AATA: What’s Our Vision?

Mission statement accomplished, director candidates down to five

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Feb. 18, 2009 ): At its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, the AATA board postponed a vote on its vision statement until its March meeting, when the board as a whole will thrash through the statement. A bit of news relevant to the board’s vision of the future was the announcement that the number of candidates for the executive directorship has been winnowed down to five. That position has been open since Greg Cook’s resignation in early 2007. Speaking briefly to the board at the meeting on the topic of its search for an executive director and the issue of countywide service was the mayor of Ypsilanti, Paul Schreiber.

Mission, Vision, Values

The relatively unassuming item in the agenda of “Consideration of Resolution Adopting Mission, Vision and Values Statements” led to some of the richest back-and-forth among board members since The Chronicle began covering AATA board meetings in the fall of 2008.

For readability, we divide the board’s deliberations on the single resolution on the three statements (mission, vision, values) by individual statement. Why? When there appeared to be difficulty reaching a consensus on wording for the mission and values statements, the idea of tabling the resolution adopting the three statements was briefly contemplated. But Sue McCormick weighed in for splitting the resolution so that the board might adopt at least one or two of the statements, if not all three. Much of the content of the deliberations reported below on the separate statements was chronologically intertwined, and came before the decision to split the resolution into three parts.

Intermediate outcome: The resolution to adopt the mission, vision, and values statements was split into a separate resolution on each statement.

On the Word “Options” and “Cost-Effective” in the Mission Statement: The board’s discussion of the resolution to adopt mission, vision and values statements began on a wording issue to which Jim Mogensen had drawn attention during public time at the start of the meeting.

Jim Mogensen: Mogensen noted that mission statements are always fun to create and oftentimes when they’re revised, the text just gets reused and edited as opposed to recreating them from scratch. He said he’d noticed that “cost effective” had replaced the word “affordable” in an earlier version of the AATA mission statement. Mogensen said that even though you could think of them as synonymous, they’re really quite different things: Cost-effective has to do with how much things cost, whereas “affordable” has to do with whether people are able to pay for those things. So, “attractive transportation services at competitive prices” – a quote from the proposed vision statement – might not actually be “affordable,” said Mogensen.

Mission Statement (adopted)

It is the mission of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to provide useful, reliable, safe, environmentally-responsible, and cost-effective public transportation options for the benefit of the greater Ann Arbor community.

Responding to Jim Mogensen’s comments during the public time, board member Ted Annis said that the previous version of the mission statement  didn’t say “cost effective” but rather “cost optimized.” Annis said that it was meant to be a statement  about operating  buses at the least possible cost. Board member Charles Griffith also tied the discussion back to Mogensen’s comments, saying that the benefit of operating the buses at the least possible cost is supposed to be affordability.

When giving his summary of planning and development committee activities earlier in the meeting, Ted Annis had mentioned that he’d be offering a  friendly correction when discussion of the mission statement took place:  the elimination of the word “options”  in the phrase “public transportation options.” When the discussion unfolded, Annis said the AATA doesn’t provide the options, it provides the transportation. A potential rider has options, like a car, a bike or a bus, said Annis, but the AATA doesn’t provide the options of a car or a bike – it provides the bus.

Sue McCormick’s take on the word “options” was that it was somewhat ambiguous, but that when she read it, she took it to allude to the idea that the AATA aspired to be more than just a bus company.

Paul Ajegba, who served on the ad hoc committee charged with formulating the various statements, urged some reflection on why the word “options” was there in the first place, instead of simply striking it. Charles Griffith said that the rationale for “options” had to do with the fact that the AATA acted in some cases as a conduit for pass-through funds, as opposed to providing the transportation directly. Griffith pointed to the contrast made in the vision statement – which the board was also considering – between providing transportation directly and indirectly: “… AATA will be the primary provider or facilitator of public transportation.”

A motion to strike the word “options” found support only from Annis and McCormick, and thus failed.

Outcome: The resolution adopting the mission statement passed, with dissent from Annis.

Vision Statement: Small, Medium, or Large: It was Charles Griffith who first  opened the question of what the vision statement was supposed to accomplish. He assessed the draft this way: “As a vision statement, it’s not very visionary. It says what we do, but not where we are going.” He said that the vision statement should ideally outline a strategy for moving forward as opposed to saying what we’re doing now.

The planning and development committee had vetted the various statements being considered by the board. Its chair, Ted Annis, made two brief points. First, the language for the various statements came from the ad hoc committee and for that reason, the planning and development committee had taken a fairly hands-off approach to redacting any language. Second, said Annis, from his perspective he would just get rid of the vision statement.

McCormick was quick to reply that the AATA needed a vision statement, but that it needed to be clear and concise, as opposed to the somewhat lengthy draft the board was considering. McCormick outlined what the point of a mission and vision statements were: The mission statement should say why the AATA was created; the vision statement should say what the AATA wants to do. The vision statement is about direction, while the mission is about identity, she said.

Rich Robben disagreed with McCormick’s assessment that the vision statement needed to be short and concise and that in his experience vision statements could be quite lengthy.

For his part, board chair David Nacht declared, “These exercises are generally stupid. In our case, however, we’re actually grappling with what our vision is.” He concluded by emphasizing that it was an extremely important process  for the AATA. Robben supported Nacht’s assessment by saying that if what the AATA wanted was to change its culture, it was  important to have a vision statement and actually to reference it in day-to-day operations.

McCormick suggested  postponement. Griffith supported the idea, saying he was somewhat caught by surprise and he felt it required a bit of time to further digest.

Annis wanted clarification about whether the planning and development committee would be charged with the task of making revisions, and indicated that he was willing to shorten up the text. [The AATA board has moved increasingly to a committee-based work structure over the last few months.]

Nacht floated the idea that “figuring out who we are and where we want to go is perhaps one thing that we could do as a committee of the whole, as all seven of us together – we never do anything together anymore.”

Outcome: The vote on the vision statement was postponed to the next board meeting, where the wording would be discussed.

Jesse Bernstein emphasized that it was important in advance of the next board meeting to determine what kind of statement they would be trying to craft: a long, medium or short kind of statement. In contemplating how to collaborate in advance of the meeting, Nacht said that HyperOffice software employed by the AATA  probably wouldn’t be suitable as a mechanism to conduct discussion, because the public would not have access. He suggested e-mailing and CC-ing messages to Dawn Gabay so that they could be easily provided in response to a FOIA request.

Vision statement (postponed to March meeting)

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) will be the primary provider or facilitator of public transportation for those without access to a private vehicle within the greater Ann Arbor community. It will be a viable, valuable and frequently-used transportation option for those able to choose between private automobiles and other transportation modes. AATA will be responsive to its customer needs.

AATA will increase ridership by offering attractive transportation services at competitive prices using the highest professional standards, collaborative efforts, public relations and customer interactions to remain responsive to the transportation needs of the community and encourage the use of alternative transportation options.

AATA will be an excellent steward of public funds and resources and will foster collaborative transportation partnerships with public and private entities for the benefit of its customers and the community.

AATA will provide frequent, customer friendly, reliable, safe, and convenient transportation services that are environmentally conscious and contribute to the reduction of climate changing emissions and vehicle miles traveled.

AATA will contribute to the enhancement of the quality of life and the economy of the greater Ann Arbor community while improving air quality, decreasing traffic congestion, and reducing dependence on foreign energy sources.

AATA will support a variety of size and type of land development and redevelopment within transit service areas to foster walking, bicycling, carpooling, and vanpooling, thereby enabling the residents, workers and visitors to the Ann Arbor community to be closer to transit facilities and services.

AATA will actively pursue opportunities for joint development that can benefit the community as well as its ridership and system goals.

AATA will respect and value its stakeholders, customers and employees and will recognize and celebrate the great diversity within the Ann Arbor community. It will encourage its employees to do their best work and will provide the tools, training, and environment to enable them to excel.

Values Statement: Nacht read forth the values statement.

Outcome: The values statement was unanimously approved with no significant discussion.

Values Statement (adopted)

The core priorities guiding the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s conduct toward its customers, stakeholders, employees and the entire greater Ann Arbor community are embodied in the following values:

SAFETY from harm, injury, or loss.

RELIABILITY based on consistent performance over time.

CUSTOMER SERVICE AND SATISFACTION due to providing the highest level of service.

RESPECT resulting from attentiveness, consideration, and courtesy.

INCLUSIVENESS without discrimination.

COOPERATION toward the common good.

RESPONSIBILITY by being accountable for both actions and conduct.

INNOVATION aimed at improving efficiency and effectiveness.

FLEXIBILITY to adapt to new, different, or changing conditions.

INTEGRITY from incorporating principles of right and wrong into principles of moral behavior.

ENVIRONMENTALISM centered on a concern for the conservation and improvement of the environment.

Executive Director Search

The AATA has had an unfilled executive director position since the resignation of Greg Cook in early 2007. At the beginning of the meeting Nacht announced that he’d received a letter, whose lead author was Nancy Shore (former AATA board member and current director of the getDowntown program), about the executive director search. The letter, said Nacht, contained thoughts about the executive director search – things that the board should be thinking about in connection with it.

Asked to provide the letter to The Chronicle, Shore sent it along, and we include a link to a text file with its contents. Signatories to it besides Shore were Richard Sheridan (Menlo Innovations), Jeff Irwin (Washenaw County Board of Commissioners), Conan Smith (Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners), Chuck Warpehoski (Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice), and Joan Lowenstein (Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss, P.C. and Downtown Development Authority board member).

The first point made by the letter is one that the board grappled with Wednesday evening: the importance of a vision.

The search committee, reported Nacht, had identified five finalists, but noted it would be inappropriate to comment further, because none of the finalists had been notified yet. There were 62 candidates in all, which were narrowed to 20 by the headhunter, and further winnowed down to 5 by the AATA search committee, which is chaired by Paul Ajegba.

Remarks from the Mayor of Ypsilanti: Paul Schreiber

At the meeting partly in order to speak to the board about the executive director search was Paul Schreiber, who is mayor of the city of Ypsilanti. He encouraged the board to keep working hard on the executive director search and to identify somebody who has the know-how to work constructively with the community.

He also asked the board to continue to work towards creating a countywide authority, because the purchase-of-service agreement model doesn’t allow forward-looking thinking. He characterized the current system as somewhat of a piecemeal approach.

When Schreiber concluded his remarks, board member Jesse Bernstein asked if he could depart from the usual protocol of not having a back-and-forth with public speakers, given that Schreiber is the mayor of Ypsilanti. After a quick check with the rest of the board, Nacht gave Bernstein the green light. Bernstein curious to know if Schreiber had any specific thoughts on an equitable way of financing the countywide authority. Schreiber said that he did not have a specific proposal, because he didn’t have an in-depth understanding that would really allow him to offer such an opinion. However, he did note that Ann Arbor was a leader in this area with its  transportation millage.

Schreiber also said he expected that the demand for transit was only going to increase, citing as an example the fact that the city of Ypsilanti  had received two offers for parts of the Water Street property along Michigan Avenue. He said this reflected the fact that developers are starting to give up on green field space – as opposed to already-built infrastructure. And that meant that the area would need to find ways to provide more mass transit – for people to get from Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor and from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti. As an example of the latter, Bernstein offered: “To go have have dinner at Haab’s.” To which Paul Schreiber added, “And breakfast at Beezy’s.”

Committee Updates and Communications: Crisis Contingencies and WALLY Update

Nacht solicited two-minute updates from committees. The governance committee, which he chairs, did not meet since the last full board meeting because he’d been sick.

Planning and Development Committee: Ted Annis reported that the committee had met two times since the last full board meeting. He said that they had worked on the countywide authority formation under Act 196 but there was no news yet to report. At another point in the meeting, interim executive director, Dawn Gabay, indicated that the two attorneys, Jerry Lax and Jeff Ammon, who’d been engaged as consultants on the matter would soon be providing some more concrete options.

Another main focus of the committee had been on contingency planning, said Annis. He said the idea was to develop a contingency plan that would be ready to use in the event of an adverse economic situation – which he felt we would in fact be facing. So AATA staff had been asked to develop responses in the event of 10%, 20%, and 40% revenue losses. And he said there would be a report forthcoming divided essentially into three parts: (i) revenues, (ii) services that would be cut, and (iii) the internal cost cuts that would be undertaken. Annis said the idea was to figure out how to get the cost per service hour down from its current level of $103 per hour to the $77 per hour that Grand Rapids runs its system on.

Performance Monitoring & External Relations Committee: Sue McCormick reported that the committee had met the previous Friday. She said they had focused on performance criteria and taking an exceptions-based approach to them. That is, they had set up a system to review the performance data that would call their specific attention to items that fell outside of expected ranges. She said that the same exceptions-based approach was being applied to the financial piece of performance.

Federal Transit Administration: AATA’s interim executive director, Dawn Gabay, reported that the tri-annual review by the FTA would be happening on May 26-27. At the time of the AATA’s last review there had been no findings, she said.

North-South and East-West Commuter Rail: Nacht asked for an update on the north-south WALLY commuter rail project. Gabay said Tom Cornillie (AATA staff) was working out the scope of work for services. The planning and development committee had directed staff to look at the east-west commuter rail project, which is being headed up by SEMCOG, and that had temporarily shifted its focus from the north-south WALLY initiative.

Nacht noted that as a board they had voted to have staff “work it up” to have a policy consideration. They’re not taking a position that they’re necessarily heading down that path, no matter what, he said. Nacht reiterated later in the discussion with respect to WALLY: “We’re not backing off from that.” He said that a vote had been taken on WALLY, and they’re not trying to slow it down, they’re going to do it right. The idea behind taking a look at the east-west commuter rail project was to get an idea of what kind of resource commitments would be required for that project, so that AATA could assess better the ramifications on the WALLY project, he said.

In the context of the balance of commitments to the east-west project versus the north-south WALLY project, Bernstein emphasized that the role of the AATA in the east-west project was as a “connector” to the project, not as the entity running the project (as with WALLY). McCormick said that the east-west rail was much closer to reality than the north-south one, which was another reason it was worth putting some time into now. “About the east-west rail, we hear dates,” she said. Those dates are fall 2010 for a demonstration project, and in that light, she said, we need to know how the AATA is going to connect with that service.

Part of what had prompted the east-west rail conversation was Nacht’s introduction of the topic of AATA service to the Detroit airport. In response to a query from Nacht, Gabay said that  in 2002-03, they had approached the airport for consideration of east-west service and determined that it was at that time not feasible. Nacht asked if it had to do with a charge for entry to the airport facility. Gabay said there would be no charge for entry. What was the barrier then, wondered Nacht. Gabay said there was a possible lack of a state match, because operating east-west service to the airport might be taking business from a private operator already providing that service.

Nacht then noted that AATA routes had been altered to support a private service, and Gabay confirmed that the AATA routes had been changed to go closer to Wolverine Tower.

Nacht then declared that he would like to have active consideration of providing the Ann Arbor community with bus service to the airport. He said that he didn’t want to hear back simply, “It’s too expensive,” which prompted Ajegba to observe that this seemed contradictory to the mission statement to provide service in a cost-effective manner. Griffith said Nacht wasn’t saying the cost doesn’t matter, which Robben agreed with, saying  that it was a question of not wanting to dismiss it out of hand. Gabay said that the timing of such a service needed to be coordinated with east-west rail that might be going in.

Resolutions: Procurement Manual and Project List

Besides the item on mission, vision, and values statements, two other resolutions were on the agenda, the first concerning the adoption of a procurement manual, which came out of McCormick’s performance monitoring committee. The procurement manual was postponed after Nacht asked that it be systematically reviewed with an eye towards ensuring that potential issues of inappropriate influence and conflict were adequately addressed.

The remaining resolution concerned the adoption of a revised project list in light of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) a.k.a the “stimulus package.” It was approved unanimously by the board. Under the provisions of ARRA, the AATA expects to receive around $6 million, to be administered through the Federal Transit Administration. Of that amount, at least 50% of the funds allocated to AATA must be obligated within six months and the remainder within a year. The AATA has identified the following projects for implementation within 180 days:

  • Construction of a park-and-ride lot on Plymouth Road at U.S. 23
    Expected cost: $1.4 million
    Expected contract award: July 2009
  • Purchase of 4 hybrid-electric buses
    Expected cost: $2.1 million
    Expected contract award: March 2009 (option on existing contract)
  • Improvement of the safety and accessibility at selected bus stops
    Expected cost: $0.2 million
    Expected contract award: June 2009

Public Time: Reflections on Buses that Don’t Stop

Jim Mogensen: Mogensen’s comments on the mission statement, reported above, came at the start of the meeting when comments are supposed to focus on topics related to the agenda, which the mission statement was. At the end of the meeting there’s time for the public to weigh in on whatever topic they like.

At the end of the meeting, Mogensen reported that on Jan. 29 he took the No. 4  bus to Arborland intending to transfer to the No. 22 to get back home. But the No. 22 bus drove past without stopping. He then had to transfer back to the No. 4. But because he had ridden the No.  4 he had to pay another dollar fare – because you cannot “transfer” to  the same bus. He said that the experience had reminded him of a few policy issues: (i) In the Ride Guide there is no prominent printing of a telephone number for complaints, (ii) the signage on major routes needs to be somewhat better so the drivers can more easily spot where to stop, and (iii) the transfer policy has impacts on short trips. When Mogensen concluded his remarks, board chair David Nacht said: “I’m sorry on behalf of the organization.”

Present: Ted Annis, Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, David Nacht, Paul Ajegba, Rich Robben, Sue McCormick

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

One Comment

  1. By Steve Bean
    February 21, 2009 at 9:55 pm | permalink

    Thanks for the great coverage, Dave.

    Two years without a permanent executive director–I wonder what impact that’s had on the current consideration of raising rates, possible opportunities with U-M, and the city’s decision to go forward with its predetermined plan to build a new parking structure. (Get used to it–I’ll be dissecting that short-sighted decision from every angle at every opportunity.)

    “Annis said the idea was to figure out how to get the cost per service hour down from its current level of $103 per hour to the $77 per hour that Grand Rapids runs its system on.”

    I hope the board won’t succumb to such a narrowly specified outcome. A better “idea” would be to identify the reasons for the differences and then consider them in light of the organization’s mission and other factors that might justify continuing to operate with higher hourly service costs.

    Annis also failed to make the distinction that cars and bikes, for example, aren’t “public transportation options”, but private ones.

    And drop the vision statement? I hope this isn’t a representative example of his performance on the board.

    Jim Mogensen is a great example of an engaged citizen. He’s knowledgeable and he offers thoughtful, relevant feedback. I hope the board finds a way to elicit more thoughts from him when they don’t understand his perspective, as opposed to finding justifications for those things he critiques. Nacht very appropriately apologized for the service failure that Mogensen experienced. Maybe Dave just didn’t report it, but I hope Nacht also thanked him for the great suggestions (as I’m sure he did after Mogensen’s earlier comments.)

    “What was the barrier then, wondered Nacht.”

    I really appreciate when decision-makers ask pertinent, exploratory questions.

    With regard to the $6 million from ARRA, I think it’s an interesting coincidence that that matches the amount that was cut from the parking structure proposal. (I warned you.) ARRA funds are limited to covering capital expenditures. Operating expenses have to be covered from other sources. So if AATA can’t cover the costs of more drivers to service the new park-and-ride lots, for example, and the DDA can’t afford to contribute sufficient operating funds, the service might need to be cut even though the lots can be paid for and demand is increasing (as mayor Schreiber noted more generally.)