AATA: Transit Study, Planning Updates

Countywide planning initiative seeks additional public input

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Jan. 20, 2011): The AATA’s first monthly board meeting of the year featured a presentation on a connector feasibility study on the Plymouth and State street corridors. The study is now nearing completion.

Jesse Bernstein

AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein points to a pie chart projected on the screen as part of the presentation the board heard about the Plymouth-State street corridor connector study. (Photo by the writer.)

In their one main business item, the board approved the capital and categorical grants program for 2011-15. The program will form the basis for upcoming state and federal grant applications.

Board member David Nacht prefaced the discussion of the connector feasibility study by encouraging his colleagues to share their thoughts on it – because the board had argued a long time about whether to help fund the $640,000 study, along with the other partners: the city of Ann Arbor; the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority; and the University of Michigan.

In the course of their discussion, the board touched on another major planning initiative: the countywide transportation master planning process.

Beginning Jan. 31, the AATA is launching the final round of public engagement meetings to develop a countywide plan for transit. Currently the AATA is funded by an Ann Arbor transit millage, plus purchase of service (POS) agreements with other municipalities. Voters in the city of Ypsilanti passed a millage in November 2010 that will cover most of the cost of Ypsilanti’s POS, for example.

Twenty additional meetings on the countywide planning effort are scheduled at locations throughout the county, to get feedback on three transit scenarios developed so far. Transit options in the three scenarios – which the AATA has labeled Lifeline Plus, Accessible County, and Smart Growth – are nested subsets, starting with Lifeline Plus as a base, which expands on existing services and focuses on services for seniors and disabled people.

According to representatives of the AATA and its consultant on the project, Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), the goal of the last phrase of public interactions is not for people to appear at the meetings and simply vote for their preferred option. They’re interested in hearing what options from the various scenarios might be combined to build a “preferred scenario.”

In this last round of meetings, which began in the summer of 2010, the AATA is also interested in hearing from community members who have not yet engaged in the planning process, or who simply have their own ideas they want to share.

For example, during public commentary at the last Ann Arbor city council meeting, David Sponseller called for cutting the city’s current transit tax in half, ending the planning for a countywide system and supporting a system limited to Ypsilanti-UM commuter service; circulators among affordable housing units; and dial-a-ride on-demand service for all other areas. At a press preview of the three scenarios, Sponseller’s remarks were described to Juliet Edmonson of SDG. Her reply: “I want to hear that person, too.”

Referring to the city’s transportation program manager, Sponseller also contended that all the Eli Coopers in the world would not be able to break up Americans’ love affair with their cars. Breaking up that love affair, joked Cooper in a later phone interview with The Chronicle, is not part of his prime directive.

This report contains more on the connector feasibility study, the transportation master plan, the serious side of Eli Cooper’s remarks and the usual report out from the board meeting.

Connector Feasibility Study

At the AATA board’s Jan. 20 meeting, Richard Nau of URS Corporation, the consultant for the project, gave an update on the connector feasibility study for the Plymouth and State street corridors.

The "boomerang map" showing the Ann Arbor corridors being studied for higher quality transit options like bus rapid transit, streetcars, and monorail. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

The shape of the study area has led people to call it a “boomerang map.” The question being studied is whether high-capacity transit along this corridor is feasible. [Chronicle coverage from June 2010 on an initial phase of the study: "Transit Connector Study: Initial Analysis"]

Funding of the $640,000 study is being shared by four partners: AATA, the city of Ann Arbor; the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority; and the University of Michigan. Initial cost estimates from 2008 had put the price to conduct the study at $250,000. Bids had come back considerably higher.

Discussion among the four funding partners about their funding shares unfolded over the course of around a year, with the AATA in July 2009 finally approving a $320,000 share, UM paying for $160,000, and the city of Ann Arbor and the DDA each paying $80,000.

Connector Feasibility: Geographic Scope – Who Pays?

At their Jan. 20, 2011 meeting, the board discussed the geographic scope of the study.

Charles Griffith asked if other corridors like Washtenaw Avenue had been studied as well: How does that corridor compare with State-Plymouth? [Part of the impetus for Griffith's question is the current planning initiative for Washtenaw Avenue, which has resulted in a recommendation to take a step towards forming a corridor improvement authority (CIA). The four municipalities along the corridor have all approved resolutions to take the first step, including Ann Arbor at its Dec. 20 city council meeting. Anya Dale, a Washtenaw County planner, is helping to lead the Washtenaw Avenue study; she also sits on the AATA board. ]

Nau said the study did not look at other corridors besides Plymouth-State. At the first meeting, he said, that possibility was brought up, but the direction he was given was to focus on the State and Plymouth corridors.

Later during board discussion, board member Rich Robben, director of plant operations for UM, made the observation that the original discussion among the partners had included multiple corridors, like Washtenaw Avenue and Jackson Road. The report had developed details for only Plymouth-State. Isn’t there a need for follow-on studies about other corridors? he wondered.

By way of background, the question of study scope could be seen as partly dependent on the composition of the group of funding partners. With UM shouldering a quarter of the funding cost, their primary interest may have been studying the corridors where UM has the greatest transportation need.

And one of the key findings of the connector feasibility study was the documentation of the sheer volume of UM-related traffic in the Plymouth-State corridor, specifically along Fuller Road. The UM blue bus system for the corridor operates at “critical capacity,” Nau told the board during his presentation. That means buses run every two-three minutes during peak periods – from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. People have to stand while riding. In raw numbers, that means 30,700 riders per day, or 2,100 per hour. During 15-minute peak periods the blue bus system along that stretch of road carries 780 riders. The absolute peak number of buses per hour is 60 – one a minute.

In later questioning from Roger Kerson, Nau said they’d observed UM bus operations. People are left standing because the buses are packed full. The UM system adds extra buses as needed. The system is at capacity, as far as how many buses they can stack behind each other at bus stops.

In a separate phone interview with The Chronicle, Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, put it this way: More people travel along Fuller Road in buses than in cars – the total number of vehicles [cars and buses] is in the low 20,000s, but the total number of bus riders is more than 30,000, he said.

The amount of university traffic in that corridor was something Kerson highlighted at the board meeting as one thing he learned from the study: UM already has all the buses they can get onto Fuller Road, so something’s got to happen. Kerson noted, however, that everyone has constituencies they need to mind. He stressed that one of AATA’s constituencies are residents who’d seen the frequency of their service cut from once every 15 minutes to once hourly.

Kerson was alluding to the remarks that Jim Mogensen made during public commentary. Mogensen has raised this point before: basic local service for residents, who pay a transit millage, gets sacrificed for better commuter service for commuters who don’t pay the millage.

At that night’s meeting, Mogensen suggested the funding strategy for the AATA’s commuter express service – from Chelsea and Canton to Ann Arbor – as a test case for the operational costs of high-capacity transit in the Plymouth-State corridor. Mogensen pointed to the four sources of income for commuter express buses: passenger fares, state money, federal money and the local transit millage. He’d calculated that 32% of revenues come from the local millage. So funding high-capacity transit in the middle of the corridor – between the UM campuses and near downtown – depended in part on increased millage revenues, he said: that is, increased property taxes. But any future development in that location would not generate increased property taxes for the AATA millage – because UM doesn’t pay taxes, and in the downtown area, the DDA captures the AATA millage.

In board discussion, David Nacht acknowledged the importance of the future participation of other partners, but said the reality is that transit is currently funded with a city millage. Earlier in the meeting, during the questioning of Nau after his presentation, Nacht had asked what percentage of non-university transit trips took place in the corridor – 25%. He said he’d asked the question out of concern for taxpayers who pay the AATA millage. Though many of them work for UM, it’s still the case that UM has interest in seeing their transit needs met. But the needs of Ann Arbor taxpayers need to be part of the equation, from the beginning, said Nacht. If the transportation system that is built serves UM needs, then UM needs to share the burden.

By way of additional background, the same issue of UM’s appropriate burden arose in discussions about funding for the study. At the June 2009 DDA board meeting, Sandi Smith expressed concern about funding a study for a system that would essentially be a trolley for the university.

Connector Feasibility: Why Study?

In a phone interview with Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, The Chronicle reviewed the basics of the rationale for the feasibility study.

What kind of feasibility are we talking about? Cooper confirmed that one kind of feasibility is geographic and topographical: Are there inherent challenges in the topography of the area that might represent a “fatal flaw”? Then there’s operational feasibility: If a high-capacity transit system were built in these corridors – be it streetcar, light rail, bus rapid transit – would there be enough potential ridership that could translate into revenue to sustain the system? A third kind of feasibility involves funding: Would a high-capacity transit project in this general location be a likely candidate to receive funding from the Federal Transit Administration?

Connector Feasibility: Defining Transportation Need

In discussing the corridors’ transportation needs, Richard Nau said Plymouth Road and State Street are currently congested. And additional development is expected to occur in the area, based on increased employment. By 2035, said Nau, traffic volume is forecast to increase by 10% along Plymouth Road,  11% on Fuller Road and 10% on State Street.

Later during questioning, Jesse Bernstein wanted to know if the projected increase in traffic volume included UM’s new North Campus Research Complex (NCRC). Last year it was not in use all, he said, but it is expected that 3,000 people will be working there. Nau confirmed that yes, the research complex was taken into consideration. The previous WATS model still assumed around 3,000 employees from the Pfizer employment figures. [Pfizer's operations were previously located on the land where the university's research complex has been established.] He’d confirmed the projected 3,000 figure with UM, said Nau.

In addition to reducing congestion, Nau pointed to regional connectivity as a stated community goal, and cited the discussion about the potential for Ann Arbor-to-Detroit east-west commuter rail, as well as north-south commuter rail to Howell. Both of those initiatives would bring people into the city, who would then need transportation once they get here. Enhanced transit in the corridor would also support countywide transit and would provide intercept service for park-and-ride lots.

Current use of the transit system also points to a clear need, said Nau. The Plymouth Road and State Street corridors are two of the heaviest used corridors in the AATA system. Plymouth Road has service every 15 minutes and serves 2,288 passengers per weekday. On State Street, AATA offers service every 7 minutes, with 2,771 average riders per weekday. Destinations for riders include the UM medical center, downtown Ann Arbor, and UM’s central campus. With some frequency, passengers need to stand, and extra buses have to be added to accommodate peak ridership.

As part of current use statistics, Nau also reviewed the UM bus system statistics for the corridor, which include a peak of one bus per minute along Fuller Road.

Nau noted that bus system performance is also impacted by road congestion: 25-30% of travel time is waiting for signals. With more volume, congestion will increase, and bus arrival and departure times will become less reliable, due to unpredictability and volatility of the system.

With respect to the need for transit, Nau said the DDA thinks that better transit makes Ann Arbor a more desirable place for people to live and work, because it helps maintain jobs, provides an accessible work force, stabilizes the tax base, and supports affordable housing. Transit, from the DDA’s point of view, is an alternative to building more parking spaces.

Connector Feasibility: Findings – Core, Shoulders

Nau ticked through the key findings, which included ridership forecasts. They’d worked with WATS – the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study – to develop forecasts for the corridor, which showed around 40,000 trips per day. Nau noted that many light rail systems operate at 20,000 trips per day in larger metro areas.

Core shoulders connector study ann arbor transportation

Forecast of ridership in the Plymouth-State corridor. (Image links to .pdf with higher resolution image.)

The ridership in the corridor is distributed across a high-demand “core,” Nau said, and moderate-demand “shoulders” north and south of the core. That means for the core – which is centered on the area between UM’s north campus and central campus – some kind of high-capacity system would be needed. For the shoulders, a moderate capacity would be appropriate.

So Nau recommends an end-to-end service through the entire corridor that can handle the demand and frequency requirements in the shoulders – bus rapid transit (BRT), streetcars, or existing buses. For the core, something higher capacity and higher frequency would be required – elevated rail, light rail, or bus rapid transit (BRT).

Roger Kerson asked what the difference is between bus rapid transit (BRT) and a bus. Nau explained that BRT would run in a separate “guideway” – it’d be a rubber-tired vehicle that could use a dedicated lane on a roadway. That would give BRT a travel-time advantage over a regular bus. Another difference between BRT and a regular bus is that BRT vehicles are generally articulated with significantly more capacity.

Kerson was curious to know how you get a dedicated space for BRT to run. Do you whack a lane of traffic on each side? he asked. Nau replied that the cost estimates assume a new right of way would get built.

Responding to a question from Kerson about why streetcars wouldn’t work in the core, Nau said that streetcars could almost work there. Really, the biggest difference is that streetcars are typically a single-car versus the multiple-car “trains” of light rail. One concept for implementing the system in the core and the shoulders would be to lay track from end to end. Single car trains would provide end-to-end service. Multiple-car train would operate in the core. That approach drew a favorable reaction from Kerson, who said that what is attractive to riders is taking a single ride. If people had to switch from a bus in the shoulders to a rail system in the core, that would be considered too much of a pain.

David Nacht wanted to know what was envisioned for State Street in the shoulder area, if they went with a cheaper option like BRT. Did they imagine running buses in the Burns Park-Yost Ice Arena section of State Street by having an additional, one-way third lane that would be one direction in the morning and the other direction in the evening? Nacht indicated he didn’t think there was enough room to do that.

Nau told Nacht that they’d looked at Main Street as well as State Street as the actual route. With Main Street, Nau said, you’d serve Pioneer High School and the medium density housing further south on Main Street as you get close to Briarwood Mall. Further study on the State-versus-Main would be required. Nau acknowledged Nacht’s point by saying that State Street has significant space constraints.

Nacht elicited from Nau that the core is not just campus-to-campus. It extends to the UM North Campus Research Complex at the north end and to the downtown area in the south. It tapers off, he said. Responding to Nacht, Nau said that in the core area, non-university traffic – trips that don’t have an origin or destination on the UM campus – is on the order of 25%.

Among the engineering challenges identified by the study are: the Huron River crossing, elevation changes, at least two railroad crossings, right-of-way issues, historic districts and flood plains. Nau stressed that these are challenges, not barriers. But the challenges do affect cost and design, he said.

The study findings include construction costs for the system as follows: bus rapid transit – $15-20 million per mile; light rail – $50-60 million per mile; elevated rail – $200 million per mile.

On the operational side, Nau pointed out that there would be some cost savings by reducing use of the current regular bus system. But depending on the system that is implemented for the corridor, AATA’s operation costs would increase by $0.5-1.5 million per mile in the added system. [The entire corridor from end to end stretches about 7 miles.]

Such a project might qualify for federal New Starts funding of up to 50% of the amount needed to construct it, Nau said. Typically, a multiple-source approach to funding is required, he explained.

If the community is interested in moving ahead with a high-capacity transit option in the Plymouth-State corridor, Nau said, this feasibility study is only the first of a number of steps. Next would come an alternatives analysis, preliminary engineering, environmental review, final design and then construction. Those steps could take from 5 to 20 years to complete, he concluded.

Connector Feasibility: Board Discussion – Fitting in with Countywide Planning

David Nacht wanted some discussion time on the connector study just amongst the board. Board chair Jesse Bernstein worked in the request during the board’s “question time” on the agenda.

Nacht led off by mentioning the years of debate over whether to do the project. It would seem bizarre if they didn’t talk about it at a board meeting, he said. It did not need to be that night, but he wanted a process to formulate with the funding partners an understanding about how to move conversations forward. And that conversation needed to be initiated in public, he said.

Bernstein said he felt that the Plymouth-State feasibility study fit into the current work they’re doing on developing a transit master plan (TMP) for the county very directly. The three other partners on the study – city of Ann Arbor, the DDA and UM – have also been involved in TMP discussions, he said. The full discussion will take place at the AATA as well as at the next 20 public meetings. He said he totally agreed with Nacht about the need to get it discussed, and he saw that discussion coming in the context of the TMP.

Sue McCormick, who also serves the city of Ann Arbor as public services area administrator, expressed a note of caution, saying she was not convinced that the connector study can’t be done in connection with the TMP, but also felt that it can be looked at separately and decoupled from the TMP. That has to be discussed with the other partners, because there are different levels of interest in the connector study compared to the TMP. The two initiatives – the TMP and the connector study – could have parallel but independent tracks.

Charles Griffith felt it was the first reading of the report and that AATA staff need to talk to the other partners and get their recommendations for moving the project forward. Funding would need to be discussed, he said, and that relates to the TMP, and the partners and what they’re willing to do. It’s too bad the board doesn’t have more to discuss right now, he concluded, but this was just the initial report on the findings.

Roger Kerson asked if it were appropriate to task the AATA staff with starting the process, saying that the partners also have their own decision-making process of getting to yes, no or maybe. Michael Ford, the AATA’s CEO, clarified that they’d meet with the partners and they’d keep the discussion going. They’d talked about it internally at the AATA, and they have a plan to do it.

Bernstein said he agreed – that’s one reason he sees it as part of the countywide transit master plan. The TMP will need to bring all of this together, and help everyone decide who’s going to pay for what.

Ford reminded everyone of the “ball of confusion” that existed with all the various independent transit initiatives. The TMP is meant to address that.

Nacht said he’d been on the board long enough to see good consultant work ignored. He said he’s the biggest regionalist he knows. He wants AATA to have a regional mission. He felt he’d been put on the board to be a regional voice, and Ford was hired to develop and implement a regional vision.

Transportation Master Plan

Development of a regional plan to support a regional vision for the AATA is now in a final phase of public engagement, which started in July 2010. The time for completion of the planning process was extended slightly at the board’s November 2010 board meeting. [Chronicle coverage: "AATA Moves Engagement Process into Gear" and "AATA Extends Countywide Planning Time"]

The extended time was to needed to include a phase in the process to develop three alternative scenarios – bundles of different transit options – before selecting a preferred scenario, which will likely see AATA board action to adopt a countywide transit plan in April, after reaching a consensus on a preferred scenario in March.

TMP: Three Scenarios

As Juliet Edmonson of the consulting firm Steer Davies Gleave explained at a media briefing held on Jan. 25 at AATA offices, the goal of the final public engagement phase is not simply to ask people to vote for one of the three scenarios, but rather to prompt discussion about which transit options should be added to or subtracted from the three scenarios to create a preferred scenario.

The three scenarios have a subset relation to each other and to existing service. Lifeline Plus, the first scenario, builds on existing service. The second scenario, Accessible County, adds additional options to Lifeline Plus. And the third scenario, Smart Growth, builds on Accessible County.

TMP: Scenario One – Lifeline Plus

The Lifeline Plus scenario would focus on improving service where it exists and extending door-to-door service for seniors and people with disabilities from Ann Arbor to the rest of the county. Circulator service would be added in downtown Ann Arbor and Chelsea, and vanpools services would be enhanced.

This base-level scenario also includes improvements to bus stops and construction of additional park-and-ride lots. Lifeline Plus would also include airport shuttle service.

Just arrived from the Detroit Metro airport at the Jan. 25 press briefing was Fred Beltrandi executive director of Steer Davies Gleave, AATA’s consultant on the TMP initiative. He reported that he’d paid $65 for the cab ride – an amount he thought was a bit high. He’d rather have ridden a bus, he said.

At the press briefing, Michael Ford – AATA’s CEO – confirmed that AATA’s current thinking on airport shuttle service is to approach it with a strategic partnership, possibly with Michigan Flyer. The board had reflected an interest in such a partnership – as contrasted with providing it in-house – at its retreat last year.

TMP: Scenario Two – Accessible County

The Accessible County scenario builds on Lifeline Plus by adding fixed route bus service that would connect all the urban centers: Chelsea, Dexter, Ann Arbor, Whitmore Lake, Ypsilanti, Saline, Milan and Manchester. Circulator service would be added in Chelsea, Dexter, and Saline.

The bus stations in each of these urban centers are envisioned to be transit hubs with a variety of uses – places that people might have an interest in visiting for reasons besides transit.

TMP: Scenario Three – Smart Growth

The Smart Growth scenario builds on the Accessible County package of options by including east-west and north-south commuter rail options, as well as high-capacity transit options in corridors like Plymouth-State and Washtenaw Avenue.

Express service would be available connecting all of the county’s urban centers to Ann Arbor.

TMP: Cost Comparison

In the presentation to be made at the upcoming public engagement meetings, capital costs for the different scenarios break down like this for a 30-year period:

  • Lifeline Plus: $48 million
  • Accessible County: $51 million
  • Smart Growth: $465 million

Annual total operating expenses break down like this:

  • Lifeline Plus: ~$73 million
  • Accessible County: ~$78 million
  • Smart Growth: ~$100 million

The operational cost of AATA’s current service is around $30 million. But for all scenarios, the net operating cost – the amount left to be funded after fare revenues are factored in – are actually similar: around $50 million a year. That’s because fare revenues are expected to account for a higher percentage of funding for the high-capacity transit options included in the Smart Growth scenario.

In an email to The Chronicle, Michael Benham, project coordinator for the AATA’s transit master plan, stressed that the funding analysis is not yet complete. He pointed out that for the parts of projects that cross county lines – like the north-south or east-west commuter rail components of the Smart Growth scenario – there’s not an expectation that Washtenaw County would bear the entire cost. Further, high-capacity options like a connector system for the Plymouth-State corridor may be able to attract significant private investment.

TMP: Projected Benefits

The presentation to be given at the public meetings highlight a variety of benefits – for each scenario, a dollar amount has been calculated that projects a return on investment for operational dollars spent.

At the Jan. 25 press briefing, Benham pointed to projected changes in public transit “mode share” by the year 2040. Mode share for public transit means the percentage of trips taken using public transit, compared to other vehicles. The current mode share for public transit in urban areas – where public transit is available – is 6.2%. Both the Lifeline Plus and the Accessible County scenarios are projected to increase that figure to 9.3%. The Smart Growth scenario is projected to increase public transit mode share to 12.2%.

While the different scenarios show a substantial increases in mode share, they’re still relatively small percentages. In his phone interview, Eli Cooper responded to that observation by describing the role of public transit as skimming enough volume off the passenger vehicle traffic flow to keep traffic flowing smoothly. So he’s not trying to get everyone out of their cars and onto the bus – he’s just trying to make sure the option is available. Skimming a lane’s worth of traffic off of existing roadways by building transit, he said, works out to be cheaper than building an extra lane of road.

TMP: Meeting Schedule

In a recent telephone interview with The Chronicle, AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein said he did not think the TMP planning effort could fail, because whatever the plan is, “it will be what people say they want.”

As part of its effort to hear what people are saying they want, the AATA is holding another series of 20 public meetings at locations across the county to get final input into the countywide transit master plan.

Board Meeting: Jan. 20, 2011

The AATA board meets monthly, typically on the third Thursday of the month, starting at 6:30 p.m. The meeting schedule, along with the online board information packet, is available on the AATA website board of directors page. Time for public comment is available near the start and at the end of each meeting.

The meeting location for the AATA board currently is the boardroom of the Ann Arbor District Library, which is located across from the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor. The board began meeting there in the fall of 2010, changing from its boardroom at the AATA main offices on South Industrial, in order to take advantage of the videotaping facilities at the library’s boardroom. Video of the meetings can be accessed online through CTN’s video-on-demand service.

Board: Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its January meeting, the board entertained various communications, including its usual reports from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, the planning and development committee, as well as from the CEO, Michael Ford. The board also heard commentary from the public. Here are some highlights.

Board: Comm/Comm – Planning Award to Plymouth Park and Ride

The meeting began with the presentation of an award given by the American Public Works Association. Board chair Jesse Bernstein announced that the APWA had honored the AATA for its construction of the Plymouth Road park and ride lot located near US-23, which opened in May 2010. According to the statement from APWA that Bernstein read aloud, the project was cited for “reducing traffic congestion and improving parking availability in the city of Ann Arbor by constructing a parking facility implementing environmentally preferred best management practices.”

Bernstein presented the plaque to Chris White, manager of service development development, and the rest of the AATA staff. According to an AATA press release, use of the 245-space lot has grown from an average of 60 to 150 cars per day.

Board: Comm/Comm – Ride Guide Praise

Board chair Jesse Bernstein noted that in reviewing the new Ride Guide – the printed publication containing all AATA route information – the first 30 pages had been revised. The beginning section now includes information about the AATA Adopt-a-Stop program, as well as how to connect to other transportation services like Michigan Flyer, the WAVE and MegaBus. Bernstein complimented the staff on an “excellent job.” It seemed to Bernstein that the Ride Guide had been substantially improved. [Online AATA route information is available from the AATA's website or via Google Maps.]

Board: Comm/Comm – CEO’s report

AATA’s CEO Michael Ford reported that two people had attended the second riders’ forum that had taken place immediately before the board meeting. [This was an increase of two over the previous occasion when the AATA had held such a forum.] Ford said they went over new service changes for January. Ford indicated that the AATA would continue to be available to the public in this way.

The last several weeks, Ford said, staff has been focused on developing the three scenarios for the transportation master plan (TMP). Each of the board’s committees has reviewed the presentation. He encouraged board members to participate in the last round of the process.

Ford said the AATA had developed some television commercials and videos to help promote public participation in the TMP public engagement process. Fourteen people were invited, representing different demographics to be filmed, he said. Ford played the video for the board.

Appearing on screen were: Michael Ford, John Hieftje, Susan Martin, Rebecca Lopez Kriss, Jennifer Holmes, Donna Moldovan, Albert Berriz, Paul Schreiber, Mary Jo Callan, Ronnie Peterson, Ted Annis, Ann Feeney, Robert Allen, and Carolyn Grawi. [Editor's note: We omit descriptions here, so readers can test themselves to see how many of the public figures they recognize; identifying information is included below.]

Ford reported that they’d reconnected with the AATA legal counsel on Act 55 versus Act 196. As the transportation master plan neared completion, it seemed timely to begin looking at the issue again, he said. He’d met with mayor John Hieftje, Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, and Jeff Irwin, newly elected state representative for District 53, to talk about board governance, if the AATA were to be incorporated under Act 196.

Board: Comm/Comm – Planning and Development Committee

Rich Robben gave the report from the planning and development committee. He said the committee had discussed the capital and categorical grant program and recommended it for approval by the entire board. There’d been no major changes in the program since they’d seen it late last year, he said.

Robben said the committee had discussed the presentation that will be part of the transit master plan presentation to the public. They’d also discussed the planning for the board’s next retreat.

Board: Comm/Comm – Performance Monitoring and External Relations Committee

Charles Griffith gave the report from the performance monitoring and external relations committee.

He noted small variances in the performance metrics. There’d been a change in the reporting method for the way the local property tax portion of funding is allocated across different line items of the service that AATA provides. It was an important move to show how local millage dollars are being used, he said.  [.pdf of financial and performance data]

Griffith highlighted the fact that the service standards for safety goals had been exceeded: only two preventable accidents were recorded in the last period. There’d been an increase in complaints and compliments, because there has been a change in the way that data is collected. When you do a better job at collecting the data, you get more input, Griffith said.

The committee had spent time discussing real-time bus information provided to riders and had emphasized how to provide data to third-party vendors so they can come up with applications to give riders the most benefit.

Board: Comm/Comm – Public Comment

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as an advocate for seniors and disabled people. Demographics as well as commercial considerations need to be included in the discussion of transportation planning, he said. Improvements have been made in the AATA’s service, he said, but they have not attacked the heart of problem, which is to get a comprehensive system to connect vital locations through the county to connect AATA to other bus and mass transit systems.

Jim Mogensen gave the board a bit of an extended wink by reading aloud text that it turns out he was paraphrasing in parts. A rough paraphrase of his paraphrase:

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority provides a combination of line haul express and demand-response services. Demand response service is currently available during the weekday in some sections of Ann Arbor. Line haul routes have been retained and will be added where passenger volume warrants. A new express route with a number of stops has recently been added to our bundle of services in order to provide rapid connectivity between major trip generators. On weekends and during evening hours, the demand-response service operates citywide.

In addition to the above services, AATA provides weekday line haul service within the city of Ypsilanti and adjoining townships.

During the next fiscal year, the AATA will conduct two experimental services funded entirely by demonstration grants from the Michigan Department of State Highways and Transportation. The first project, known as the Liberty Street Shuttle, will provide a connecting shuttle between the downtown area of Ann Arbor and a shopping center located near the central campus of the university of Michigan …

The parts he paraphrased contained references to specific years and the specific terminology used to describe the demand response service – “dial-a-ride” – back in … 1976. The text he’d taken was from a 1976 AATA application for federal operation assistance.

Mogensen concluded that the AATA had always had a vision, but in the end it comes down to having money to pay for it.

Board: Resolution – Capital and Categorical Grant Program

Before the board was a resolution to approve AATA’s capital and categorical grant program. [.pdf of capital and categorical grant program summary] The program, which includes plans for bus replacement, preventive maintenance, and onboard equipment, is used in connection with upcoming state and federal grant applications. In his report from the planning and development committee, Rich Robben had noted that the strategy used to match federal dollars would change, because the state of Michigan has exhausted its “toll credits.” That means the match will now come from the local transportation authorities. From a staff memo:

MDOT has provided the required 20% match for federal grants since the beginning of the federal program in 1974. Since 2005, MDOT has provided the non-federal share in actual money only for the purchase of buses and the construction of facilities. For all other items, the match was provided with something called “toll credits.” Essentially, this allowed MDOT to provide the match without actually putting up any money.

For AATA, the items were funded with 100% federal funds. MDOT has informed us and other transit agencies in the state that they have used up the last of their toll credits. The FY 2012 application instructions from MDOT instruct us to include the 20% match from MDOT for all items. This has the effect of reducing the amount of federal funds required to carry out the program. As a result, the projection of federal funds through 2015 shows a substantial positive balance each year, including 2015.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the capital and categorical grants program.

Board: Video Who’s Who

Appearing in the new AATA video are:

  • Michael Ford: CEO of the AATA
  • John Hieftje: mayor of Ann Arbor
  • Susan Martin: president of Eastern Michigan University
  • Rebecca Lopez Kriss: student of UM’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; member of Ann Arbor Fourth-Fifth Avenue historic district study committee
  • Jennifer Holmes: director of operations for UM Hospitals emergency department
  • Donna Moldovan: respiratory therapist at UM Hospitals
  • Albert Berriz: CEO of McKinley Inc.
  • Paul Schreiber: mayor of Ypsilanti
  • Mary Jo Callan: director of Ann Arbor-Washtenaw County office of community development
  • Ronnie Peterson: Washtenaw County commissioner, representing District 6 (Ypsilanti)
  • Ted Annis: former AATA board member
  • Ann Feeney: former mayor and current city councilmember in Chelsea
  • Robert Allen: interim superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools
  • Carolyn Grawi: director of advocacy and education at the Center for Independent Living

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

Absent: Anya Dale

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]