AATA Board (Dec. 17, 2008) Although the Ann Arbor Transportation Area board last month transitioned to a meeting format in which “there will not be discussion surrounding committee reports,” board member Ted Annis still gave the public what he calls the “headline news” from the planning and development committee, which he chairs. That included study of possible base fare increases over the next two years, first from $1 to $1.25 and then from $1.25 to $1.50. The possibility of completely eliminating fares for people with disabilities and for those over 65 years old is also being considered. Any changes will be preceded by public hearings with a board decision expected in April 2009.
In other board business, a bylaws change was passed to allow for public comment at the beginning of board meetings on any of the board’s agenda items. Board chair David Nacht described it as “an opportunity to make a pitch in advance of our actions,” and said that he thought it was “a really good idea.” A time limit of two minutes per individual will apply to the commentary at the beginning of the meetings. A time for public comment on any topic will still be available at the end of meetings.
Meeting Agenda (not including resolutions)
Communications: In his communications to the board, chair David Nacht acknowledged that AATA’s web service provider, IAS, had experienced some issues, but he was pleased with the response of staff, which was working in coordination with the city to get everything back up and running as soon as possible. He assured the public that the board was aware of what was going on and said that he was comfortable that AATA staff was making all appropriate steps. [It's not yet clear to The Chronicle whether AATA has retained the services of IAS as its provider, but based on comments left on The Chronicle by someone with IAS, this seems to be the case – AATA website services are back up and running except for real-time RideTrak information.]
Nacht also noted that he’d had a “fantastic session” over lunch with the executive board of the AATA local advisory committee. He said that it was something he wanted to do on a regular basis.
He said that he’d had a chat with the headhunter for the new executive director (since Greg Cook’s resignation in early 2007, AATA has been led by interim executive director Dawn Gabay) and was excited that this process was underway. He also previewed the resolution on the change in the bylaws to allow for public commentary on agenda items before they are discussed by the board. He characterized it as consistent with their efforts to keep themselves streamlined, but to keep themselves responsive to the public.
Approval of previous minutes: Board member Jesse Bernstein noted that because he had been absent, he could not have moved for adjournment as the minutes indicated, saying that, “I’m good, but not that good.” The minutes were revised to reflect that Rich Robben had made the motion.
In discussing the minutes, Ted Annis noted that he’d also been absent, and thus had read the minutes, though he’d be abstaining on voting to approve them. He noted that the minutes, under the heading, “Planning and Development Committee Report,” indicated “There was no report.” Annis chairs that committee. He noted that the PDC had been very active, having met three times since the last board meeting. Each of these meetings, Annis said, generates minutes, and historically these minutes had always been in the committee report. Based on his understanding, Annis said, those minutes would be made available on the AATA website, but he stressed that those minutes needed to become a part of the public record. He asked if something needed to be done to incorporate them in the board minutes by record. Nacht said that the point was well-taken, because the board minutes leave the impression that there’s nothing going on, when in fact there was a lot of work taking place.
Board and Staff Reports: Noting that the new board format would not include going through the various reports from committees and staff verbally, Nacht was prepared to move to question time for the executive director. Board member Charles Griffith, however, noted that it would be useful for committees to “point out what we should be looking at” in the reports, or at least note whether the committee had met or not. Annis indicated that he’d planned to say that his committee had met – a light-hearted quip that earned some laughs. Nacht then quickly polled the committee to establish that they’d all met, and made a gambit to move the board along to the new business, “unless we have something we need to talk about.”
Annis said that he needed to give the board “a little headline news.” “Fire away!” replied Nacht. Annis said that the planning and development committee had met three times since the last board meeting, and that one focus had been fare adjustments. The committee’s Dec. 9 meeting summary, as well as Annis’ verbal description, indicates a proposed base fare structure starting May 2009 of $1.25 per ride, moving to $1.50 per ride in May 2010. In response to a query from Nacht, Annis said that they’d given staff the go-ahead to begin conducting public hearings, with the matter to come before the board roughly around April. Nacht said that it was important to weigh the matter carefully before undertaking an action that will have “an impact on human beings.”
There are various accommodations for discounts and reductions in the fare proposal, which include the possibility of a zero fare for those with disabilities and for seniors. Annis said the committee had also asked staff to look at contingency plans in the event of 10%, 20%, or a 40% reduction in revenues. In light of the situation with GM and Ford, Annis said the committee felt that preparing contingencies was simply a wise move to make.
On the subject of WALLY, the proposed north/south commuter rail, Annis said they’d spent some, but not too much time taking a look at Act 196 (under which AATA might be able to reorganize itself as an authority to include regional rail). He also said that they’d spent time looking at the Ann Arbor Transportation Plan Update (AATPU), which had been presented to the whole board at a previous meeting. [Eli Cooper, transportation program manager with the city of Ann Arbor, who had given that presentation, was in the audience as Annis gave his summary.] He advised that the city of Ann Arbor was looking at AATA spending around $11 million over the next five years in support of that plan. Annis had praise for the AATA staff in preparing the analysis underpinning the fare adjustments, saying that “it was so good that I included it in the minutes.”
Annis elicited from his colleague on the planning and development committee, Rich Robben, a status report on the north-south connector study, for which AATA had authorized an increase in its share of the funding to $160,000. Robben advised the board that the DDA had declined to increase its own contribution, choosing instead to turn the matter back to UM, one of the partners in the study (along with the DDA, and the city of Ann Arbor) to explore the possibility that UM would take on a greater share of the study’s funding.
Jesse Bernstein asked for feedback on service productivity standards with a chart and definitions that staff had prepared, and said that he felt it represented a clear and effective way to look at it. Bernstein said the material would be available on the website.
Old Business (WALLY, Roundabouts): Nacht inquired of interim executive Dawn Gabay whether AATA was in the process of recruiting someone to handle the WALLY project (a proposed north-south commuter rail service). Gabay said that they were coordinating with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and that they were heading towards a staffing solution that would involve a contracted employee as opposed to a new staff person. Further, she said, they would likely issue an RFP for public relations.
Jesse Bernstein inquired what the implications might be of MDOT’s intention to install a double roundabout at Geddes and US-23 and whether it would work for buses. Chris White, AATA manager of service development, said that the area currently posed a problem due to traffic backups and that as long as buses can get through the roundabouts, it would be a benefit.
Public Speaking: The board unanimously approved the new bylaw. It provides at the beginning of board meetings for two minutes of public speaking time per person on items the board is considering on its agenda.
Authorization to Execute a Contract for Insurance Brokerage Services: Four responses were received from an RFP sent to 17 firms. Based on the scoring criteria applied by the evaluation committee, the contract, which provides for around $4,000 per month in insurance brokering services, was awarded to Marsh USA, Inc. Satisfied that the vendor had been vetted sufficiently by committee, the board unanimously approved the resolution.
Contract for Design of Park and Ride at Plymouth and US-23: A contract for design work was awarded to OHM in the amount of $125,400. Although the Federal Highway Administration still needs some additional information, at a Nov. 24 meeting of Nacht, FHWA and MDOT (on whose property the park and ride lot will be built), it was indicated the project would be approved by FHWA, thus the need to begin design work. OHM performed traffic studies in connection with the project. Nacht said he was also familiar with their work from his service as Scio Township trustee. The resolution passed unanimously.
Tom Partridge: Partridge began by criticizing the time restriction of two minutes for public speaking at the beginning of board meetings as too short. He said that the board should encourage public commentary without restrictions and should take an attitude towards the public that indicated they wanted to have as much communication as possible, calling it the fundamental principle on which our Constitution was founded. He described the meeting format as “not public-friendly,” indicating that not everyone had access to the AATA website to get the minutes from committee reports – an allusion to the new meeting format in which committee reports are to be received in written form and eventually posted on the website, but not discussed at board meetings. Partridge also called for the taping of the board meetings for broadcast on the Internet or on CTN, and suggested that venues for the meetings be chosen that can accommodate a large in-person audience. Partridge said that it was incumbent on a “Harvard-educated chair of the board” to bring all this about – Nacht earned a degree from Harvard.
Partridge concluded by noting that the ballot in the recent November elections contained a millage to address revenue for parks, but nothing for transportation. It is to the detriment of the county that there is still not an adequate bus network in Washtenaw County, he said. Referring to the proposed north-south commuter rail project that goes by the acronym WALLY, Partridge asked the board to turn their attention away from “Mister WALLY,” saying that it was a project for the future, but what was needed now is better bus transportation.
From Nacht, Partridge’s turn at public comment earned a thank-you and the characterization, “Coherent and spirited!”
Jim Mogensen: Mogensen took up the topic of discounted and free fares that had been a part of the Annis’ summary of the planning and development committee’s report on fare increases. He drew an analogy to food stamps, drawing on a meeting he’d attended of Food Gatherers at the United Way. There the question had been, “Why don’t people who qualify for food stamps go ahead and get them?” Among the reasons, Mogensen said, is the fact that qualifiers need to go someplace to get them, as well as the fact that as their income situation changes slightly, there’s a need to constantly update and inform the various bureaucratic bodies. In light of that, he said, the AATA board should be mindful of the need to reach out to those who qualified for discounted or free fares and to go to where they are to provide them with their discount cards. This, as opposed to asking people to come out to the AATA administration building, for example.
Carolyn Grawi: Grawi called the board’s attention to the last day of the state legislature’s session the following day (Dec. 18), which represented an opportunity for $150 million in transportation funding, and urged people to call Sen. Liz Brater to express their support. She also thanked the board for the change in bylaws allowing for public commentary to precede agenda items [Editor's note: Grawi had asked for the change at the first AATA board meeting that The Chronicle covered.] Grawi also suggested that minutes from the committee meetings be posted to the website as soon as they were available, even if they were in draft form. She said that she was encouraged that the board was thinking about the impact that fare increases would have on the people who use the bus, and said that if they are successful in putting through fare reductions for A-Ride, the people who use the A-Ride (physical disability and seniors) would be thrilled.
Present: Ted Annis, Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, David Nacht, Paul Ajegba, Rich Robben
Absent: Sue McCormick
Next meeting: Wednesday, Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave.