AATA Continues Push for Master Plan Input

Community forum attendance, on-time performance "abysmal"

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Oct. 21, 2010): The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has several major projects in the works, including remodeling the downtown transportation terminal – the Blake Transit Center – and developing a countywide master plan that calls for a series of community forums.

One of those community forums was held on Thursday, an hour prior to the AATA’s monthly board meeting. But no one from the public showed up to that particular event – several other meetings are scheduled. The board meeting that followed was over within an hour. In addition to the master plan, the board discussed the most recent quarter’s on-time trip performance, which board member David Nacht described as “abysmal.”

Countywide Transportation Master Plan

AATA’s countywide master plan, due to be completed next year, aims to see what the public transit system could become in the decades ahead. AATA staff has scheduled a number of meetings around the county to get input and feedback on the plan. Details about the effort – called Moving You Forward – are available online.

The project came up during Thursday’s board meeting.

“We want to look at the draft of comments from meetings that [AATA CEO Michael Ford] has been holding,” said board member David Nacht in his report on the planning and development committee. “We’re curious as to how staff and consultants will combine that with the scenarios.”

Jack Eaton

Jack Eaton raises his hand to speak at the public forum held on Oct. 6 at the downtown public library. Eaton wanted more detail about how the SEMCOG population and jobs projections had been calculated for Ann Arbor over the next 30 years. Eaton, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully in the August 2010 Ward 4 city council Democratic primary, was a bus driver earlier in his career. (Photo by Dave Askins.)

The “scenarios” to which Nacht referred are those being developed by staff and consultants based on information gathered from the community. 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. Eventually, a preferred scenario will be identified and form the basis of the master plan.

The board will continue to set aside time before upcoming board meetings to see if the public takes advantage of the chance to discuss transportation issues, said board chair Jesse Bernstein. The community forums include staff presentations on the process for service changes and potential service changes for next year, along with discussions on topics brought up by the public.

Several forums were held earlier this month, and several more are scheduled in the next two weeks:

  • Monday, Oct. 25: Saline City Hall, 6‐8 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 26: Ann Arbor District Library, Pittsfield Branch, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 26: Ann Arbor District Library, Malletts Creek Branch, 6‐8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 27: EMU Student Center, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 27: Dexter Township, 6‐8 p.m.
  • Thursday, Oct. 28: Manchester Village offices, 6‐8 p.m.
  • Wed, Nov. 3: Milan Senior Center, 6‐8 p.m.

MDOT Contract Approval Process, On-Time Performance

During Thursday’s meeting, board members unanimously passed the only resolution on the agenda, allowing AATA CEO Michael Ford to approve contracts up to $1 million with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation without waiting for board approval. Board member Sue McCormick said state programs often have to be approved within 30 days, and since the AATA meets monthly, that could prove to be a problem. Now Ford can approve those contracts himself, though he agreed to inform the board whenever that was done.

In discussing other issues during the meeting, Nacht mentioned that the on-time performance for buses this past summer was “abysmal.” For the three-month period from July-September 2010, 83.3% of trips were on-time. AATA’s goal for this service metric is 95%. Over the previous four quarters, on-time performance ranged from 82.8% at its lowest, to a high of 89.5%.

“On behalf of our riders, this is a big deal,” said Nacht. “If we are going to be a service provider, this is important.”

Bernstein agreed that the numbers were important, but said the numbers were understandable this past construction season when traffic was blocked on many streets. That includes the closing of South Fifth Avenue for construction of the underground parking garage next to the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building, where the AATA board meetings are held.

The extensive repaving of Plymouth Road was also a serious problem. “I don’t even know how we got the buses moving on Plymouth,” Bernstein said.

A note in the board packet indicated that the July-September period consistently shows the lowest on-time performance, due to road construction as well as University of Michigan student move-in during September.

Also during Thursday’s meeting. Chris White, AATA’s manager of service development, told the board that a study on the feasibility of a route connecting the corridor from Plymouth Road down to South State Street should be ready in January. [See Chronicle coverage: "Transit Connector Study: Initial Analysis"]

AATA staff also reported that work is continuing on efforts to design and reconstruct the Blake Transit Center, the downtown terminal for all bus routes. The AATA announced earlier this month that it would receive a $1 million federal grant for the work. The center is located north of William Street, between Fourth and Fifth avenues.

At the news conference held on Oct. 11 to announce the grant – which featured remarks from Congressman John Dingell – AATA’s manager of maintenance Terry Black told The Chronicle that the newly reconstructed facility will be nestled in the southeast corner of the same parcel of land where the current facility and drive are located. The direction of bus traffic on the driveway, which splits the block between Fourth and Fifth avenues, will reverse its current configuration, which takes buses from Fifth to Fourth. The driveway for the newly reconstructed center will send buses out onto Fifth Avenue. Black also indicated that a board room, which had been previously mentioned as a possible feature of the new center, would not be included in the new design.

The grant opportunity itself, part of the State of Good Repair Bus and Bus Facilities Initiative, was identified by Chris White, AATA manger of service development, who told The Chronicle in a followup phone interview that he’d seen it on a Federal Transit Authority email list to which he subscribes. He reported that he’d vetted the allocation of resources to make the grant application with other staff, including CEO Michael Ford.

Their decision to invest the time in applying, White said, was based on the good fit between the grant criteria and the Blake replacement project. Because the AATA was well along in developing plans for replacement of Blake, White said, the challenge of the relatively short application window back in the spring – about six weeks – was somewhat easier to meet. White responded to a Chronicle request for a copy of the grant application by emailing a .pdf file, which includes, among other information, a detailed list of the current structural issues identified with the 23-year-old facility. [.pdf of grant application]

Public Commentary

Two people spoke during public commentary at Thursday’s meeting.

Jim Morgensen told the board he is concerned that the board will concentrate so much on attracting new riders that it forgets about the people who depend on the service to get around. Later in the meeting during another opportunity for public comment, he also noted how difficult it is to determine the source of about $2.4 million paid to AATA by the University of Michigan, which picks up the cost for its affiliates to ride AATA buses.

Alex Holden, representing the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, also spoke during public commentary, telling the board that many of the people who use the center live outside of town and have a problem with the bus routes ending at 6:45 p.m. on weekends.

Board members present: Jesse Bernstein, Charles Griffith, Roger Kerson, Sue McCormick, David Nacht

Absent: Rich Robben, Anya Dale

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor. The board meeting will be preceeded by a community forum on AATA’s countywide master plan. The forum will start at 5:30 p.m. [confirm date]

Chronicle editor Dave Askins contributed to this report.


  1. October 23, 2010 at 12:57 pm | permalink

    How does AATA define “on-time” performance?

    While 83% clearly leaves room for improvement, it would be interesting to know how this figure compares to the performance of peer agencies, and especially to metro Detroit’s DDOT and SMART bus systems.

  2. By Dave Askins
    October 23, 2010 at 3:24 pm | permalink

    Re: [1] A year and a half ago there was discussion of the software programming that measures on-time performance — it had been temporarily incorrectly configured at 9 minutes, when the it should have been set to 5 minutes. Based on that, the standard for on-time is no more than 5 minutes late. [That's measured at the end of the route.]

  3. By Dan Madaj
    October 25, 2010 at 6:37 am | permalink

    “End of the route” itself has a variable interpretation. Sometimes on the morning 12A the bus driver pushes/pulls her/his “end of route” button/lever while still some distance (and minutes) from BTC. I assume that’s to “improve” on-time performance . . . .

  4. By Lisa
    October 25, 2010 at 1:19 pm | permalink

    I know someone who won’t ride AATA because if their first bus runs a bit late or if the 2nd bus they need to transfer to runs early, they miss the transfer and end up wasting a lot of time. Missing a transfer is not acceptable if you need to get to work on-time.

  5. By cosmonıcan
    October 25, 2010 at 1:41 pm | permalink

    RE #3: Why wouldn’t the “end of route” be governed by the same GPS that announces stops?
    Does the driver really control it?

  6. By Josh
    October 25, 2010 at 9:45 pm | permalink

    I would love to know how ontime performance is determined. I regularly ride the #5 Packard route and it is routinely at least 5 minutes late.

  7. By Peter Zetlin
    October 26, 2010 at 6:20 am | permalink

    Buses also run early. If that happens, and you miss the bus on my route, you have to wait a half hour for the next one.

    While it would be wonderful to improve county-wide transit, it is discouraging to see AATA spending so much money to promote itself as a county-wide solution prior to working out the required funding. AATA also is going to build a new transit center. The current Blake Transit Center works well enough for now.

    It’s going to be difficult to finance both public transportation and automobiles at the same time. The city is spending so much on parking garages that the message to me is that cars are going to continue to get a large share of our resources. For now, it’s hard to imagine voters supporting additional subsidies for both cars and buses.

  8. By Chris White
    October 26, 2010 at 11:54 am | permalink

    I am AATA Manager of Service Development, and I just wanted to clarify a couple of things. The GPS on each bus provides continuous schedule adherence data; the driver is not involved. It records the precise time – to the second – that each bus arrives at each timepoint. On-time is defined at the scheduled time to 5 minutes after the scheduled time. There will always be some variation in arrival time, and the five-minute spread for being considered on-time is pretty standard in transit in the U.S.

    We regularly pay attention to on-time performance, and have taken steps in the last couple years which has improved it overall. In the January – March 2010 quarter, on-time performance was 90% for all timepoints, and 95% of trips were completed on-time. In the July – September 2010 quarter, it was significantly worse as described at the Board meeting and in the article above. It has improved lately, but we are looking at other changes to increase reliability.