AATA Board Gets City Council Feedback

RideTrak back on line

AATA Board (Jan. 21, 2009): Board chair David Nacht began the meeting by saying, “It’s great to be here in a supportive environment,” possibly an allusion to his annual AATA update given the previous evening to Ann Arbor’s city council. Nacht then spent some time briefing his board colleagues on reaction from councilmembers and setting the wheels in motion to get them some answers to their questions.

Public commentary at the start and at the end of the meeting covered a range of topics, from snow removal at bus stops, to the status of RideTrak (it’s back on line a few days earlier than scheduled), to the proposed fare increases, to accessibility issues, to the AATA’s Capital and Categorical Grant Program. This last item was the subject of one of the two resolutions considered by the board (the board approved the 2009-13 plan), the other being its annually required notification of intent to apply for financial assistance from the state. [Meeting Packet 4MB .pdf]

Nacht’s Presentation to Ann Arbor City Council

The topic of board chair David Nacht’s remarks to Ann Arbor city council the previous evening was threaded throughout the entire board meeting.

Board meetings begin with communications and announcements. Nacht reported that he’d spoken in front of Ann Arbor’s city council and that councilmembers Stephen Rapundalo and Marcia Higgins had asked some questions, made some comments, and that councilmember Carsten Hohnke had asked a question. But besides Rapundalo and Higgins, Nacht said, no one else on council had expressed an opinion with regard to AATA. To whatever extent that an Ann Arbor News article about the presentation had left the impression that council as a body had shot down a proposal or made some decision, Nacht wanted to clarify that this was not the case.

He allowed, however, that it was true that he was “grilled” by two of the council’s members – and that it was a healthy process and a good back-and-forth.

[One of the questions he'd heard as a part of the grilling concerned the unavailability of RideTrak, which provides real-time bus information online and to hand-held devices.] Nacht asked AATA staff attending the board meeting if AATA’s Internet services had fully transitioned to the city’s data center. The report from Jan Hallberg, manager of information technology, was that there was some “cleanup” yet to do, but that everything was on line, including RideTrak. [Minutes from the performance monitoring committee meeting of Jan. 14, which are on pages 51 and 52 of the board packet, indicate that RideTrak had not been scheduled to be reactivated until Jan. 26.]

The topic would return at the end of the meeting during public commentary in the form of a query from Matt Hampel, who had arrived at the meeting just after it was announced that RideTrak service had been restored.

Matt Hampel: Hampel made a brief inquiry about the status of RideTrak, saying that it was useful to him as a bus rider to know exactly when the bus was coming.

After hearing that it was back up and running, Hampel asked why it had been down for six weeks and had only now been restored. Hallberg explained that  AATA’s IT system, which she characterized as “vast,” had been transferred to the city of Ann Arbor’s data center during that time period. She declined comment beyond that, but Nacht pointed out that the interruption in AATA’s Internet service was a matter of public record.

During question time for Dawn Gabay, AATA’s interim executive director, the city council presentation made by Nacht came up again.

Nacht requested that Gabay initiate correspondence with councilmembers Higgins and Rapundalo to address the questions they’d raised. In connection with this, board member Charles Griffith asked if there was some kind of analysis that had been done about the assumed effect on ridership of higher fares. Board member Ted Annis said that work had been done and the calculations had been made. Gabay said the work had been done some time ago, and Griffith indicated he was keen to see it. It was agreed that the data needed to be sent along to councilmember Higgins, who’d raised the question.

Nacht also asked about the situation that Higgins had referenced at the council meeting of a trip from the north side of Ann Arbor to the south side taking 1 hour and 15 minutes. Nacht said that it was his understanding that if one timed the routes correctly, depending on how “north side” was defined, it was possible to make the trip to Briarwood Mall in considerably less time than that. He asked that Higgins be provided with options available in the schedule.

Nacht reported that Rapundalo had expressed clearly his concern about raising fares, but said that he was not sure what the specific nature of Rapundalo’s concerns were about level of service. Nacht suggested that staff might watch the replay on CTN and that any specific questions they could identify needed to be given a response to Rapundalo.

The question of travel times discussed at city council’s meeting arose again during public commentary from Jim Mogensen at the end of the board meeting.

Jim Mogensen: Mogensen characterized the nearly two-hour bus trip described at city council’s meeting [by councilmember Carsten Hohnke] from Jackson Road to Lakewood Mall as theoretically possible but unlikely. However, he described a situation where he needed to attend a meeting at Catholic Social Services, and calculated that if he’d taken the bus, he would have had to leave two hours early, in order to make sure that he got to the meeting on time. Mogensen concluded that there are situations where trip time is a problem, even in the urban area.

Mogensen’s second concern related to the proposed fare increases. He drew an analogy to the health care system, whereby if you have insurance, there’s a negotiated lower price that the insurance company pays, but if you don’t have insurance, you have to pay the full value of what the hospital says it costs – and you get a bill, and you get it fast. With the AATA, Mogensen said, we have a lot of people in the system who have the fare paid for them, but people who have to pay cash, have to pay more. He said that’s why he’d brought up at the last board meeting the importance of having as much access as possible, and to make it as easy as possible to get discounted fare packages.


The two resolutions on the night’s agenda, which were passed unanimously without discussion, were (i) the adoption of the Capital and Categorical Grant Program, and (ii) the application for state funding eligibility to the Michigan Department of Transportation. The text of the resolutions is on the PDF pages 71 and 72, respectively, of the [Meeting Packet 4MB .pdf]. The grant program that was adopted runs from pages 38 to 49.

Accessibility and the AATA

In public commentary at the beginning of the meeting, Tom Partridge addressed the grant program on the agenda.

Tom Partridge: Partridge began by stating that the board needed to provide reasonable accommodations to seniors and people with disabilities by providing a desk or flat table top, as well as more open space for wheelchair access, so that people might more properly address the board. He also asked that a timing light be provided, but that timing and topic requirements be waived for seniors and people with physical challenges. On the subject of the agenda items, Partridge said that there should be a resolution on the agenda that would reorganize the AATA to emphasize a system around the most vulnerable in our community. As far as the Capital and Categorical Grant Program, which was on the agenda, Partridge said he’d seen no evidence of the AATA board’s recognition of the needs of the most vulnerable segments of the population. He asked that the board pass a resolution asking staff to bring forward by the Feb. 1 deadline (for the CCGP application) plans and proposals for substantial grant programs to ensure improved service for disabled bus riders and senior citizen bus riders.

Following Partridge’s remarks, Ted Annis provided some information that responded in part to Partridge’s comments. He said that the AATA spent about $5 million per year for on-demand services: A-Ride, senior taxi, senior ride, and ride-share. These programs, said Annis, served people with disabilities who were unable to use fixed-route services. Annis pointed out that he himself was eligible for the senior taxi service. And he concluded by saying he wanted to remind people of what a great job the AATA did for older people and for people with disabilities.

Accessibility of services was also a theme of Carolyn Grawi’s remarks during public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting.

Carolyn Grawi: Grawi distributed copies of Access magazine, which is the annual publication for the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living. She pointed out that the AATA is an advertiser in the magazine.

She reported that an increased number of people were coming to the center trying to learn how to use the transit system. She said that the center did not have anyone currently who was dedicated to training people in how to use the system. She said she’d signed up three people for the A-Ride program, and was concerned that people were getting signed up but weren’t getting any information on how to use the system. She said that of course the CIL tried to provide the information, but that she’d also heard through contacts with the A-Ride program that they get a lot of questions about how and when the system can be used. People often have questions when it’s after hours, she said, and new users sometimes don’t know what questions to ask. In that light, she asked for the re-institution of a training program so that general ridership programs as well as SelectRide and A-Ride could be used more effectively.

Another challenge she identified was the definition of “will call” rides, in particular in connection with attendance of community meetings, which have unpredictable ending times. Another requirement, that there be an hour between each reserved ride, made for a long planned day, if someone needed to go to a doctor appointment, then pick up a prescription, and drop by the grocery store on their way home.

Nacht suggested to Gabay that the services of a social work or public policy intern could perhaps help with some of the training issues.

Also related to accessibility were the remarks from getDowntown director Nancy Shore, focusing specifically on snowbanks as a barrier to boarding the buses.

Nancy Shore: Shore noted that the snow banks were making it difficult for bus passengers to get on and off buses, and that in cases where the bus stops were supposed to be maintained by property owners, that was clearly not happening. She wondered if there was a service standard that was relevant to the issue. She identified it as an issue for seniors as well as for anybody who isn’t able to climb over the snow. Shore said that she hadn’t seen any indication that something was being done about it, and she wanted to bring it to the board’s attention again. She gave a specific example of the stop near Liberty Lofts by the railroad tracks.

Gabay said that where there are snow banks that passengers can’t get through, the policy was to stop at the nearest clear driveway.

Board member Jesse Bernstein asked about the stops where property owners were supposed to clear stops, but were not doing it. Gabay said they did follow up on those situations by contacting the property owners and rectifying it. Nacht suggested putting the “nearest driveway” policy on the AATA website.

Accessibility was also a theme of Tom Partridge’s remarks during public commentary at the conclusion of the board meeting, in terms of the lack of meeting broadcasts on CTN.

Tom Partridge: Partridge noted that the board met right across the street from the CTN studios, but that the public had no access to the meetings through recording and broadcast on CTN. He also said that locally there were no impressive forums with prominent figures like Nobel Prize winner Al Gore. He suggested that the AATA board support an invitation to Barack Obama to come to Ann Arbor to discuss his plans for taking the country out of a serious depression that affected the most vulnerable residents. He asked that the board not approve the proposed fare increases. He said that participants in the senior group ride program and the disabled participants of the  A-Ride program should not be paying a penny in fares.

The Board Packet

The [Meeting Packet 4MB .pdf] is fairly dense with facts and data. As a scanned PDF file it has no text that’s machine searchable. What follows is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to pique readers’ interest enough to dive into it in a directed way that might yield some insights or at least factoids from the material left as comments.

The planning and development committee meeting minutes from Dec. 2, 9, 16  are included on pages 9-18. PDC meeting minutes of  Jan. 6, 13  are on pages 26-35. Ted Annis, who chairs the planning and development committee, highlighted the following topics as issues they’d worked on:

  • WALLY  (north-south commuter rail)
  • Ann Arbor Transportation Plan Update
  • Blake Transit Center Improvements (list of needed repairs on page 50)
  • Contingency plans in the event of declining revenues
  • Capital and Categorical Grant Program (pages 38-49)
  • Exploration of making AATA a countywide entity (an Act 196 organization)

Other highlights from the packet include current and proposed fare structure, pages 20-23 [in a .txt file here: proposed fare increases]. Previously reported in The Chronicle are the public hearings scheduled on the matter: Ann Arbor District Library, Multipurpose Room, 343 S. Fifth, Ann Arbor: Tues, Feb. 10, 1-3 p.m. and Tuesday Feb. 17, 6-8 p.m. In Ypsilanti, hearings will be held at City of Ypsilanti Council Chambers, One S. Huron St., Ypsilanti: Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009; 4-7 p.m. and Thurs. , Feb. 26 1-3 p.m. [confirm dates]

The service standard report starting on page 60 includes a raft of metrics used to evaluate service (including complaints and compliments, only the former having a subset of “valid” items). On-time service is one of the metrics, but due to an upgrade in the software last fall, it currently is not being reported. The software was configured to report only trips more than 9 minutes behind schedule as “late,” whereas the actual standard for “lateness” is 5 minutes:

The percent of trips on time is not yet available. The recent upgrade to a new version of the Advanced Operating System resulted in a change that provides inaccurate summary information. The raw data is accurate and staff is working to correct the problem.

Thus, for bus data geeks who have the technical skills to collect and archive the real-time on-time data from RideTrak, there’s currently an analytical gap that could be filled, with the added benefit that the data could be analyzed at one’s leisure for various lateness standards, not just 5 or 9 minutes.


Ypsi Invite: Nacht also announced that he’d received an email from Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber, inviting him to speak to Ypsilanti city council about the AATA.

Stimulus Package: Bernstein asked Gabay to talk about any work the AATA might be doing as far as proposing items for the economic stimulus package that might be coming down the pike. Gabay said they were working with the Michgian Public Transit Association to get a coordinated mix among public transit agencies in the state of Michigan. In the next 8-10 days, Gabay said they expected to get more information from the state about what the process will be with respect to dollar amounts and timing.

Present: Ted Annis, Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, David Nacht, Paul Ajegba

Absent: Sue McCormick, Rich Robben

Next meeting: Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave. [confirm date]

One Comment

  1. January 28, 2009 at 9:43 pm | permalink

    I’m glad that RideTrack is back.

    I’d like to have Google Transit trip planning back; the old schedule sent to Google expired, and their new schedule is not online yet.


    this link