part of the AATA’s possible transition into a new transit authority with a broader governance and service area – to be called The Washtenaw Ride.

AATA board table Sept. 5, 2012

Several members of the unincorporated Act 196 board attended the AATA’s Sept. 5 special board meeting. Clockwise from the near left corner of the table: Bob Mester (U196 West District – trustee, Lyndon Township); David Read (U196 North Middle District – trustee, Scio Township); Peter Murdock (U196 Ypsilanti District – councilmember, city of Ypsilanti); Roger Kerson, Charles Griffith, and Jesse Bernstein (AATA board members); Michael Ford (AATA CEO), David Nacht (AATA board);  Karen Lovejoy Roe (U196 Southeast District – clerk, Ypsilanti Township); and Bill Lavery (U196 South Middle District – resident, York Township).

According to a press release announcing the 5-year service plan’s final draft, a millage to support The Washtenaw Ride could be placed on the ballot by May 2013.

The estimated cost of the service in the plan is now 0.584 mills, an increase of 0.084 mills compared to the estimated cost in a draft plan that was released in April. Compared to the draft plan, the final version also includes several additional services, which were added based on input from district advisory committees (DACs).

The 5-year service plan includes: (1) countywide demand-responsive services and feeder services; (2) express bus services and local transit hub services; (3) local community connectors and local community circulators; (4) park-and-ride intercept lots; and (5) urban bus network enhancements. For Ann Arbor, the program includes increased bus frequencies on key corridors, increased operating hours, and more services on weekends. According to the Sept. 5 press release, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti will get a 56% increase in service hours compared to current levels.

The possible transition from the AATA to The Washtenaw Ride will take place under the framework of a four-party agreement between the city of Ypsilanti, the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and the AATA.

The other vote taken by the AATA board at its Sept. 5 meeting stemmed from a formal protest in connection with the AATA’s award of a contract for handling advertising on its buses – to CBS Outdoor Advertising of Lexington, New York. The contract previously had been held by Transit Advertising Group Ann Arbor (TAG).

TAG president Randy Oram addressed the board during public commentary at the Sept. 5 meeting. Also during the meeting, AATA CEO Michael Ford pointed the board to his written response to the protest and asked board members to uphold his decision to award the contract to CBS. The board voted in a formal resolution to support the advertising contract award to CBS.

5-Year Transit Program

The special meeting of the board had been called specifically for the purpose of releasing the final draft of a 5-year transit program. An earlier draft had been released in April of this year.

5-Year Transit Program: Background

Publication of a 5-year transit program and a plan to fund it is one requisite to incorporation of The Washtenaw Ride under Act 196 of 1986. That’s not a requirement of the state statute, but rather a stipulation in a four-party agreement, ratified between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and AATA. [The Washtenaw County board of commissioners again had the agreement on its agenda for its Sept. 5 meeting – and voted again to approve its side of the agreement. See "Washtenaw Board to Re-Vote Accord" for a preview.]

That four-party agreement establishes the legal conditions under which assets of the AATA could be transferred to The Washtenaw Ride. A key condition is a voter-approved funding source adequate to pay for the services outlined in the plan released on Sept. 5. While the draft plan issued in April stopped short of recommending a millage as the funding source, the AATA now indicates that a millage vote could take place as soon as May 2013.

The four-party agreement also calls for the cities of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor to direct the proceeds of their current transportation millages to the new authority. If approved by voters, the 0.584 mills from a new millage would be paid by property owners in those cities in addition to the existing transit taxes. Current transit taxes are about 1 mill for Ypsilanti and about 2 mills for Ann Arbor.

Washtenaw County’s role will be to file the articles of incorporation for the new transit authority. The articles would be filed with the state of Michigan under Act 196 of 1986. But that filing would come only after a request from the AATA and only after the AATA publishes details of the service and funding plan for the authority in newspapers of general circulation in Washtenaw County. This is the current phase of the possible transition.

At the point of incorporation, jurisdictions throughout Washtenaw County would have the ability to opt out of the new transit authority. If their governing bodies don’t opt out, those jurisdictions will be included in the new authority. Residents of jurisdictions that choose to stay in the new authority – and do not decide to opt out – would participate in a vote on any millage placed on the ballot to fund The Washtenaw Ride.

5-Year Transit Program: From 0.5 mills to 0.584

The estimated gap between revenues ($184.2 million) and expenses ($223 million) for a 5-year period of the program is $38.8 million. That gap could be covered with a tax on the participating jurisdictions of 0.584 mills. A popular vote on that tax could come as soon as May 2013.

One mill is $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value on a property. So for a house worth $200,000, with a state-equalized value of $100,000, an 0.584 mill transit tax would cost that property owner about $58 per year. For an Ann Arbor resident with a $200,000 house, adding the 0.584 mill tax to the existing city transit tax of roughly 2 mills works out to a transportation tax burden of about $258 a year.

AATA expects The Washtenaw Ride to add 3.6 million rides to the existing 6 million rides that the AATA already provides.

A previous estimate of 0.5 mill as sufficient to cover the operating gap of a new authority’s 5-year plan had been generated by a financial advisory group led by McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and Bob Guenzel, retired Washtenaw County administrator. That group had worked with the AATA’s consultant on the project, Steer Davies Gleave, to generate the estimated cost.

The current revised estimate is the result of service additions to the 5-year plan made since the draft was released earlier this year. After the Sept. 5 meeting, AATA strategic planner Michael Benham, who has led the project for the AATA, responded to a question from The Chronicle by saying that the new calculations were done by AATA staff, building on the work already done by Steer Davies Gleave. Benham indicated that he hoped the financial advisory group would also be able to convene to review the revised plan and figures.

At the AATA board’s Aug. 16, 2012 meeting, Benham had sketched out in broad strokes some of the changes that had been made since the draft service plan had been released in April. For example, the urban bus network – in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – has been expanded compared to the draft. In the draft plan, it was based on a 16-hour day, while now it’s based on an 18-hour day for some routes. That will involve a number of select routes operating until midnight. Some routes will also operate a little bit earlier in the morning, starting at 6 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m.

Connectors and circulators for Milan have been added. The Northfield Express has been extended to Brighton. Also at the Aug. 16 board meeting, Benham also indicated the AATA is thinking about extending service to Lincoln Consolidated Schools in August Township, using a combination of flex service and limited extensions of the already-proposed Route #46. They’re also looking at a park-and-ride proposed in Pittsfield Township – and they’re thinking about either adding an additional park-and-ride, which would be further east, or perhaps just taking the existing one and moving it.

5-Year Transit Program: Board Response

During his oral report to the board, Michael Ford – the AATA’s CEO – noted that the document reflected a lot of hard work. The AATA had begun with a 30-year vision, which had been refined to a 5-year implementation program. A lot of work had been done with the district advisory committees over the last two years, he said, taking in comments and suggestions and making sure that the AATA had heard what people had to say.

CEO of the AATA Michael Ford takes bound copies of the 5-year plan out of the box before the meeting.

CEO of the AATA Michael Ford takes bound copies of the 5-year plan out of a box before the Sept. 5 board meeting.

During the month of September, Ford said, the AATA is going out to the districts again to get full support and concurrence on the document. He emphasized that it’s a very detailed document – as it goes through a lot of layers of detail to provide people the best information to make an informed decision about whether to participate. He called it a very important document and reiterated that a lot of hard work has gone into it.

Ford took a moment to acknowledge some staff members individually – Sarah Pressprich-Gryniewicz, Mary Stasiak and Chris White. He singled out strategic planner Michael Benham as having done a yeoman’s job, which prompted a round of applause.

Board chair Jesses Bernstein then delivered some remarks, giving his personal perspective. That week marked the start of his 45th year in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, he said. During that period, he had worked for the county government, started two businesses, worked in a lot of other settings and volunteered in a lot of places. He had never seen a process and an outcome like the AATA had produced with this 5-year program.

The AATA has a 30-year vision and a 5-year program to implement it, Bernstein said. One of his favorite sayings, he continued, is “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to get there. … We know where we’re going.” He allowed that the road would not be straight and smooth, and there would be twists and turns and curves. Bernstein said he is very proud to have been on the board while the AATA had undertaken the effort. He added his personal thanks to the staff for their incredible work that they’ve done – including nights and weekends – saying it has been just an unbelievable effort. He concluded his remarks by saying, “And as the song says: We’ve only just begun.”

Charles Griffith appreciated that the document has evolved to the point that it has, noting that it’s the result of a lot of good work and thought. He appreciated the fact that it is still a “living document.” He ventured that it probably won’t ever be final because the AATA will always be adjusting and tweaking it and making it better – as it does currently with its existing system. The AATA changes its service plans, altering routes on an ongoing basis to make sure the AATA has the most efficient system that it can have. The new transit authority will continue to that. He stressed the fact that the AATA will continue to need to work on this.

David Nacht ventured that anybody who’s been paying attention in Michigan understands that there are communities in the state that have taken a “parochial view” of their role – such communities imagine that they are an island and can function without connection to their neighbors. These communities are either being taken over by the state government or are in danger of being taken over by the state government, Nacht said.

But Ann Arbor sees itself differently, Nacht said. Ann Arbor views itself as part of the surrounding environment, which includes different communities that are different from Ann Arbor, but are connected to it. It’s an environment where people live and work and participate in the economic life of Ann Arbor. Nacht continued by saying it is in Ann Arbor’s interest to reach out to its neighbors in an open way, to transparently say: Let’s be connected in a way that we think is reasonable and fair, that works for people no matter what part of the county they live in.

Nacht observed that he had been a part of this process for a long time – there were people on the board just talking about expanding service countywide, when he joined the AATA board nine years ago. Michael Ford, he said, has led a team to bring the AATA to this point. Nacht did not think the process was perfect, and he did not think that the outcome was perfect. But he called it an outstanding political and policy result for a public entity.

For a public entity, “This is as good as it gets,” Nacht said. He agreed with Bernstein, in that he’d been through a lot of projects at different levels of government and in the private sector, and he was very proud of the AATA’s work. The AATA is offering the community a choice to move forward to take care of those who need transportation services, to help the environment, and to prosper, Nacht said. Ultimately, Nacht said, if we move people around better, everyone will prosper.

Roger Kerson echoed what had been previously said. He added that it’s the easiest thing in the world to say, “Let’s work together,” but it’s in fact very hard to do. It’s a real testament to the staff work that so many different jurisdictions are cooperating and participating.

Kerson addressed some remarks to those board members from the as-yet-unincorporated board of The Washtenaw Ride who were at the table – thanking them for participating in an enterprise that was still not completely 100% defined. He thanked them for attending meetings where they don’t get to vote yet. And he thanked them generally for helping the AATA in the process.

Kerson felt that the existing board would be able to do its job better as a steward of the AATA’s resources, when the board gets bigger – and when it has more input and more ideas and more knowledge of the communities that the AATA is trying to connect with. Right now, the AATA is running buses to Ypsilanti and Chelsea, he pointed out – places where board members don’t live. The AATA will be able to provide service more effectively and efficiently when the team is expanded. He looked forward to a time when everyone at the table also had a voice and a vote.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to release the 5-year plan. A series of district advisory committee meetings will be now be held in different areas of the county to go over the plan. Ann Arbor’s meeting will take place on Sept. 24, 2012 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Mallets Creek branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. A complete meeting schedule is available on the website.

Bus Advertising

At its Sept. 5 meeting, the board considered a resolution upholding a previous decision to award a contract for handling advertising on the sides of AATA buses to CBS Outdoor Advertising.

Bus Advertising: Background

At its Aug. 16, 2012 meeting, the AATA board authorized a three-year contract with CBS Outdoor Advertising of Lexington, New York, to handle placement of ads on its buses and bus stops. The contract had been held by Transit Advertising Group Ann Arbor (TAG) for the last seven years, but that contract had expired. So the AATA solicited bids for a new contract. The AATA selected CBS Outdoor Advertising from seven respondents to an RFP (request for proposals).

The AATA’s advertising program currently accounts for about $80,000 a year in a budget for fiscal year 2012 that calls for $29.4 million in total revenues. In the past, the advertising program has netted up to $169,000 a year.

When first implemented in 2005, the program was expected to generate $200,000 a year [.pdf of 2005 Ann Arbor News article: "Some AATA Buses to Be Used as 'Movable Billboards'"] Ann Arbor News coverage from that era documents some controversy associated with the decision to offer advertising on buses, as well as the initial implementation that allowed for complete wraps. [.pdf of 2007 Ann Arbor News article: "AATA to Review Bus Ads"]

An ad rejected by the AATA for placement on its buses prompted a lawsuit filed last year on Nov. 28, 2011. The text of the ad included the words “Boycott ‘Israel’” and featured an image of a scorpion-like creature. In the most recent court action connected with that lawsuit, TAG and its president Randy Oram were dropped as defendants in the case by mutual agreement of the parties. The court has not yet ruled on the substance of the case, but an evidentiary hearing was held on July 23.

The lawsuit was not related to the routine process of putting the advertising contract out for renewal.

Bus Advertising: Protest, Commentary

In his written protest about the award, TAG president Randy Oram detailed a number of objections, among them a contention that the proposal from CBS did not actually respond to the AATA’s request for proposals. TAG also points to the recent elimination of a CBS staff position for someone who’s named in the CBS proposal as a person who would be part of a team fulfilling terms of the contract.

For its part, the AATA maintains that it followed its RFP procedures, that it violated no laws, and that CBS was able and willing to meet the requirements of the RFP but that TAG, based on its proposal, was either unwilling or unable to meet those requirements. TAG felt that the contingencies it had included in its proposal – based on its experience as the vendor over the last seven years – had been held against it in the AATA’s evaluation of the proposal. [.pdf of TAG protest and AATA response]

Randy Oram, president of Transit Advertising Group Ann Arbor

Randy Oram, president of Transit Advertising Group Ann Arbor, addressed the board on Sept. 5.

Oram addressed the board during public commentary at its Sept. 5 meeting. He told the board that TAG had been proud to serve the AATA as the exclusive agent for bus advertising services since 2005. He appreciated the opportunity to partner with the AATA in that endeavor. TAG had always served the AATA and its constituents to the best of its ability and with fidelity, he said. He appreciated the efforts of the board in hearing the appeal he was making concerning the denial of the contract award to TAG and the award the contract to a different vendor.

Oram allowed that the process had required a lot of time and effort on the part of the AATA staff so far. A clear understanding of the contract requirements at the onset, he continued, will benefit the AATA and an agency in evaluating all the proposals that have been made. He felt that the board needs to understand clearly what the issues are before making a final recommendation.

In honoring its past contract in partnership with the AATA, TAG had prepared a proposal that was detailed and knowledgeable in operating a bus advertising system according to the contract, Oram said. That knowledge, he said, appeared to be the key in TAG’s failure to be recommended for the award of the contract. TAG’s proposal reflected its understanding of the contract and past operations, and that was faithfully spelled out as part of the request for proposals. TAG is not trying to create any more difficulties, he assured the board.

If the eventual awardee can comply with each and every one of the requirements in the request for proposals, with no exceptions or deviations, exactly as the RFP is written, that firm would be deserving of the contract regardless of which company it is, Oram said. It’s important for TAG that the AATA understand that TAG’s proposal was not an indication that TAG was unwilling or incapable of performing the contract. It was a proposal that reflected the application of the past performance of the contract and the forethought, recognition and planning for contingencies – which should have been seen as a strength, not a weakness, he said.

Shortly before Oram concluded his remarks – as he was pushing past the limits of the two-minute speaking time – board chair Jesse Bernstein asked Oram if he had much more to say. Oram indicated he had just two more sentences and then he would “pass out.” Board member David Nacht joked that Oram surely meant that he had a “hand out,” not that he was actually going to pass out. Nacht’s remark generated chuckles around the board and from Oram.

Oram concluded by thanking the board members and the staff for considering TAG’s appeal. He hoped that the board would consider delaying the award of the contract until all of the issues could be examined.

Bus Advertising: CEO & Board Response

Michael Ford, the AATA’s CEO, responded to Oram’s remarks at the meeting by telling board members that he had taken time to write out a detailed response. After review and consultation with the staff, Ford said he felt the AATA had responded appropriately. He asked the board for their support to uphold his decision to affirm the contract award to CBS.

He felt that the AATA’s RFP evaluation team had done its due diligence, and he felt that he had answered Oram’s questions very thoroughly. He was confident and comfortable upholding the decision. Roger Kerson sought confirmation that CBS Outdoor Advertising also had experience with handling advertising with transportation agencies. Ford indicated CBS  had such experience.

CEO of the AATA Michael Ford approaches TAG president Randy Oram after the meeting.

AATA CEO Michael Ford, right, approaches TAG president Randy Oram after the Sept. 5 board meeting.

David Nacht followed up by asking if Ford was confident that the AATA had followed all relevant procedures in the contract award process. Ford indicated he was confident. Nacht noted that the AATA’s legal counsel – Jerry Lax, of Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels, P.C.  – was attending the meeting. Nacht asked if Lax thought there was anything else the board should be aware of. Lax did not think there was  – beyond what was in their information packet.

Nacht indicated that as a general matter, he thinks it’s healthy for a public agency to follow processes, and for the board not to take a role in selecting contractors who get public dollars. Instead, the board has a role of making sure that the process was followed, he said. The CEO and the legal counsel for the agency had assured the board that processes were followed. And Nacht said he had a chance to review what had just been handed to him, so he supported the resolution to uphold the decision.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to uphold the decision to award the advertising contract to CBS Outdoor Advertising. 

Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Jesse Bernstein, Roger Kerson.

Absent: Eli Cooper, Sue Gott, Anya Dale.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

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AATA on County Transit: READY, Aim, Fire Sat, 23 Jan 2010 04:45:55 +0000 Dave Askins 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.

Countywide Millage Survey of Voter Attitudes

The AATA has been actively exploring the issue of expanding its service countywide for 18 months or more. [See Chronicle coverage: "AATA Plans for Countywide System," "AATA Adopts Vision: Countywide Service," "AATA Gets Advice on Countywide Transit"]

Hugh Clark of CJI Research and Bob Dykes of TRIAD Research Group gave the board a presentation on the survey they’d conducted for the AATA to explore the likelihood that a countywide transit millage would be approved by voters.

The survey also explored attitudes of voters towards the county where they live, their awareness and satisfaction with AATA, and the impact on voter attitudes of additional information about the millage (arguments for and against).

Survey Sample

The 1,100-person sample was drawn from registered voters in Washtenaw County, with interviews conducted by telephone. For each of four separate geographic regions, 275 interviews were administered: Ann Arbor, non-Ann Arbor urban areas, eastern Washtenaw, and western Washtenaw.

The populations of each of those areas is different; however, survey results were weighted accordingly.

Survey Questions

Q: Overall, how satisfied are you with Washtenaw County as a place to live?

61% very satisfied
35% somewhat satisfied
 3% somewhat dissatisfied
 1% very dissatisfied
 1% not sure


Q: In your opinion, is Washtenaw County a better place to live than it was five years ago or is it a worse place to live?

39% same
25% worse
24% better
12% not sure


Q: Have you or has anyone in your household ridden any of AATA’s buses in the past year?

40% yes
59% no
 1% not sure


Q: Overall, would you say you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable opinion of Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, AATA?

26% very favorable
39% somewhat favorable
 4% somewhat unfavorable
 1% very unfavorable
 2% mixed (volunteered)
23% not sure
 5% have not heard of AATA


Q: How would you rate the job AATA currently does of providing public transit services?

15% excellent
44% good
11% only fair
 1% poor
28% not sure


Q: How important do you think it is to provide public transit services in Washtenaw County?

35% extremely important
37% very important
19% somewhat important
 7% not very important
 2% not sure


Hugh Clark, of CJI, said the most important result of the survey was measurement of how important voters thought providing transit services was: 72% of those surveyed thought it was either extremely or very important.

Q: [BEFORE information was presented] Sometime next year, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, AATA, may have a tax issue on the ballot for the purpose of providing and expanding public transportation throughout all of Washtenaw County. Assuming that it would increase property taxes by one mill …

17% definitely yes
34% probably yes
21% probably no
20% definitely no
 7% not sure


Q: [AFTER information was presented] Sometime next year, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, AATA, may have a tax issue on the ballot for the purpose of providing and expanding public transportation throughout all of Washtenaw County. Assuming that it would increase property taxes by one mill …

24% definitely yes
34% probably yes
17% probably no
20% definitely no
 6% not sure


The support of the millage was characterized as soft – because most of those who say they’d support the millage would only “probably” do so, as opposed to “definitely.”

Looking at the impact on voter attitudes of information on both sides, more people moved from outside the “definitely/probably yes” category into that category than people who moved into the “definitely/probably no” category:

48% consistent positive
11% moved positive
 3% undecided
 5% moved negative
33% consistent negative


Q: If Livingston and Washtenaw counties decide to develop the WALLY line, what if some of the money from this tax increase would be used to provide the Washtenaw County share of money to operate the WALLY line?

26% more likely
26% less likely
43% no difference
 5% not sure


Q: There has also been some discussion about operating a commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit. What if some of the money from the tax were used to provide the Washtenaw County share of money to operate the commuter rail service?

42% more likely
22% less likely
31% no difference
 4% not sure


So offering north-south commuter rail (WALLY) as part of expanded service would have little impact either way on voters’ attitude. Offering east-west rail as part of the service had a somewhat positive effect on voters’ likelihood of supporting a millage.

The survey tried to explore what kinds of arguments might be effective against a millage. The survey did not find great support for the ideas that there’s enough public transit already and we don’t need to expand it, or that AATA spends a lot of money on things that aren’t important. On the other hand, the ideas that they couldn’t personally afford it or that the economy is too uncertain tended to resonate quite strongly.

Hugh Clark

Hugh Clark, of CJI Research, presents survey results to the AATA board.

The survey also tried to determine what ideas would generate support among voters. It found that providing door-to-door transportation for seniors and those with disabilities was an idea that resonated with voters: 59% said it was very important and 30% said it was somewhat important.

Survey respondents also reacted favorably to the idea that county service might be more coordinated between AATA, the WAVE (Washtenaw Area Value Express) and People’s Express: 46% said they’d be more likely to support a millage with some kind of coordination, with 41% saying it made no difference.

Among the perceived benefits of transit, the survey found, 80% agree (strongly or somewhat) that public transit is important in attracting jobs, 78% agree (strongly or somewhat) that it’s important for seniors or disabled people to be able to get around, and 76% agree that they or someone in their family might need public transit services.

Board Deliberations on Survey Results

Board chair Paul Ajegba focused on the poor job performance rating reflected in the survey, which was only 1%, and told CEO Michael Ford that congratulations should be passed along to the AATA staff.

Board member Charles Griffith wanted to know to what extent it made sense to sculpt a message to target specific audiences. Bob Dykes, of TRIAD, allowed that there might be some advantage to highlighting different issues with different groups, but advised that obviously you don’t want to say something that’s 180-degrees opposite to different groups.

Board member Rich Robben wanted to know what the margin of error was for the survey – it was 3.8%. But Dykes said that more importantly, the survey had been done rigorously by people with experience. He also pointed out that on a typical poll reported on TV, the sample is taken from 1,500 people from across the U.S., and this survey was based on 1,100 respondents across Washtenaw County.

Dykes also advised that in a publicity campaign for transit, you can’t make a case to most people by telling them they should spend money on it because they’re going to use it – they’re still not going to use it, he said. A question on that came from the audience – which board chair Paul Ajegba allowed, as Dykes was already mid-sentence in responding: Did that mean that the 40% of households with a member who’d ridden an AATA bus would not increase?

Dykes allowed that he was exaggerating – he gave an example of an Ohio transit system that had increased that percentage of households from 7% to 24%. His point, though, was that the majority of people will still not be using mass transit after expansion. So it’s not a compelling case in putting together a campaign.

What might lead people to support a millage, Dykes suggested, was the idea that they should pay to help disabled and seniors get around: “It’s hard to run against seniors,” he said.

Paul Ajegba

Paul Ajegba chairs the AATA board. Before the meeting he was getting his paperwork in order.

In his public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Jim Mogensen would point out that the survey was conducted by telephone – it was 1,100 people who’d agreed to participate in a very long survey by phone.

But speaking to the issue of possible negative arguments, he noted that while the information presented in the survey was negative, it was still reasonable. A negative campaign, he cautioned, didn’t have to be reasonable.

One point that Dykes made during his presentation on the survey was that if someone says they can’t afford it, you can’t argue with them.

At that, Jesse Bernstein was animated: “That’s not what we’re going to do,” he said. “What we have to do is say: ‘What do you want?’ We tell them what they could have. The campaign is not to convince, it’s to come up with a plan.”

A large portion of the agenda separated these comments of Bernstein’s from the discussion of the board’s resolution on advancement of a plan for shaping the future of public transit. But at that time, he picked up where he’d left off.

Resolution on the Future of Washtenaw Public Transit

When the board came to the last item on its agenda, after quickly dispatching all of its other business, board chair Paul Ajegba declared: “Now for the big one!”

Bernstein said that in his one and a half years serving on the AATA board, this was the most important thing he’d ever seen the board do. The old days, he said, of trying to convince the public were gone and instead they would take a “ready, aim, fire” approach where they would spend the next six months talking to stakeholders – including all the agencies that already have transportation plans.

In mentioning other agencies with transportation plans, Bernstein was alluding to remarks made by Jim Mogensen during public commentary at the start of the meeting. Mogensen cautioned the board to consider the fact that all the agencies that have begun participating in the needs assessment process have transportation plans of their own – the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS), the city of Ann Arbor, University of Michigan and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

Mogensen said he saw the role of the consultant the AATA expected to hire as playing a similar role of a conference committee to hash out a healthcare bill from the version proposed by the House, Senate, and pharmaceutical companies. He wondered, though, whether there’d be a “public option” for the transportation plan.

Carolyn Grawi, in her public commentary turn at the conclusion of the meeting, stressed that it was important for the AATA to be at the table for the master planning efforts in surrounding townships, like Pittsfield. She’d attended a Pittsfield Township meeting on master planning for the township, but the AATA was not there, she said.

In his deliberations, Bernstein said that after they had an idea of what people needed and wanted, and people had an idea of what was possible, they could embark on implementing not a 2-3 year plan, but a 25-30 year plan.  There’d be a series of 3-5 year plans on how to get to the 30-year point, said Bernstein.

At the end of the meeting during public commentary, Ann Arbor resident Nancy Kaplan would ask Bernstein about the 25-30 year horizon the board was considering and the use of census data in planning: “Do you expect the population to increase?” she asked.

Bernstein pointed out that transportation interacts with growth and land use. “Think about Washtenaw Avenue,” Bernstein said, “it’s single-story buildings, because there’s no incentive to build anything else.” He then offered the possibility of a different pattern of land use if, at the intersections of Hewitt and Washtenaw or Golfside and Washtenaw, there were a transit center – there’d be the possibility of a town center developing. It would send the message to developers: Here’s a resource you can use permanently.

Bernstein went on to describe how in Denver and in Charlotte, development had followed fixed rail when it went in. However, Bernstein cautioned that “If people don’t want it, let’s not do it.” He said the system should be one where people who ride it say, ‘Great – that’s what I need,’ and people who don’t ride it still support it, because they think it’s important.

That was the same kind of sentiment that Bernstein summarized before the board voted. The Chronicle’s paraphrase: “We need to get together and find out what people want and what they need and once we do figure out what that is, we can fund it and build it.”

That’s the paraphrase The Chronicle read to Alan Haber on Thursday night, at the meeting of the RFP review committee that’s considering proposals for the Library Lot. Haber is one of the proposers of the Community Commons, which was set aside by the committee for further consideration on Thursday. One of the proposals that was retained for further consideration was a conference center and hotel that is supported by Bernstein.

Against that background, The Chronicle asked Haber if that quote sounded like him, and Haber allowed that yes, it did. Told that it was not him, but rather Jesse Bernstein talking about countywide transportation the previous evening, a smile lit Haber’s face.

Outcome: The “ready, aim, fire” plan was unanimously approved by the board.

Reports from Committees and the CEO

The committees in large part reported their activities by referring interested people to the board packet with the committee meeting minutes.


Jesse Bernstein did note one highlight for the performance monitoring and external relations committee: There’s interest from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority in resurrecting the downtown circulator called The LINK.

He also said that he’d been looking at alternative sites for the board meeting room – the “ready” phase of the plan adopted by the board for the future of county transportation calls for the following [emphasis added]:

A) Assure that the entire community has access to clear and understandable information about AATA’s service delivery system and how to measure our performance using multiple communications methods, including traditional and existing as well as emerging technologies, such as improving the content and accessibility of our web site and providing video coverage of meetings, to promote transparency and accountability.

For video taping, one possibility being considered is the Ann Arbor District Library downtown location. Thomas Partridge, in his public commentary at the end of the meeting, called on the board to find a larger venue, with TV broadcast facilities, because it was vital that the board go public.

To try to accommodate more people, on Wednesday the board met in an alternate room instead of the board room. It was the second alternate location that’s been tried in the last two months. Last month, the long narrow room that was used put audience members at some distance from the board members, and combined with the sound of ventilation fans, this led to complaints about the ability of audience members to hear.

Reporting from the AATA’s local advisory council (LAC), Rebecca Burke passed around a letter to the board asking for language revisions to the LAC’s charge: words like “handicapped” needed to be replaced with “disabled,” for example.

Ted Annis, the board’s treasurer, did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. However, he did send along a one-page treasurer’s report that calls for the hiring of a chief financial officer for the AATA.

CEO’s Report

Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, reported that he’d been meeting with city of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti officials.

He said that a letter had been sent to the owners of the Arborland property – who last summer did not extend the long-time agreement they’d had allowing AATA buses to use a bus stop in the parking lot of the shopping center.  Owners – but not tenants – had objected to use of parking spaces by bus commuters as an informal park-and-ride lot. [Chronicle coverage: "AATA to Arborland: We Could Pay You Rent"] In the month and a half since sending the letter, Ford reported no response. AATA is working with the city of Ann Arbor and Michigan Department of Transportation on coming up with a solution to the difficulties caused by having a bus stop located on Washtenaw Avenue.

The Blake Transit Center RFP (request for proposals) will go out at the end of January 2010 for its reconstruction on the same footprint as the current station. [Chronicle coverage: "AATA Board: Get Bids to Rebuild Blake"] There’ll be a two-phase design and construction phase, said Ford.

Jesse Bernstein and Michael Ford

AATA board member Jesse Bernstein, left, and AATA CEO Michael Ford at the Library Lot RFP presentations held at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library on Jan. 20, 2010.

Ford reported that he’d attended the presentations at the downtown library by respondents to the city of Ann Arbor’s RFP for the library lot.

He also reported that AATA had met twice with University of Michigan officials to work towards a mutually beneficial arrangement on the M-Ride agreement.  By way of background, M-Ride is a program where UM affiliates – students, faculty and staff – can board buses by swiping their MCards, with their fares paid through a combination of UM payments to AATA, plus federal grants for which UM qualifies. The deal was extended for one year when UM and AATA could not reach a longer-term agreement.

Ford reported that UM and AATA would be meeting once a week to work through the deal.

Other Business

The board passed four additional resolutions. Of these, the most significant was the approval of a purchase-of-service agreement with the city of Ypsilanti for $312,330 from Oct. 1 2009 through June 30, 2011. [Chronicle coverage: "Buses for Ypsi and a Budget for AATA"]

The board also approved its capital and categorical grant program – which reflects some changes in light of federal stimulus money that AATA has received.

And the board authorized a contract with Ann Arbor-based JC Beal – which was selected from five bidders – for $169,950 to fix doors and windows at the AATA headquarters.

The annual submission of AATA’s application for funding to the Michigan Department of Transportation was also authorized.

Other Public Commentary

Carolyn Grawi, of the Center for Independent Living, in addition to calling on the board to involve itself and others in all relevant planning processes [included elsewhere in this report], announced that she was pleased that the AATA bus would now be stopping in front of CIL on Research Park Drive.

Thomas Partridge began his remarks at the end of the meeting by saying that he had not majored in engineering or transportation at Michigan State University – a remark that prompted Paul Ajegba to quip, “We’ll forgive you for that!” Partridge continued by saying that he’d attended a conference that was also attended by Ford Motor Co. and Boeing, which are companies planning advanced transportation systems – in other countries like South Africa and India. Why not in the U.S., Partridge wondered.

Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Jesse Bernstein, Paul Ajegba, Rich Robben

Absent: Ted Annis, Sue McCormick

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]

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