AATA Approves Budget, UM Agreement

"It's a pleasure to press the button."

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Sept. 16, 2010): After failing to achieve a quorum last month, this month the AATA board hit enough of the right figurative buttons to transact successfully the month’s business.

David Nacht with microphone.

AATA board member David Nacht presses his microphone button. (Photos by the writer.)

That business included the approval of its fiscal year 2011 budget, which starts Oct. 1, 2010 and goes through Sept. 30, 2011. The FY 2011 budget calls for a total of $27,030,407 in expenses, among them a provision for a 2% merit-based increase in non-union staff compensation, with an additional 1% bonus pool for the organization’s top performers.

The board also approved another five-year MRide agreement with the University of Michigan to provide transportation for UM faculty, students and staff. Under the agreement, which runs from 2010-2015, UM affiliates will continue to board without paying a fare, with UM paying the AATA $1 per boarding.

When added to the per-boarding payment, $800,000-$900,000 of federal funds – received by UM and included as part of the MRide deal – will result in an estimated $2.37 million payment by UM to the AATA in FY 2011, the first year of the new agreement.

The board also voted to award a three-year contract to RideConnect – a partnership of WATS, Washtenaw County, WAVE and People’s Express – valued at $200,000 per year. The contract will be paid by federal and state funds designated specifically to aid the coordination between public transit and human services transportation needs.

The board’s meeting also included, for the first time, literal buttons. The board convened a meeting for the first time at its new meeting location – the Ann Arbor District Library’s board room – which is equipped with video recording equipment, including buttons used by meeting participants to turn their microphones on and off.

And some remarks by a public speaker pushed the wrong button for David Nacht, who responded to the speaker’s remarks by saying that attitudes reflecting age-based discrimination were not appropriate.

FY 2011 Budget

Before the board for consideration was the organization’s operations budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, 2010 and goes through Sept. 30, 2011.

Budget: Merit Increases

During his report to the board, Rich Robben, chair of the planning and development committee, described how the Sept. 14, 2010 meeting of the PDC had included significant discussion about the inclusion of merit pay increases for non-union staff at the AATA. [AATA union employees will receive a 3.5% increase effective Jan. 1, 2011.]

The budget that was being brought forward to the board, Robben said, includes a provision of 2% in merit increases plus an additional 1% as a bonus pool for high performers. The initial budget proposal brought to the committee included no merit increases for non-union employees, while the second version included a 3% merit pay allocation. The 2%-1% split was a compromise. From the Sept. 14, 2010 PDC meeting minutes:

Mr. Robben raised questions about staff merit increases in the second version of the FY2011 budget that had been prepared. Michael Ford indicated that up to 3% was included in that budget version. He noted that the budget document currently under review included monies for a lump sum bonus for management employees, but restated other Board members’ concerns over legacy costs and political implications associated with making merit increases permanent.

Mr. Robben and Ms. Dale discussed merit increases, with input from staff. It was noted that the rate of increase for comparable raises in the Southeast Michigan region had been identified by AATA’s salary administration consultant. The average salary increase in our area for FY2011 is 2.9%. Ms. Dale objected to not providing merit increases for staff based merely on some other entities having to face salary freezes or reductions – especially if the denial of raises is not necessary to balance AATA’s budget.

Mr. Robben also objected to zeroing out merit increases indicating that it is appropriate to reward good, hard working employees. He stated that withholding raises is the wrong message to send to the organization. Ms. Dale added that people are more likely to look at how the organization is spending large amounts of money in the community versus the $70,000 or less that would go toward employee raises. The committee took a position objecting to withholding merit increases for staff, and settled upon a compromise recommendation to present to the full Board.

This compromise recommendation would budget 2% for merit increases, and place another 1% into a bonus pool to reward high performers. Michael Ford was directed to identify the terms of such a reward plan.

During deliberations at the Sept. 16 meeting, board treasurer Sue McCormick said that as she’d gone through the budget, one of the items that had given her pause was the increase in personnel expenses as a percentage of the budget. A contributing factor, she said, was that the AATA provides its services through its employees, and is therefore a staff-intensive organization. She concluded that she was satisfied that the increase was appropriate.

Another issue she wanted to draw attention to, said McCormick, was the strategy they had in place to increase the use of part-time motor coach operators (MCOs) as a way to manage bus driver operator costs. In this budget, however, the number of part-time MCOs was staying relatively constant, and full-time MCOs were being added. It’s important, she said, to recognize the increased costs associated with that – benefits, for example. She said she’d be asking staff to explain why they seemed to be moving in a direction different from the policy they’d put in place a year ago.

David Nacht spoke to the issue of preventive maintenance for which the AATA was showing an increase in its FY 2011 budget. The use of federal funds for preventive maintenance is a topic that Nacht has paid particular attention to over the last few years. From The Chronicle’s report of the AATA’s May 12, 2010 board meeting:

[Jesse] Bernstein asked for some additional clarification on how the federal Section 5307 formula funds are used by AATA as compared to the peer systems. Brian McCollom fielded that question. He explained that such funds can be used on two main categories of items: (i) capital expenses – like buses, shelters, and terminals, and (ii) preventive maintenance on capital assets. The Section 5307 funds pay 80% of the costs, he said, with a 20% local match expected.

In the peer systems, McCollom said, about 11% of operating budgets were paid out of Section 5307 funds, compared to 10% for the AATA. Looking at the balance between capital expenses and preventive maintenance in the Section 5307 funds, the AATA has a 60-40 split, whereas peer systems show an average of a 33-67 split for capital expenses and preventive maintenance.

The analysis of AATA’s use of 40% of its Section 5307 dollars on preventive maintenance, compared to a 67% portion by peer systems, may have given board member David Nacht some comfort. Nacht has often expressed concern about the use of preventive maintenance dollars. Most recently, at the board’s March 24, 2010 meeting, he had cautioned against using preventive maintenance dollars for budget fixes:

Nacht concurred, saying that financial direction was especially important, given how easy it is to use preventive maintenance dollars for temporary budget fixes.

At the Sept. 16 meeting during deliberations on the FY 2011 budget, Nacht returned to the same theme, saying that he’d never before been part of an organization that seemed to have a “ready pot of cash” that you can throw into your operating budget “to make everything okay.” However, he said he’d satisfied himself that the AATA was in line with peer organizations with respect to preventive maintenance funds, and that the AATA’s use of these federal preventive maintenance funds is consistent with Congressional intent. He cautioned, however, that it allows for a casualness and sloppiness – something he had not seen in the AATA, he stressed.

Nacht asked the board to bear in mind the broader community and context in which the budget was being formulated – people are being laid off and these are difficult economic times. He said he was trying to continue the work that former board member Ted Annis had done to try to make the organization more efficient. [Annis was  not reappointed to the board this summer when his term ended.]

Budget: Where Does AATA Get Its Money, How Is It Spent?

The major categories of budget revenues and expenses are as follows:

FY2011 AATA Budget (Oct. 1, 2010 -- Sept. 30, 2011)

Local Tax Revenues           $  9,414,574
Purch. of Svc Agr.(Urban)*        716,935
Purch. of Svc Agr.(Nonurban)*     434,545
Passenger Revenue               4,737,615
State Operating Assist.         7,533,996
Federal Operating Assist.       3,545,109
Interest and Other                735,688
TOTAL REVENUES               $ 27,118,462

*Purchase of Service Agreement


Operations Wages             $  6,223,959
Maintenance Wages               1,355,383
Management Wages                3,278,046
Fringe Benefits                 4,589,092
SUBTOTAL                       15,446,480 

Purchased Services              2,622,649
Diesel Fuel and Gasoline        1,424,000
Materials & Supplies            1,506,603
Utilities                         456,447
Casualty & Liability Costs        440,200
Purchased Transportation        4,391,628
Other Expenses                    532,400
Local Depreciation                210,000

TOTAL EXPENSES               $ 27,030,407 


Outcome: The FY 2011 operating budget was unanimously approved.

MRide: UM-AATA Partnership

Before the board was a new five-year agreement with the University of Michigan to provide transportation to UM students, faculty and staff. Around 41% of all rides on AATA buses are taken by UM affiliates. Ridership numbers for both UM affiliates and non-UM riders was a subject of board discussion at the Sept. 16 meeting.

MRide: Ridership

Charles Griffith reported that ridership is down compared to last year by around 6% – half of that decline, he said, staff thought might be attributable to the discontinuation of the LINK service, which was a downtown circulator bus that did not charge a fare. Demand-response service, reported Griffith, was down about 10%, which was attributed partly to the fare increase and partly to the overall downward trend in the economy.

During question time, Jesse Bernstein asked if the downward ridership trend was reflected nationally. Chris White, AATA’s manager of service development, told Bernstein that the short answer is yes. To look at the impact on ridership of the fare increase implemented by the AATA in two increments over the last two years [from $1 per ride to $1.25, then to $1.50], White said, they looked to UM riders as a control group. White concluded that the decrease in ridership is attributable to external factors.

The fare increase was implemented starting in May 2009, so any impact on ridership would be seen in the difference between 2008-09 and 2009-10. Among UM riders there was a 2.6% decrease, while among non-UM riders there was a 7.2% decrease, suggesting that there are external factors at play, but that fares also may have played a role in decreasing the numbers of AATA riders.


Acad Yr  UM Riders         Total Riders      Non-UM Riders

2003-04  1,374,000         4,188,064         2,814,064

(MRide commences)

2004-05  1,697,859  23.6%  4,493,117   7.3%  2,795,258  -0.7%
2005-06  2,040,282  20.2%  5,212,039  16.0%  3,171,757  13.5%
2006-07  2,103,611   3.1%  5,320,811   2.1%  3,217,200   1.4%
2007-08  2,254,026   7.2%  5,738,828   7.9%  3,484,802   8.3%
2008-09  2,368,474   5.1%  5,948,024   3.6%  3,579,550   2.7%
2009-10  2,306,942  -2.6%  5,630,030  -5.3%  3,323,088  -7.2%

Cumulative change since 2003-04 

           932,942  67.9%  1,441,966  34.4%    509,024  18.1%


MRide: New Contract

During his report on the PDC committee meeting, Rich Robben gave a description of the MRide agreement that the committee was recommending to the board for its approval. The MRide agreement has been in place between the AATA and the University of Michigan since 2004, and provides a program under which UM students, faculty and staff can board AATA buses without paying a fare – the cost of providing their transportation is arranged through the MRide agreement. The agreement considered by the board on Sept. 16 is a five-year deal retroactive from Aug. 1, 2010 to July 31, 2015.

Robben said he’d abstained from voting and also would abstain from voting during the board meeting – Robben is a UM employee [executive director for plant operations].

The first MRide agreement was for a five-year period from Aug. 1, 2004 to July 31, 2009. When negotiations between UM and the AATA did not produce a new five-year agreement by July 31, 2009, the two organizations agreed to a one‐year extension of the original agreement for the period Aug. 1, 2009 to July 31, 2010. Under that arrangement, UM paid AATA a total $1,987,642 to cover the cost of UM affiliate rides.

One difference between the previous agreement and the one that the board considered and approved at the Sept. 16 meeting is that the new arrangement makes explicit a per-boarding amount to be paid by UM. In the previous arrangement, UM agreed to pay a lump sum for the boardings, with additional money contributed through a federal grant for which UM is eligible.

While the federal grant is still a component of the new MRide arrangement, the boarding payment is now explicitly tied to the number of rides taken by UM riders. The agreement is for UM to pay AATA $1 per ride. According to Chris White, AATA’s manager of service development, the previous arrangement worked out to around $0.80 per ride, though it was not defined that way in the contract.

The staff analysis of this deal notes that the boarding payment is higher than the average fare paid by people who purchase a 30‐day AATA pass. The total estimated UM payment for FY 2011 is $2.37 million, of which federal formula funds earned by UM bus operation are expected to provide $800,000‐$900,000.

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Jim Mogensen noted that there are considerations for Title 6 (civil rights) that arise from the analysis of the federal grant money passed through from UM as part of the MRide agreement – it’s not technically fare revenue. Mogensen cited the official minutes of the June 23, 2010 AATA board meeting [emphasis added]:

Roger Kerson noted that the operating cost per passenger is $3.24 and the fare $1.50. Phil Webb explained that many passengers do not pay $1.50 as a significant portion of fares are paid by a third party making the average fare less. Chris White noted that a portion of the money AATA receives from the MRide comes from federal funds and is not technically fare revenue.

Although early in the MRide negotiations, there was some consideration given to UM charging a partial cost of rides directly to its riders through the new swipeable fare box technology recently installed in AATA buses, that possibility was quickly taken off the table.

At the Sept. 16 board meeting, Chris White indicated that the count of UM riders is achieved by UM riders swiping their MCards through the AATA fareboxes. However, the usage data is provided to UM, and AATA does not have access to statistics on who is riding the buses – faculty, staff, or students. That information can be analyzed by UM, however.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the new MRide agreement.


In his report out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee (PMER), Charles Griffith described a proposed contract with RideConnect – a partnership of WATS (the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study), Washtenaw County, WAVE (the Western-Washtenaw Area Value Express) and People’s Express – valued at $200,000 per year. The contract will be paid by federal and state funds designated specifically to aid the coordination between public transit and human services transportation needs as a “mobility management” initiative.

During board deliberations on the item, Chris White described “mobility management” as a term of art that the Federal Transit Administration had come up with. Essentially it had to do with coordination of transportation, he said. There was a saying White said he liked to use addressing the notion of coordination: “If coordination were easy, it would already be done.”

The coordination that would be addressed in this contract would be between nursing homes, senior centers, churches, human services organizations and various transportation providers, White said. RideConnect, he explained, is a 501(c)(3) organization that had bid on the contract. AATA staff had inquired with United Way’s 211 program, but neither they nor any other organization submitted a bid.

What RideConnect would do would include referral of services as well as “trip brokering,” White said.

David Nacht asked why AATA did not do this in house. White said that the AATA did not have the kind of countywide view a few years ago that the AATA does now. At that time it had been People’s Express that had really pushed it forward, White said. Nacht asked who the “human being” is who is the head of RideConnect – he wondered if she used to work for one of the local transit agencies.

White told Nacht that Vanessa Hansel is the head of RideConnect and that she did not formerly work with any of the local transit agencies. Nacht confirmed with White that Hansel did not have any personal or business relationships that could create an appearance of a conflict of interest. White explained to Nacht that Hansel had been vetted by the county and by WATS.

Nacht said that his concern was based on the fact that it is a single-bid contract for an entity the AATA had helped to create – and now they were funneling funds to it. Nacht asked that as federal funds are passed through to RideConnect, the appropriate budgetary data could be looked at in RideConnect’s records.

Charles Griffith indicated that PMER had looked at the issue and had requested some additional reporting from RideConnect as part of the contract. Sue McCormick characterized the venture as a “strategic partnership” for the AATA – nonprofits generally ran at lower cost-per-unit of delivery than the public sector.

Outcome: The contract with RideConnect was unanimously approved by the board.

Auditing Services: Rotating

In his report out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Charles Griffith related a discussion they’d had about the AATA’s auditing services. It had been brought to their attention by Sue McCormick – an AATA board member who is the city of Ann Arbor’s public services area administrator – that it was important to rotate the contract for their auditing services in order to get a wider range of opinion about their operations.

They’d determined that they would grant the contract to the firm with the highest score, which is their current provider, but the contract would be only for one year instead of five years. They could then use the year to discuss how they would achieve some kind of rotation.

The performance monitoring and external relation committee minutes of Sept. 15, 2010 are consistent with Griffith’s summary:

Michael Ford reported that a Request for Proposals for Auditing Services was issued to 20 auditing firms, and three responses were received. The incumbent firm, Rehmann Robson who has been under contract for ten years, received the highest score.

However, Sue McCormick found the process problematic as the reviewers came back with split views on the three proposers. Ms. McCormick reported on previous discussions at the Board level about implementing a policy to rotate auditors to insure a high level of scrutiny and avoid the situation of having one long‐term auditor which can lead to complacency.

Phil Webb outlined three options for next steps: re‐let the bid and get new proposals, hire the incumbent firm for the three year term, or hire the incumbent firm for a one year term and establish an audit rotation policy and issue a request for proposals for five years starting next fiscal year. Sue McCormick moved that the committee recommends that the Board authorize execution of a contract with Rehmann Robson based on the terms of the Request for Proposals, and report back to the committee within four months with a recommendation for an auditor rotation policy. Roger Kerson supported the motion. The motion passed unanimously.

During deliberations at the Sept. 16 board meeting on the award of a one-year contract to Rehmann Robson, David Nacht asked for clarification about the bidding. Sue McCormick reported that there were only three bidders and that the evaluation – based 60% on technical ability and 40% on cost – was somewhat inconclusive. If the evaluation had been only technical, she said, the choice would have tended in a different direction.

It gave her a reason to review the general policy on the awarding of auditing contracts, McCormick said, which was to award them for no more than five years. Rehmann Robson has been under contract for auditing services for the AATA for the last 10 years. There’s no policy in place, she said, to ensure a variety of perspectives from different auditors – no term limit on auditors, she said. But because the current firm is very familiar with the AATA, they are able to offer their services more cost effectively, McCormick said – they’re familiar with the AATA chart of accounts, for example. She said that for the time being the recommendation is to move ahead with a one-year contract and use the time to review the auditing policy.

Nacht concluded that this approach sounded reasonable. Bernstein also said he welcomed the process of reviewing the audit, but noted that every time they’d double-checked they’d always found they’d been in compliance. Nacht suggested that it might be worth it for PMER to take a look a specialist firms with experience in transit auditing.

Outcome: The resolution to award the one-year auditing contract to Rehmann Robson was unanimously approved.

Officers Elected (Redux)

The AATA had in July held an election of officers in the wake of the departure of Paul Ajegba and Ted Annis from the board. Ajegba had served as chair and Annis had served as treasurer. At July’s meeting, Jesse Bernstein was elected chair and Sue McCormick was elected treasurer.

Charles Griffith, the board secretary, served as the nominations committee for the election of officers for the 2010-2011 year and reported during the Sept. 16 meeting that the same three individuals were interested in continuing to serve. There were elected unanimously by acclimation: Bernstein as chair; McCormick as treasurer; and Griffith as secretary.

The committee structure would continue as before, said Bernstein. The planning and development committee (PDC) will be chaired by Rich Robben – he’ll be joined on that committee by David Nacht and Anya Dale. The performance monitoring and external relations committee (PMER) will be chaired by Griffith, and he’ll be joined by McCormick and Roger Kerson. The board’s governance committee consists of the board chair, plus the chairs of PDC and PMER: Bernstein, Robben, Griffith.

Communications and Comments

As it typically does, the board heard reports from committee chairs and its CEO, along with various public commentary.

Comm/Comm: Countywide Transportation Master Plan (TMP)

Board chair Jesse Bernstein thanked the staff for all the work they’d been doing to educate the community about the countywide transportation master plan (TMP) that AATA has been developing over the last several months. That work will continue through the end of the year and into early 2011. As an example, he cited a presentation that AATA staff had given to a Willow Run neighborhood group, which had been so well received that the neighbors wanted the staff to return and tell them more.

At the meeting, the board also heard an update on the development of the TMP from Michael Benham. For a detailed description of the process of community engagement, which began several months ago, see previous Chronicle coverage: “AATA Moves Engagement Process into Gear.”

From The Chronicle’s previous coverage, here’s what the time line looks like:

  • July 2010: Develop vision objectives for short, medium and long-term goals – 30 years into the future in very general terms. What do people want to see in terms of public safety, economic vitality, urban sprawl, and health. From understanding that, it would be possible that transit helps realize goals. Audit the existing situation and how it meets community needs. Look at the forecast for the next 30 years and see how those needs can be met.
  • July-August 2010: Look at the current transit system and develop a needs assessment.
  • September-November 2010: Develop a list of options – some of which already exist – and evaluate those against the community’s values. Sift and package the options into different scenarios. Hypothetical examples of the kind of scenarios that could be produced are a paratransit-intensive scenario, a rail-intensive scenario, a low-funding scenario or a high-funding scenario.
  • November-December 2010: From the set of packaged scenarios, develop the preferred scenario.
  • January-February 2011: Develop a Transit Master Plan, review of funding opportunities and implementation of plan.

The process is thus now in its “scenario building” phase. During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Jim Mogensen reminded the board to make sure that the scenarios are subjected to an appropriate Title 6 (civil rights) analysis.

At the Sept. 16 meeting, the board expressed concerns about the process for development of the TMP centered on the board’s role – at what point will they be asked to weigh in? This was a question that Charles Griffith had conveyed from the performance monitoring and external relations committee before the TMP presentation.

The issue was taken up in slightly different form by David Nacht at the conclusion of Benham’s presentation, when he asked for details about how the technical recommendations from the consultant Steer Davies Gleeve would be integrated into the feedback from the community about what people say they want. Nacht wanted a way for the board to come to a consensus about what they’d found out from the first phase of the process. For example, he said, maybe they learn that the transit experts are recommending A, B, and C as options but that there is support in the community only for A and B. Nacht wanted a specific and concrete way of identifying that, not something vague.

Bernstein followed up on Nacht’s remarks by saying that as he spoke with various leaders throughout the county, he was struck by the need for education about what transit is and what the AATA already does. Sue McCormick noted that one of the challenges that is inherent in asking people what they need is that people sometimes don’t realize even what the range of options is. She suggested that the first kind of thinking needs to be broader, not narrower.

Comm/Comm: Local Advisory Council Report

Rebecca Burke gave the report from the local advisory council, which is the AATA body that provides advocacy for senior and disabled riders. She reported that the executive council of that body had appointed six members, the first three of which are re-appointments: Cheryl Weber, Mary Wells, John Kuchinski, Lena Ricks, Eleanor Chang, and Stephen McNutt.

Burke reported that she would be stepping down as the chair, with Karen Wanza taking her place.

Burke told the board that it had been a pleasure to work with them and said she’d been encouraged that the board had been open to working with the LAC. Board chair Jesse Bernstein thanked Burke for her work.

Comm/Comm: CEO’s Activity Report – Blake Transit Center

Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, submits a written report of his monthly activities, which is included in the board’s information packet for each meeting. [.pdf of September 2010 CEO report] He typically reviews some of the highlights orally at the board meeting.

Michael Ford AATA CEO

Michael Ford, AATA's CEO, before the meeting started is actually pointing out The Chronicle's reporter to an AATA staffer, not calling board chair Jesse Bernstein out at the plate.

At the board meeting, Ford expressed appreciation for the staff work on the budget. He mentioned that the Blake Transit Center (BTC) had been a focus of discussion by a Stakeholder Action Group (SAG) looking at the future of BTC. In May, the AATA hired an architect for the design of a new transit center at the existing location. [Chronicle coverage: "AATA Hires Architect for Transit Center"]

The SAG includes representatives of the Ann Arbor District Library and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority as well as the city of Ann Arbor. The redesign and reconstruction of BTC has been the subject of a conversation with the DDA about site planning for the entire block  between Fourth and Fifth avenues, north of William Street, for  several months. [See Chronicle coverage: "DDA Floats Idea for Fourth Avenue"]

The CEO report for September indicates that the previous plan to re-build the BTC exactly on the footprint of the existing facility may now be open for discussion:

The Stakeholder Action Group (SAG) held its second meeting in late August. At that time, the announcement was made that the City informed AATA that the surface lot to the south of the site is not available for additional on‐site bus parking capacity.

There is a prospective new look to the project; however. Consideration is being given for relocating the structure on the existing footprint, which would make possible expansion of the facility easier, should a portion of the adjacent surface lot become available in the future. The SAG reviewed the new site design option where the BTC would be positioned along the south property line and “centered” on the site. This would result in bus circulation directed toward Fifth Avenue, as opposed to away from Fifth, which is currently the case. The project team is studying the revised site proposal to make certain that the proposed design would not affect pedestrian and vehicular circulation for Library patrons.

The CEO report does not mention any connection between the new underground parking garage – currently being constructed on the Library Lot north of BTC – and a newly constructed BTC. When the city council approved the bonds for the underground parking structure at their Feb. 19, 2009 meeting, they also reduced the planned scope of the project. From Chronicle coverage:

Hohnke then proposed an amendment that would slightly reduce the scope of the project, by whittling around 100 spaces off the total through eliminating the Fifth Avenue extension all the way to William Street. Even the reduced number of spaces would represent roughly a 10% increase in the 5,000 spaces currently in the city’s off-street parking inventory, Hohnke said.

Queried by Mayor John Hieftje, Hohnke said that cost savings of removing the 100 spaces would be around $6 million.

By way of background, the Fifth Avenue extension of the underground parking garage was originally conceived as providing flexibility to connect under the street from the parking garage to whatever new building might be developed on the Fifth & William [aka Old Y lot] parcel. That same extension, which is not currently planned to be built, could connect to a newly constructed Blake Transit Center.

Comm/Comm: CEO’s Report – Public Forum

At the Sept. 16 board meeting, Ford also announced a forum for all AATA riders, including fixed-route service riders [i.e., the regular bus service] – which is scheduled for Oct. 21 at the Ann Arbor downtown library at 5:30 p.m. [In recent months, Tim Hull, during his public commentary, has called for some kind of regular mechanism for input from riders of the regular bus service that would be parallel to the local advisory council, which provides advocacy for the senior and disabled community.]

Charles Griffith also brought up the idea of additional rider forums, with the possibility of designating a time before regular board meetings. Staff will look into a variety of options, Griffith said.

Comm/Comm: New Board Meeting Venue

Jesse Bernstein opened the meeting by thanking the director of the Ann Arbor District Library, Josie Parker, and the downtown library itself for allowing the AATA to meet at that location, as well as the staff at CTN for providing the audio-visual technical assistance necessary for broadcast and taping. He concluded his remarks of appreciation by quipping that it would now be possible for the board to watch the meeting again and “find out what we did.” Video of the first meeting and all subsequent AATA board meetings will be available streamed on the web via CTN’s Video on Demand feature.

Comm/Comm: Roger Kerson’s Business Relationship

Board chair Jesse Bernstein noted that the AATA’s newest board member, Roger Kerson, had provided a communication to the effect of his businessmen relationship with the national transit workers union organization, and if there are any conflicts of interest there, Kerson will be recused from voting.

Comm/Comm: Ypsilanti Service, WALLY

Lawrence Krieg, founder of Wake Up, Washtenaw!, is a member of the Ypsilanti Township planning commission as well as the technical committee that is studying the Washtenaw Avenue corridor. He addressed the board at the start of the Sept. 16 meeting on the topic of proposed improvements to service between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, which they had considered at their August retreat. About the idea of increasing frequency of service during peak hours to every 10 minutes, Krieg said it was “excellent – go for it!”

As for the idea of increasing frequency of local Ypsilanti service, Krieg noted that most of the routes are loops, making them unattractive for choice riders, so he suggested a simpler two-way service instead. Express service during peak hours between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, he said, was a good idea but unlikely to succeed as proposed. The largest employment centers for Ypsilanti workers are north campus and the VA hospital, St. Joe’s, and Eastern Michigan University, so Krieg suggested that a better strategy would indicate a greater frequency on Route #3.

Krieg continued his remarks during the time allotted for public comment at the conclusion of the meeting. He said he was a frequent rider of the Michigan Flyer service to the airport and said that he’d welcome better coordination between AATA routes and the Michigan Flyer. Current service is quite good, he said, and he didn’t think AATA needed to operate an airport service itself.

Krieg also called for coordination with the UM College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the Ross Business School to help make the business case to private entities for investment in WALLY, the proposed Washtenaw-Livingston commuter rail line. He said the current down economy had put the brakes on WALLY, but that it would be an enhancement to the economy when things turned around.

Comm/Comm: Fuller Road Station

Elizabeth Donahue Colvin told the board that she’d grown up riding Detroit buses and now rode the Ann Arbor buses – she appreciates having time to read on the bus. She also complimented the helpfulness of the AATA bus drivers. She said she lived in the Wall Street neighborhood and – with some of the condo associations, like Nielsen Square and Riverside Park Place – had written a letter to the UM board of regents expressing support of the Fuller Road Station project. UM had previously contemplated constructing two parking structures right in the Wall Street neighborhood – Colvin told the board they much preferred the location proposed for Fuller Road Station for those facilities. She asked the board to call on them, if there is anything they can do to help move that project forward.

Comm/Comm: Call for More Youth

Thomas Partridge, during public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, said he’d reminded people for years that John F. Kennedy had visited Ann Arbor to move America forward. He called on the AATA to move the community forward with respect to transportation, focusing on modest goals. Among those goals, said Partridge, should be to put a friendly, more youthful face on management – not to be disrespectful of the long service of current managers.

David Nacht responded to Partridge’s comments by saying that he did not think Partridge meant to be discriminatory in his remarks, but that if someone stood at the podium and called on the board to get rid of all the females or all the people of a particular color or religion, it would jump out as discriminatory. Nacht said that he found the idea of replacing older staff with more youthful staff equally offensive.

Comm/Comm: More Notice, No Quorum

Tim Hull addressed the board on the topic of fall service changes, saying that they’d been put in place with little notice, one of which included the elimination of some stops on Briarwood Circle. He called for broader involvement in those decisions. Hull also told the board that he’d shown up in August at the library expecting to see the board meet, but they’d failed to achieve a quorum – he was surprised and disappointed.

Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Jesse Bernstein, Sue McCormick, Rich Robben, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]


  1. By Dan Romanchik
    September 27, 2010 at 9:22 am | permalink

    This is a great article. Thanks for publishing it.

    I’ve been of the opinion for a long time, that the AATA really makes no economic sense, and I believe this article supports my view. I just don’t think that the Ann Arbor area has the population density here to support this system properly.

    Note that passenger revenues ($4.74 million) make up less than 20% of total revenue ($27.1 million). Most of the other 80% comes from our taxes. $9.4 million comes from local taxes, and another $11 million comes from the state or federal funding.

    Let’s set aside the $11 million from the state and the feds for the sake of this argument because we don’t have total control of that money. Are we seriously saying that we can’t find a better use for that $9.4 million dollars?

  2. September 28, 2010 at 12:03 am | permalink

    Dan, I won’t get started on population density right now. (Do note that Ann Arbor’s population density is equivalent to that of Portland, Oregon.) I’ll just suggest that we need to add a few more things to our balance sheet to consider what makes “economic sense.”

    To make that judgment, we’ve got to consider the cost of global warming and the Gulf oil spill (among others). The cost of asthma from air pollution, the cost of 40,000 highway deaths each year (not to mention the injuries), and the cost of the sedentary, obesity-inducing lifestyles that our predominant mode of transport encourages. The cost of devoting vast portions of urban real estate to automobile storage. The cost of the military power necessary to secure access to petroleum. The cost of keeping the one-third of the population that doesn’t drive (the young, the elderly, the poor and the disabled) from full participation in society. The cost of the innumerable direct public subsidies bestowed on the automobile.

    Then we can begin to talk about what kinds of transportation make economic sense, and which don’t.

    No form of transportation pays for itself, and externalities matter.

  3. September 28, 2010 at 7:21 am | permalink

    A publicly supported transit system is one of the hallmarks of a civilized community. Transit must always be subsidized (even air travel is not paid wholly by fares) but it is vital to our economic system as well as crucial for economic equity (since not all persons can afford to pay for effective transportation otherwise) and for mobility (since not all persons are able to use other means of transportation). I can’t think of “a better use”.

    Question: I had some trouble parsing this: “Roger Kerson, had provided a communication to the effect of his businessmen relationship with the national transit workers union organization”. Could you clarify/explain?

  4. By Dave Askins
    September 28, 2010 at 7:39 am | permalink

    Re:[3] “Question: I had some trouble parsing this: ‘Roger Kerson, had provided a communication to the effect of his businessmen relationship with the national transit workers union organization’. Could you clarify/explain?”

    It was a letter explaining that he had a business relationship with the union, so that other board members and the public would be aware of that relationship in the context of future decisions the AATA board needs to make about various issues. Probably “about” would have been a better choice than “to the effect of.” In any case Kerson owns his own public relations firm, a private entity — so that relationship would otherwise be hard to see, unless Kerson declared it. If you’re asking which part of which union exactly and the exact nature of the business relationship, that may be contained in the letter — which Jesse Berstein said at the meeting he wished had been included in the board packet, but was not.

  5. September 28, 2010 at 10:34 am | permalink

    In attempting to clarify the 2.6% drop in U-M ridership, and 6% decline system wide that “Staff” felt was attributable to the discontinuation of the LINK route is at best questionable. While I agree that U-M ridership may have dropped 2.6% this can be directly attributable to U-M operating the OXFORD route themselves. U-M students made up almost exclusively the ridership on the LINK route. LINK ridership was nearly non existent between Central Campus and the Downtown A2 area. Other factors in AATA’s drop (and I have to question the 6% figure) more than likely is that gasoline prices have dropped to under the $3.00 mark since the peak ridership occurred.

    Has any dialog been explored between AATA and U-M putting some type of transfer arrangement in place? Specifically, many times I have witnessed someone attempting to catch an AATA bus from a U-M bus. Very frustrating, you can see the bus, but there is no way for the drivers to communicate with each other.This should be part of the M-Ride agreement as well.

  6. By Ann
    September 28, 2010 at 8:55 pm | permalink

    “gasoline prices have dropped to under the $3.00 mark since the peak ridership occurred.”

    Meanwhile AATA fares have gone up 50%… Sure helps me choose exercise over a ride.

  7. September 29, 2010 at 12:13 pm | permalink

    @6 This exclaims my point.