AATA Adopts Vision: Countywide Service

Treasurer's report suggests countywide system budget

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Nov. 18, 2009): At its Wednesday meeting, the AATA board took the first of the steps that CEO Michael Ford had recommended at their meeting on Oct. 29: adopt a vision statement and start developing a plan for a countywide system. The board will continue to address Ford’s recommendations by holding  a special meeting on Dec. 8, at 5:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters to discuss formation of an Act 196 authority.

two men standing, one seated, papers getting passed out

Michael Ford, left, had extra copies made of the treasurer's report and distributed them to audience members. (Photo by the writer.)

The board’s resolutions were complemented by a treasurer’s report from Ted Annis that laid out a possible budget within which the countywide system could be designed. Presentation of that report revealed some conceptual differences among board members in their preferred approach to engaging an outside consultant to do the countywide system design: (i) Here’s a budget, now design the system; or  (ii) Design us a system, then tell us how much it would cost.

Key to the budget that Annis proposed was the assumed elimination of Ann Arbor’s transportation millage – on Annis’ assumption, Ann Arbor residents would pay the same countywide millage as other county residents if such a millage were approved.

In other business, the board approved service changes to Route #2 in northeast Ann Arbor.

Also generating discussion was the plan to repair, refurbish or reconstruct the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor, which was described as “dilapidated.”

The board also received an explanation for the decreased ridership compared to last year, and a report on the move to different office space by the getDowntown program.

Countywide Vision for AATA

The adoption of the vision statement itself generated little board discussion – that had happened at the committee level. Board member David Nacht quipped, “I was not there for its creation … a spectacular job was done creating it.”

AATA Vision Statement: The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority shall be the public transportation provider for Washtenaw County. Our customers shall see AATA’s expanded services as the preferred option for traveling to destinations within the county, as well as to and from the county. AATA will offer appropriate modes of transportation with the most efficient use of resources. These services shall enhance the quality of life for Washtenaw County stakeholders while promoting the economy, safeguarding the environment, and strengthening communities.

Outcome: The board unanimously adopted the vision statement.

Countywide Plan for AATA: Wording of the Resolution

Discussion of the resolution to develop a countywide system focused on three issues: (i) the need to educate the public about how the system is currently funded, (ii) the use of the word “staff” versus “consultant,” and (iii) the definition of “values based public transportation systems.” [Original Draft of Countywide Resolution (Scanned and OCRed .pdf)]

Board member Jesse Bernstein, who had attended a meeting of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) earlier in the day, led off discussion of the resolution by saying that the message he’d heard from WATS was loud and clear: Communicate clearly to the public what the AATA is trying to do.

To that end, he suggested amending a “Whereas” clause to make clear where AATA’s funding comes from:

Whereas, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority is a recognized provider of public transit services within the city of Ann Arbor, supported by a citywide millage and with purchase of service agreements with local government units

That suggestion of Bernstein’s met with approval from Ted Annis and the rest of his board colleagues.

In the interest of making clear the enormous number of stakeholders and systems that the AATA would engage in developing the countywide plan, Bernstein then suggested that the resolved clauses be amended to read:

Now therefore it is resolved, staff shall take steps to develop a countywide service plan that includes other transportation initiatives, and positions AATA to identify funding and operating opportunities to coordinate and integrate values-based public transportation systems within all of Washtenaw County, including connecting as appropriate to transportation services of adjoining counties.

And it is further resolved that AATA staff shall seek advice, guidance and approval from the board prior to implementing major segments of the countywide transportation system.

Annis chafed at the use of the word “staff” because the intent of the AATA is to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant to design the system. After discussion of the issue, Bernstein suggested that the wording be changed to “staff, with appropriate outside consultation,” and Annis was amenable to that change.

Annis was also puzzled by another phrase: “What’s values-based public transportation systems?” he wanted to know. CEO Michael Ford immediately jumped, in saying, “I’m the one who put that in there!” He clarified that it was meant to reflect that the transportation system in a particular community would reflect the values of that community – there’s no one level or kind of service that would meet the expectations of all communities. Board member Sue McCormick, Ann Arbor’s public services administrator, confirmed that “values-based” was a term that the city often used in the same context. Annis was then content that it was a “term of art.”

Annis then went on to suggest that the board might want to contemplate changing the name of the agency to the Washtenaw Transportation Authority to make clear what the vision is. “Talk about communicating a message!” he said. In response to the suggestion, the board chair Paul Ajegba cautioned that this was something the consultant should first take a look at. Annis replied, “I would submit that we don’t need a consultant to decide that.” While board member David Nacht agreed that “Ted’s gut feeling is right on the money,” the board did not take up the suggestion that evening.

Outcome: The board unanimously adopted the resolution to move forward with developing a countywide system. [No dollars where authorized with the resolution.]

Funding the Countywide Plan for AATA: Treasurer’s Report

Ted Annis, who serves as the board’s treasurer, produced a report that he’d condensed to a single sheet. In response to board members’ requests, copies were made and distributed to board members who hadn’t brought their own copy and to audience members. [AATA Treasurer's Report, scanned and OCRed .pdf file]

These are the key recommendations in that report:

Treasurer’s Recommendations

  • Shift the transportation tax by eliminating the current perpetual Ann Arbor Transportation Tax of 2.06 mills and replacing it with a countywide tax of 1.0 mill. (The elimination needs to be contingent upon approval of the countywide tax.)
  • Give the outside consultant an operating budget design objective of $33,000,000/year for the countywide system and a bus operating budget guideline of $84/bus service hour.
  • Separate WALLY, the North-South rail system proposed between Washtenaw and Livingston counties, from the above planning and funding; and handle it separately.

The recommended budget objective of $33 million a year is based on the following breakdown of the funding structure. In the left column is the current funding structure, which depends on a 2.06 mill tax levied just in the city of Ann Arbor, plus purchase of service agreements (POSAs) with other communities. In the second column is the funding structure that would result from eliminating the roughly 2-mill tax currently levied in the city of Ann Arbor and replacing it with a countywide tax of 1 mill. For residents of Ann Arbor, on this scenario, their transportation tax bill would be cut in half.

                Just A2 Tax  Countywide Tax
Local Taxes     $9,700,000   $15,000,000
POSAs            1,141,000             0
Fares            4,334,000     7,000,000
State            6,754,000     6,750,000
Federal          3,170,000     4,000,000
Other              361,000       500,000
Total Revenues $25,460,000   $33,250,000


Annis then prompted some discussion by stressing that it was important to provide a budget constraint within which the consultant should work in developing a plan for a countywide system. He noted that in previous conversation with board chair Paul Ajegba, he’d been offered a different view by Ajegba, which Annis characterized as: “Let the guy design it and see what it costs.”

Board members David Nacht and Sue McCormick expressed their appreciation for the thoughtfulness that had gone into the report. Nacht said, “This a treasurer thinking like a treasurer should.” McCormick said she’d be looking for some additional detail behind certain assumptions – like the increase in revenues from fares – as the conversation moved ahead.

Board member Rich Robben, who is executive director of plant operations at the University of Michigan, drew an analogy to building a new hospital: “It’s important that the program [purpose] for a new building match the budget.” He suggested that it’s more an iterative process of agreeing on a program, then seeing what it would cost.

Ajegba emphasized that the scope of work defined for the consultant should include countywide service provided at the current level of service.

Annis identified Robben’s “iterative process” as something he could support.

Funding the Countywide Plan for AATA: Public Commentary

During public commentary at the meeting, Larry Krieg of Wake Up Washtenaw presented a perspective on funding a countywide system that had been prompted in part by a comment on an Ann Arbor Chronicle article, “AATA Plans for Countywide System,” which suggested that residents of the county did not want and could not afford AATA.

Krieg walked the board through some background data, and arrived at the conclusion that 112,980 households in Washtenaw County have more than one car. He contemplated the possibility that a countywide transportation system could allow 20% of of those households to reduce their car ownership by one car. On the assumption that elimination of one car could save a household $9,190 each year, Krieg arrived at a countywide savings totaling $207 million.

If split 75-25 between households and the public transportation system, that would yield $51 million for the transportation system, Krieg concluded. [Details of Krieg's analysis: "Can we afford a countywide transit system?"]

Service Changes: Route 2

The board also considered a resolution to change service in the northeast part of the city in order to run buses to the new park-and-ride lot being constructed at US-23 and Plymouth Road. [The facility is now waiting for DTE to hook up electricity to the site.] The proposed service change will create three routes out of two existing routes – #2 and #2X. The new routes will be called #2A, #2B, and #2C. [Route details]


Routes 2A and 2B (image links to .pdf document with maps and descriptions of 2A, 2B, and 2C

During public commentary, Jim Mogensen pointed out to the board that the Federal Transit Administration had issued a circular that described how transit authorities receiving FTA funds are supposed conduct a study of any service changes, to ensure that minority and low-income populations are not adversely affected by such service changes.

The circular cited by Mogensen is FTA C 4702.1A, which is available in MS Word document here: [FTA C 4702.1A]

Mogensen also stressed to the board that regardless of whether there was a negative impact, the requirement was for the study to be completed. He also expressed the concern that the service changes were being driven by a desire “to make the numbers work” if a countywide millage did not pass.

When the board considered the resolution changing Route 2, board member Sue McCormick asked Chris White, the AATA’s manager of service development, to speak to the issue that Mogensen had raised.

White declared: “Mogensen is correct.” He confirmed that the staff had done the required analysis and that there was only a small percentage of the protected populations in the service area that was affected, which also factored into the analysis.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the changes in service on Route 2.

Service Changes: Route 6

During public commentary, Carolyn Grawi of the Center for Independent Living reported that she was thrilled to be working with CEO Michael Ford on a tweak to Route 6, a plan which would have the bus turn into Research Park Drive off of Ellsworth as it heads from Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor. The obstacle to having the bus enter Research Park Drive from State Street on its way from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti is the need to turn left from Research Park onto Ellsworth, which is difficult without a stoplight.

For now, however, the plan starting in January 2010 is for the bus to turn into Research Park from Ellsworth on its Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor run.

Blake Transit Center

In her remarks during public commentary, Carolyn Grawi expressed some frustration that the Center for Independent Living had not been included as a stakeholder as discussions had proceeded within the AATA about the physical condition of the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor. There were accessibility issues involved, she said, that CIL would want to have input on.

The board did not consider any resolutions on the BTC, but the work done in the planning and development committee, reported out by board member Rich Robben, did generate considerable conversation at the board table.

The options generated by the engineering consultant were as follows:

Option 1 – Refurbish the existing BTC to bring it up to today’s building standards and maintain the existing square footage. The estimated cost for this option is approximately $1-$1.3million.

Option 2 – Refurbish the existing BTC to bring it up to today’s standards and add approximately 370 square feet to expand the office and drivers’ room spaces. The estimated cost for this option is approximately $1.5- $1.9 million.

Option 3 – Construct a new transit center using today’s codes on the existing footprint that would double the current square footage of the facility. The new building would be two stories and have an estimated cost of approximately $2.7-$3.7 million.

Option 4 – This option was developed at the urging of CEO Michael Ford and included the development of a completely new transit center using the combined footprint of the existing BTC and that of the old YMCA property (where the city of Ann Arbor recently constructed a surface parking lot). The estimated cost of this option is approximately $9.6-$10 million and does not include the cost of the property.

Ford reported at Wednesday’s board meeting that he’d talked to Ann Arbor city administrator Roger Fraser about the possibility of parking located next to the current BTC property.

Board member Ted Annis expressed his view that the newly proposed Fuller Road Station needed to be factored into any discussion about BTC. [For some previous Chronicle coverage on that station, which is to include over 1,000 parking spaces, see "Work Session: Trains, Trash, and Taxes"]

Board member David Nacht said that he’d raise that question during the committee meeting. Whatever happens with Fuller Road Station, Nacht said, BTC needs to continue as a significant presence in downtown Ann Arbor. Half of all morning boardings of AATA buses have downtown as a destination, Nacht said.

In response, Annis pointed out that half of the BTC traffic is transfers, and that it was possible that Fuller Road Station might take some of the transfer load off BTC. Annis also wanted to know what the possible impact of the north-south Plymouth-State Street connector might be. [A study of the corridor – paid for by AATA, the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and the University of Michigan – is currently underway.]

In the course of discussion it emerged that the federal grant money that would fund the project needed to be committed soon, on pain of losing the funding. It was important to actually use the federal grant so as not to weaken future grant applications – if grants awarded by the federal government are not used, the feds might prefer in the future to award the money to some municipality where it might have an actual impact.

Into the mix, board member Jesse Bernstein threw the question: “How will we make this decision?” The exact answer did not seem to emerge, but there was no argument about the fact that it would need approval by the full board, not just the planning and development committee.


Board member David Nacht took a close look at ridership numbers in the performance monitoring committee’s report and wondered about the clear decline in ridership: Was it due to the fare increase that the board had passed earlier in the year?  Nacht observed that the AATA had raised fairs “a lot,” but board chair Paul Ajegba objected to that characterization.

What had drawn Nacht’s attention were year-to-date numbers for the current fiscal year, which begins in October at the AATA. Ridership is down, while revenues are up.

          October 2008    October 2009
Rides      650,238         566,262
Revenue   $377,918        $395,432


Chris White, the AATA manager of service development, pointed out that there was one fewer weekday in 2009 than in the 2008 period being compared. Further, he said, the number of rides by seniors and those with disabilities had increased on the fixed route system – fares for that category of riders were decreased. [On a related note, in her report from the Local Advisory Council, Rebecca Burke had suggested that the language of the council's charge needs to be overhauled to replace "elderly" with "seniors" and "handicapped" with "people with disabilities." It was a change board member Ted Annis said he welcomed, because he preferred not to be called "elderly."]

The theory that the fare increase had caused a decrease in ridership, White said, was not supported by the fact that among riders who did not pay their own fares (e.g., UM affiliates) ridership was also down.

CEO Michael Ford said that declining ridership was a nationwide trend.

Nacht then inquired about the new Canton-to-Ann Arbor express bus service. Ford allowed that there’d been some challenges. “As bad as Chelsea?” asked Nacht. It was about the same, replied Ford. White allowed that “it’s really disappointing.”

getDowntown Moves

Out of the performance monitoring and external relations committee came the report that the getDowntown program would be moving out of its current offices within the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce to a location on East Washington Street. The move will take place in the next two weeks. The chamber is attempting to sublease its current space to another tenant, and does not intend to continue its current arrangement to provide space to getDowntown.

The getDowntown program has been a four-way partnership between the chamber, the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor DDA, and the AATA. Going forward in the short term while the remaining partners develop a longer-term plan, the AATA will temporarily take over getDowntown’s payroll functions, and the DDA will pay the rent on the new office space.

CEO’s Report: Special Meeting

CEO Michael Ford made a special point of thanking AATA staff, who he said had been “running fairly hard” in the last few months.

He reported some progress in discussions with McKinley properties at Glencoe Crossing on the possibility of allowing buses to turn in there as a way to help solve the situation at Arborland. [In the summer of 2009, Arborland's owner did not choose to continue the arrangement that allowed the AATA to use a bus stop inside the parking lot at Arborland.]

He reported some discussions, which would continue, with the city manager of Ypsilanti to improve security at the Ypsilanti Transit Center.

For the special board meeting on Dec. 8, Ford  noted that he’d invited some CEOs from other transit authorities in the state that had formed under the Act 196 legislation. The AATA is contemplating using that enabling legislation in the formation of its own countywide authority.

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

Special meeting: Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009 at 5:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]


  1. November 19, 2009 at 9:06 pm | permalink

    There was one fewer weekday in October 2009 than in October 2008, not the other way around.

    650,238/23 * 22 = 621,966. Still 55k, (2532/day) higher than 2009. What portion is due to job losses? And the remainder? Was there a drop in September? The fare increase theory is also not negated by the drop in fare-supported ridership. This issue seems worthy of more attention than it appears its being given by the board.

    How old is BTC?

  2. November 19, 2009 at 9:13 pm | permalink

    Oops. My math isn’t right since there are more days in the month than workdays. Can’t really get a good per-day number.

  3. By Jeff Irwin
    November 19, 2009 at 10:26 pm | permalink

    I’m so happy that AATA is moving forward on developing a detailed vision for countywide service. Ann Arbor, the City of Ypsilanti and the surrounding townships are part of one economic region. Connecting all of those people and places will be a great benefit to citizens, employers, our educational institutions and our economy generally.

    To put it mildly, this could be the beginning of something very positive for Washtenaw County. A community conversation is desperately needed and AATA is definitely the right leader for that conversation. I’m just disappointed that I couldn’t be there to cheer them on (instead I was at the County Board Working Session cheering on our energy efficiency and conservation efforts).

    My one concern, especially as an Ann Arbor taxpayer, is the notion of cutting my service in half (we currently pay 2.06 mills and a reduction to 1 mill would be a huge service cut). The #4 is currently packed and we could probably benefit from some express routes along Washtenaw at peak hours. I hope that AATA will consider multiple scenarios for funding that include at least continuing current service levels if not increasing them.

  4. By John Floyd
    November 20, 2009 at 1:22 am | permalink

    Hard to see how the switch to a county-wide system, plus a 50% reduction in taxes from Ann Arbor, could avoid Ann Arbor service cuts.

  5. By Leslie Morris
    November 20, 2009 at 9:51 am | permalink

    I agree with Jeff Irwin and John Floyd that a cut of 50% in the Ann Arbor City transit millage would almost certainly result in service cutbacks in Ann Arbor, when as a transit user I would like to see improved service, particularly on weekends and evenings.

    On the issue of falling ridership, I noticed a sharp falloff in ridership on route 22 after the loss of the convenient Arborland bus stop last July. At least four times I have been the only rider on the bus. Most trips (midday)there are now only a handfull of riders on this route. It appears that most of the midday riders from northeast Ann Arbor who used this bus to shop at Arborland have chosen to shop elsewhere, or else to drive there. I fear much of the midday service on this route will disappear, because of the move to the very unsatisfactory stop across the street, which has no shelter, no bench, and requires three different street crossings to get to Arborland.

  6. November 20, 2009 at 11:48 am | permalink

    I’m glad to see the step forward to go county-wide, but I think Ted Annis’ vision of cutting Ann Arbor funding is a poor one. I doubt that his numbers are sufficient to provide adequate service across the county, and I’d like to see a dynamic urban system along with lifeline services to the out-county areas.

    It will take a lot of work to make sure the balance of serving the urban core and the out-county areas works out, so I look forward to seeing how the iterative process goes.

  7. November 20, 2009 at 3:09 pm | permalink

    Earlier discussions (last year) included the idea of retaining Ann Arbor’s millage tax, adding an additional county tax, and using the Ann Arbor dedicated millage to continue funding Ann Arbor service. This of course will not seem fair to many Ann Arbor residents but would be far superior to reducing our millage and service levels. At this time in history, we need a robust intracity transit system even more. My concern is that the AATA board seems to be emphasizing the needs of commuters into Ann Arbor as a priority above the needs of within-city travelers. I hope that I am mistaken.

  8. By Joel Batterman
    November 23, 2009 at 12:48 am | permalink

    If AATA is going to be a convenient transport option for more people, service needs to be increased. It seems odd that a halving of the Ann Arbor millage is being discussed just as several very substantial projects are in the works (WALLY, N-S connector).

    I had a look at the dedication plaque on the Blake Transit Center a few months ago, and I think I remember the station being about twenty years old.