Ann Arbor Transportation Authority special board meeting (July 19, 2011): The four members who attended Tuesday’s special meeting of the AATA board voted unanimously on a raft of resolutions, ranging from infrastructure projects to more action toward a countywide transit authority.
The latter item – authorizing AATA resources to support formation of an unincorporated Act 196 board (U196) – was approved without discussion. The resolution also authorized the board chair, Jesse Bernstein, to appoint three members to the U196 board.
In a related item, board members approved a $193,317 extension of AATA’s contract with Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), the London-based consultant hired last year to work on developing AATA’s transit master plan. SDG will work on implementing the plan – some board members indicated they’d like to see the consultant include more local resources as the process moves forward. The original contract with SDG was for $399,805. It was previously extended and increased at the AATA board’s Nov. 18, 2010 meeting by an amount not to exceed $32,500.
The infrastructure projects approved at the July 19 meeting include an expansion of AATA’s bus storage facility – in part to accommodate growth if a countywide transit entity is formed. Other projects entail replacement of bus hoists, a blanket contract for concrete work, and detention pond and landscaping improvements.
AATA board meetings are typically held on the third Thursday of the month, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown boardroom, where the meetings are televised by Community Television Network (CTN). Tuesday’s special meeting, called in order to move ahead on some of these projects, began at 1 p.m. at the AATA headquarters on South Industrial, and was not videotaped. It was attended by more than a half-dozen AATA staff members, but not by CEO Michael Ford. Only four of the board’s seven members attended – it takes four members to make a quorum.
Steps toward Countywide Transit Authority
Board members took two actions in support of a countywide plan for transportation services that’s been in the works for more than a year.
The first resolution they considered authorized the AATA board chair to appoint three board members to serve on an unincorporated Act 196 board (U196), with the direction to move towards forming an active Act 196 transit authority for countywide transportation. The same resolution authorized the AATA’s CEO to use AATA resources to support an unincorporated Act 196 board. There was no discussion among board members on this item prior to their vote. [.pdf of U196 resolution]
Act 196 of 1986 is a state statute that provides for forming transit authorities that encompass wider geographic areas than just cities. It’s the legislation on which a countywide transit authority for Washtenaw County would likely be based. Under one proposal that has been presented by the AATA to various public bodies, a fully incorporated Act 196 board would have 15 members countywide, with seven of them coming from Ann Arbor.
Concerns about governance and funding have been raised by some government leaders outside of Ann Arbor. County commissioners were briefed about the countywide transit plan at an April 2011 working session of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, and some of them objected to the weight that Ann Arbor representatives would be given under the proposal, relative to other parts of the county. AATA Michael Ford and board chair Jesse Bernstein attended another county board working session in June, where similar issues were raised again. From The Chronicle’s report of that meeting:
Bernstein said [county commissioner Wes] Prater had raised some core questions that will have to be answered. The board of the unincorporated Act 196 entity will be the people who decide how the transit authority will be governed, he added – it isn’t set in stone. The issue of how many representatives from Ann Arbor serve on the unincorporated board is wide open, he said.
The AATA is suggesting this as a point to start the discussion, Bernstein told commissioners, but there’s plenty of room for modifications and adjustments. They’re not ready to propose something definitive.
Prater again cited concerns over creating a transit authority that doesn’t report to any government entity. He said he’s very cautious about supporting an authority that might put a countywide tax on the ballot. Prater expressed support for the model used in Grand Rapids, in which a smaller number of jurisdictions form the transit authority. He guessed that most areas in Washtenaw County, outside of the urban areas, don’t have the population to support a countywide transit system.
Bernstein reported that in talking with people in the county’s rural townships, they are concerned over the ability of residents to age in place – that is, to continue to live in their homes, even if they can no longer drive. Elected officials in those areas, he said, want transit services for residents to get to their medical care, for example.
The other issue is land use, Bernstein said. Townships don’t want dense developments in their communities – they’d rather see transit corridors, he said, so that their tax base can grow while they preserve farmland and open space at the same time.
Bernstein said it’s true that there’s not yet a funding plan, though organizers assume it will be a millage of some sort. There’s still a long way to go, he said.
Prater noted that five townships and two cities account for about 75% of the population in this county – those are areas where he supports public transportation. [He was referring to the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the townships of Ypsilanti, Scio, Superior, Pittsfield and Augusta.] Prater said he’s not convinced that the approach being pursued is the right one, adding that he’s very critical of it. If the governance isn’t fair, the initiative is already in trouble, he said.
Leah Gunn clarified that each jurisdiction involved in the transit authority would vote separately on a transit tax. She noted that Ann Arbor residents have been paying 2 mills for transit for many years – it was voted in as a permanent millage in the 1970s, and funds the AATA. Will that millage be retained, even if there’s an additional millage?
That’s one of the suggestions, Bernstein said, adding that he’s open to whatever makes sense. Some have said that every jurisdiction should pay the same amount. All of these things are decisions that need to be made. ”I have no idea what that [funding mechanism] is going to look like,” he said.
Gunn said she feels strongly that Ann Arbor should keep its 2-mill transit tax. She elicited from Ford that Ann Arbor has invested nearly $180 million in its transit system over the years. In addition, they’ve leveraged those dollars for millions more in federal funding, she noted. Ann Arbor has been very generous, she said – without that investment, AATA wouldn’t be able to provide transit services to other communities, like Ypsilanti.
Yousef Rabhi clarified that whatever future millage might be voted on would be on the ballot only in jurisdictions that wanted to be part of the new transit authority – it wouldn’t necessarily be countywide. He also pointed out that based on having one-third of the county’s population, Ann Arbor would be entitled to five seats in a 15-member transit authority board. But if the city also contributed an additional 2 mills in funding, that could justify an additional two seats on the board, he said.
Rabhi said he’d like to keep the 2-mill transit tax, noting that he uses the AATA bus system frequently. With a larger system, it’s an opportunity for more routes, more services – more of a good thing, he said.
Ronnie Peterson weighed in, telling Ford and Bernstein that a countywide system has been a long time coming. He had urged AATA’s previous two CEOs to take on this project, but they hadn’t, he said. He wished it had been undertaken when the economy was better. “Keep your foot to the pedal,” he told them.
Peterson urged Ford to bring communities to the table that already buy transit services from AATA, like Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township – communities which Peterson represents on the county board. That should happen even before a formal entity is created, he said.
Bernstein concluded the discussion by noting that the next major step will be to pull together representatives into an unincorporated entity, and to develop articles of incorporation for an Act 196. Meanwhile, AATA will continue to operate its current system, he said, and they’ll work to get answers to the questions that commissioners have raised. Where they wind up must be inclusive of everyone who wants to participate, Bernstein added – they won’t return to the county board until everything is in order.
Though it wasn’t discussed at the AATA board’s July 19 special meeting, the rationale for appointing only three members of the current AATA board to the U196 board is to avoid the possibility that the actions of four or more members of the AATA board (a quorum of its members) as a part of the U196 would be understood as an action of the AATA board. That was the concern expressed at a June 3 retreat held by the board at Weber’s Inn.
The same resolution authorized the AATA’s CEO – Michael Ford, who did not attend the July 19 meeting – to use AATA resources to support an unincorporated Act 196 board. The language of the resolution differed in a subtle but significant way from a draft resolution considered but not voted on by the AATA board at a meeting held on June 3 in a retreat-style format at Weber’s Inn. The draft language from that meeting stated [emphasis added]: “… the AATA Chief Executive Officer shall use the resources of the Authority as needed and as appropriate …” The version of the resolution approved by the board at its July 19 meeting read: “… the AATA Chief Executive Officer shall use the resources of the Authority as budgeted by the AATA Board.”
Outcome: Without discussion, board members voted unanimously to authorize the board chair to appoint three board members to serve on an unincorporated Act 196 (U196) board, and to authorize the AATA CEO to use AATA resources in support of a U196 board.
Countywide Transit Authority: Consulting Contract
Also related to countywide transit, board members were asked to authorize a $193,317 extension of AATA’s contract with Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), a consultant hired last year to work on developing AATA’s transit master plan. The contract extension would provide for services from SDG through December 2012.
The original contract with SDG was for $399,805. It was previously extended and increased at the AATA board’s Nov. 18, 2010 meeting by an amount not to exceed $32,500.
The contract is intended to allow SDG to start implementing the transit master plan. The extended contract is expected to cover a range of services: (1) providing support to an ad hoc countywide transit funding task force; (2) developing “district recommendations” for services; (3) creating “service development plans” for specific services; (4) creating a fares and ticketing plan with two components: a near‐term component aimed at rationalizing the current AATA fare structure, and a longer‐term component designed to create a countywide fare policy and structure; and (5) doing other studies and planning activities to support ongoing countywide transit development efforts. [.pdf file of SDG proposal]
During his report of the AATA board’s July 12 planning and development committee meeting, Rich Robben mentioned that committee members had discussed the need for SDG to work with local companies as it implements the countywide plan. From the minutes of that PDC meeting:
It was acknowledged that SDG has institutional knowledge, but PDC members suggested that local talent be sought solely or jointly with SDG, to help achieve at a lower cost and support the local Michigan economy.
Michael Benham responded to questions regarding the possible costs of extending the SDG contract. Absent a specific proposal, it is estimated the figure would be about $40,000 in FY 2011, and approximately $160,000 in FY 2012.
The Committee concurred that they would withhold a decision on extending SDG’s contract until such time as a specific proposal was presented. The committee also concurred that a portion of the work should be completed in partnership with local consultants. Michael Ford agreed to share SDG’s proposal with Committee members and would seek to move the question of extending the contract with SDG to the full Board for consideration at its special meeting on July 19, 2011.
Countywide Transit Authority: Consulting Contract – Board Discussion
Jesse Bernstein began by saying he wanted to echo Robben’s comment about local involvement – it’s absolutely essential at this point in the process, he said. He planned to talk with CEO Michael Ford about how to make that happen. The board also needs to be closely engaged, not just the staff, he said.
Roger Kerson said that the work up until this point has taken a big effort by AATA staff as well as SDG. But this is a 30-year plan, he noted, and it’s important to build staff capacity so that they could take on future work, after the consultants are gone. “The more we can do on our own, the better all around,” he said.
Bernstein spoke up again, saying the board can’t keep asking the current AATA staff to take on more work. At some point, additional resources will be needed – either employees, or contractors. The board is aware of that, he said. It’s difficult to manage an operation as extensive as AATA, at a high level of quality, while at the same time asking staff to plan for an even larger organization down the road. He hoped that in the future, the transportation authority would have money to take on more work, but they needed to be flexible.
Saying she supported the contract, Sue McCormick had a question about the contract language. AATA appears to be entering into a contract that obligates funds not yet approved or allocated by the board, she noted. Typically, the contract would explicitly indicate that the funding is subject to the availability of funds, she said, so that AATA has the ability to terminate the contract if necessary. Dawn Gabay, AATA’s deputy CEO, told the board she’d make sure the contract includes such language.
Outcome: Board members voted unanimously to authorize the contract extension with Steer Davies Gleave.
After the vote, Bernstein thanked AATA staff for their “extraordinary” work on the project. Earlier in the meeting, he had also commended staff for the thoroughness and clarity of their staff memos that accompany board resolutions.
Countywide Transit Authority: Consulting Contract – Public Commentary
At the end of the meeting, Vivienne Armentrout spoke during the time set aside for public commentary. She said she echoed Bernstein’s comments – the AATA’s staff is exceptional.
Armentrout reported that she had attended the most recent planning and development committee meeting, where she said there had been a vigorous discussion about the SDG contract. At the time, the actual proposal hadn’t been available for committee members to review, she noted. Was that made available later?
Rich Robben clarified that committee members had received a copy of the proposal after the meeting, and had been polled individually via email about it.
Based on discussion at the committee meeting, Armentrout said, she felt that the item would have been more controversial than it seemed to be at the board meeting. Robben replied that committee members had unanimously supported the proposal, and felt that their concerns would be addressed. Bernstein reiterated his concern that SDG include quality local input as the process moves forward, saying he wanted to be sure that happened.
In a series of unanimous votes on separate resolutions, the board authorized expenditures for a range of different infrastructure projects at the site of its headquarters on South Industrial Highway. Projects included an expansion of the bus storage facility, replacement of bus hoists, a blanket contract for concrete work, and detention pond and landscaping improvements.
Infrastructure Projects: Bus Storage Facility
On the agenda was a resolution to expand the bus storage facility at AATA’s headquarters on South Industrial Highway. The current facility was built in the 1980s, when AATA transported about half the number of people that it does today, according to a staff memo. It was designed to handle up to 100 vehicles, but is now at capacity at about 90, because buses now are longer and wider than in the ’80s.
Expanding the storage facility on the west side of the current building would allow for capacity of up to 120 of the larger buses. If operations were to expand into countywide services, this additional bus storage capacity would be needed, according to the staff memo.
The $2.4 million project will be financed using a combination of roughly $1 million in federal America Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds and $1.4 million in existing federal formula funds.
Infrastructure Projects: Bus Storage Facility – Board Discussion
Sue McCormick clarified the number of vehicles that this expansion would accommodate – 120. Terry Black, AATA’s maintenance manager, said the footprint of the current site allows for this additional expansion. However, if even more storage space is eventually required, AATA would need to build it at another location.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the bus storage facility project.
Infrastructure Projects: Bus Hoist Replacement
A resolution to award a $980,500 contract to Spence Brothers for replacement of bus hoists was considered by the AATA board. The project will be financed by a combination of existing grants and from federal formula funds. [.pdf of bus hoist resolution and staff memo]
The AATA headquarters on South Industrial Highway includes an area for maintenance of the bus fleet. There are 10 in-floor hydraulic bus lifts, including eight that are original to the building when it was constructed in 1983. The maintenance costs for those original eight hoists is around $50,000 per year, according to a staff report.
Infrastructure Projects: Bus Hoist Replacement – Board Discussion
Sue McCormick noted that the hoists allow mechanics to work under the bus. What mechanisms are in place to allow them safely to work on top of a bus? she asked. Terry Black, AATA’s maintenance manager, described an overhead cable system with harnesses that was installed about four years ago.
In response to another question from McCormick, Black said that although the staff isn’t requesting an increase in the number of hoists, they are proposing a redesign that will improve efficiencies and reduce maintenance costs. For example, the wash bay will be redesigned so that hoists will lift buses from the side, not from below – that means the hoists won’t be flushed with contaminants during the wash cycle, which will reduce maintenance costs for the hoists. He also noted that the new design will accommodate articulated buses – longer buses that bend in the middle. This type of bus has been discussed as a possibility in expanded transit plans. Black said the staff is trying to anticipate possible longer-term changes.
McCormick wondered if AATA would have enough capacity with the same number of hoists, given that the possibility of expanded transit service is being considered. Black reported that there’s currently a fair amount of dead time when the hoists aren’t being used, and that the existing number of hoists could accommodate projected increases in use.
Jesse Bernstein noted that the hoists had a projected life span of 20 years – he was glad they were finally being replaced after 28 years.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved awarding Spence Brothers a $980,500 contract to replace AATA’s bus hoists.
Infrastructure Projects: Concrete Contract
A resolution on the July 19 agenda asked the board to award Doan Construction a “blanket” contract for concrete work for a period not to exceed 5 years, and for an amount not to exceed $250,000.
A staff memo accompanying the resolution describes the type of work that might be done, including shelter pads, bus stop waiting areas, curb cuts and driveway entrances. The memo states that AATA vehicles weigh as much as 18-20 tons, and that the weight causes pavement to deteriorate or crumble, requiring repair.
Outcome: Without discussion, board members unanimously approved awarding Doan Construction the “blanket” contract for concrete work.
Infrastructure Projects: Detention Pond & Landscaping
The board was asked to approve a $98,500 contract with Erie Construction for detention pond and landscaping improvements at AATA’s headquarters on South Industrial Highway.
The detention pond work will be financed through a combination of Federal Transit Authority funds and federal formula funds. According to a staff memo, the FTA requires that AATA apply 1% of the total capital funds it receives toward facility enhancements. The detention pond and landscaping improvements will enable AATA to meet that requirement.
The project will include removing the existing evergreen trees around the pond and replacing them with younger arbor vitae plants; re-sculpturing the pond banks; stabilizing the eroding banks; removing rocks that currently line the pond’s bank; putting in low-maintenance xeriscaping plantings around the pond; making improvements to the flagpole terrace and retaining wall; and installing low-maintenance “garden-style” plantings at the entrance to the building.
Infrastructure Projects: Detention Pond & Landscaping – Board Discussion
Sue McCormick asked whether the work would be done in accordance with current best practices regarding stormwater management. Terry Black, AATA’s maintenance manager, said it would.
Jesse Bernstein hoped the new plantings would be heat and drought resistant – a reference to this week’s blistering temperatures.
Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve a $98,500 contract with Erie Construction for detention pond and landscaping improvements.
Disadvantaged Business Policy
The board was asked to authorize a policy establishing a goal that 3.4% of U.S. Dept. of Transportation contracting opportunities be given to disadvantaged businesses in fiscal years 2012-2014. That status is designated for firms that have 51% ownership by an individual or individuals who are considered socially and economically disadvantaged – a category including women, black Americans, Hispanic Americans, native Americans, Asian-Pacific Americans, and other minorities found to be disadvantaged by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The U.S. DOT requires that entities receiving federal funds, like AATA, have a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program. The program must include the kind of goals that the board approved. The AATA policy approved at the July 19 meeting specifies that of the 3.4%, 2% is to be achieved through “race conscious” methods and the remaining 1.4% through “race neutral” methods. [.pdf of DBE resolution and staff memo]
Disadvantaged Business Policy: Board Discussion
Jesse Bernstein began by asking for clarification of the terms “race neutral” and “race conscious.”
Ed Robertson, AATA’s human resources manager, explained that race neutral meant that bids didn’t take race into consideration – if a DBE firm happened to win the bid, that would count toward the race neutral goal. “Race conscious” means that a request for proposals (RFP) would stipulate that the bid must include a percentage of DBE participation. Robertson emphasized that these are goals, not quotas. If a contractor for a particular project can’t achieve the percentage goal cited in the RFP, the contractor must at least show evidence of a good faith effort to do so.
Sue McCormick wanted to know how this will influence the selection process. Robertson again stressed that these were goals, not quotas. If a contractor submits a bid and is qualified for the work, and also demonstrates participation by a DBE, then AATA has some leeway on the price structure, Robertson said. That is, AATA wouldn’t have to award the contract to the lowest bidder, if a contractor with a higher bid can show that DBEs are participating in the work.
Roger Kerson observed that in the past few years, AATA hasn’t been meeting its DBE goals. What’s being done to improve that?
Robertson said that in the past few years, the AATA hasn’t undertaken federally funded projects that would be conducive for DBEs to bid on. Most of the projects using federal dollars have related to vehicle purchases, planning or maintenance, he said. But now, AATA is embarking on several construction projects that will likely be more accessible to DBEs, he said. In addition, the process of getting certified as a DBE is somewhat burdensome, Robertson said, especially for small businesses, which DBEs tend to be. AATA has taken the stand that they’ll continue to do business with firms that would qualify for DBE status, even if those firms aren’t officially certified as DBEs.
Dawn Gabay, AATA’s deputy CEO, told board members that AATA staff was working to increase DBE participation, in part by possibly partnering with the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.
Kerson asked for regular reports to the board about progress toward the DBE goals.
Sue McCormick wondered what the consequences would be if AATA didn’t meet these goals. If AATA can show a good faith effort toward reaching the goals, Robertson said, then there are no consequences if the goals aren’t achieved. However, if the organization can’t demonstrate that they’ve tried to attain the goals, then AATA’s federal funding would be jeopardized, he said.
Outcome: Board members unanimously approved the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise policy.
Present: Jesse Bernstein, Sue McCormick, Rich Robben, Roger Kerson
Absent: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Anya Dale
Next regular meeting: Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]