Washtenaw Transit Talk in “Flux”

Airport bus service one program in broad planning efforts

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Oct. 20, 2011): Over the last two weeks, several significant developments in transportation planning have unfolded in and around Ann Arbor, not all of them at the most recent meeting of the AATA board.

Michael Ford

AATA CEO Michael Ford adjusts the microphone for board member Charles Griffith at the board’s Oct. 20 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At an Oct. 10 Ann Arbor city council work session, the council received an update on the high capacity connector study for a geographic area that broadly connects the boomerang-shaped swath from Plymouth Road and US-23 down through Ann Arbor to South State Street.

Most significantly, the swath connects the University of Michigan’s north, central and medical campuses. The basic conclusion of that study was delivered to the AATA board several months ago: Sufficient ridership exists in the core of that area to support some kind of high-capacity “fixed guideway” system like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), light rail, or elevated guideway.

What’s new are the steps that are now being taken to secure funding for the next phase of the connector study: An analysis that will yield the “preferred alternative.” That alternative will include selection of a specific transportation technology, as well as proposed routes and station locations.

Funding for part of that alternatives analysis was announced on Oct. 13 by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation – $1.2 million has been awarded to the AATA. However, that funding won’t cover the cost of the environmental study component of the project.

Related to that project, on Oct. 19 the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) policy board voted to add the alternatives analysis to its Unified Planning Work Program. Next up will be formal action by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and the Michigan Dept. of Transportation that will facilitate funding applications to the Federal Highway Administration by the spring of 2012. Work on the study might begin before complete federal funding is in place.

The high-capacity connector study is taking place in the context of AATA’s countywide transportation master plan, which the board approved earlier this year, after more than a year of development. On Oct. 20, a day after the WATS policy board vote, the first meeting of a group was held that could become the board of a new countywide transportation authority. That new authority could be formed under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986 – the current group is called the U196 board, short for “unincorporated Act 196.” Their first meeting was relatively informal, but members determined to schedule meetings for November and December instead of waiting until January 2012.

The following week, on Oct. 26, Gov. Rick Snyder gave a speech outlining key components of a sketch for improved transportation infrastructure in the state. The speech included a call for the formation of a regional transit authority in southeast Michigan that could include Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties.

Two days later, on Oct. 28, the content of the governor’s speech was part of the focus of conversation for a transportation financial planning group, led by former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel and McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz. The group convened its second of four meetings that it expects to hold before the end of the year. In early 2012, the group is expected to deliver a white paper to the U196 board with recommendations on funding options for countywide transit.

At that meeting, the group heard from Dennis Schornack, a special advisor to Snyder on transportation. Schornack sketched out the contents of a still “somewhat secret” three-bill package that would establish a regional transit authority (RTA), including Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. Reaction of the financial planning group to the RTA seemed sanguine. The idea of possibly funding transit through vehicle registration fees (enacted on an ad valorem basis), as an alternative to floating a countywide transit millage, appeared to be the most attractive aspect of the possible RTA.

Berriz concluded that Schornack’s presentation had thrown the group’s conversation into a state of flux.

Amid that activity, the AATA board did its part to keep the existing buses running, by convening its regular monthly meeting on Oct. 20. Of its action items, the most significant was a resolution authorizing its CEO to begin negotiations with Michigan Flyer to contract for bus service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro airport.

Given the possibility that an RTA could be in Ann Arbor’s future, Schornack’s advice on the Detroit-Ann Arbor airport contract was this: Keep it short-term.

Ann Arbor to Detroit Metro Service (AATA Board)

On the agenda at AATA’s Oct. 20 meeting was a resolution to authorize its CEO to start negotiations with Michigan Flyer to provide service between the downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center and Detroit Metropolitan Airport. During a presentation to the U196 board earlier in the afternoon, AATA CEO Michael Ford said that the intent was to provide 12 daily trips each way, with a very limited number of stops, in order to achieve a trip time of around 40-45 minutes.

The resolution considered by the board indicates that Michigan Flyer is willing to enter into a cost/revenue sharing arrangement and that marketing efforts for the new Ann Arbor-to-Detroit airport service would be made by both Michigan Flyer and the AATA.

The resolution also indicates that Michigan Flyer’s operating costs for the service would be $81.25 per service hour. By way of comparison, AATA’s budgeted cost per service hour for the current budget year is around $110 per service hour. The airport route will be called Route #900.

The idea of providing service between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro airport is not new. The AATA board has had airport service actively on its work plan at least since an August 2010 board retreat.

Deliberations by the AATA board did not last long. Noting the Michigan Flyer operating cost of $81 per service hour, AATA board member Roger Kerson wanted to know if that provides any insight on how many passengers the AATA needs in order to break even.

AATA deputy director Dawn Gabay explained there was an estimate, but some of it depends on negotiations with Michigan Flyer. Kerson recalled from previous discussions that the fare was planned to be around $15 – was that accurate? Gabay said it’s part of the negotiations. There is less detail about the proposal, because AATA still has to enter into negotiations. Once the contract is negotiated, she said, more details will be provided.

Gabay’s remarks were consistent with Rich Robben’s report from the planning and development committee, as he described how AATA staff is working on ticketing, branding and agreements with the airport. The committee had withheld examining details, he said, until the contract is brought for approval.

Outcome: The AATA board voted unanimously to authorize contract negotiations with Michigan Flyer to provide service to Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

Regional Transit Authority? (Financial Group)

AATA’s current negotiations with Michigan Flyer to provide airport service from Ann Arbor to Detroit Metro came up at the Oct. 28 meeting of a financial group that’s examining funding options for the AATA’s transit master plan. Dennis Schornack, a special advisor on transportation to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, told AATA staff present that he’d suggest making those contracts short-term.

Southeast Michigan Transit Authority

Four-county region that may be proposed for a regional transit authority (RTA) counterclockwise from Washtenaw County (orange): Wayne, Macomb, Oakland. Pushpin A is the location of the Detroit Metro airport. Major corridors on which rolling rapid transit would be provided include Gratiot (red), M-59 (yellow), Woodward (purple) and Michigan Avenue (green). (Map is by The Ann Arbor Chronicle. Image links to dynamic Google Map with .kml file)

The advice for short-term contracts came in the context of a sketch of a regional transit authority that Schornack gave to the group based on the draft of a three-bill package that he thought would find its way before the legislature. That legislative package could lead to a regional transit authority (RTA) that could wind up providing the airport connection.

The bills would address: creation of the RTA, governance and finance. The bills would implement part of the plan for improvement of transportation infrastructure described in an Oct. 26 speech by Gov. Snyder. [.pdf of text of Snyder's Oct. 26 infrastructure speech]

[Schornack had a draft of the legislation in hand at the meeting, but told those present it was still "somewhat secret" and he couldn't show it to them. Schornack left the meeting early to deal with a downtown Ann Arbor traffic accident he'd been involved with on his way there. After Schornack's departure, Berriz quipped that he'd tried to peek over at Schornack's sheaf of papers, without success. A member of the group piped up: "Now we know how you got through school!"]

A regional transit authority contrasts with the current planning the AATA has been doing, which has focused on expanding local service to a countywide area inside Washtenaw.

Schornack said the draft bills will be discussed at a meeting scheduled  in early November with Federal Transit Authority administrator Peter Rogoff, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, the county administrators of Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties, Washtenaw County board chair Conan Smith and Snyder.

To make regional transit work, Schornack said, it was felt that Washtenaw County had to be brought into the mix. By way of background, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners passed a resolution at their Sept. 21, 2011 meeting expressing support for the idea of a regional transit authority. From The Chronicle’s meeting coverage:

The context for the resolution [on forming a regional transit authority] is a Sept. 30 southeast Michigan regional summit that Washtenaw County has been invited to participate in for the first time. In past years, the summit included Detroit and the counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. This year, Washtenaw and St. Clair counties will be included, and the topics will focus on regional cooperation and transportation. [Conan] Smith and Kristin Judge have been participating in the planning stages on Washtenaw County’s behalf.

The resolution cites the benefits and goals of regional transportation, including transit options along the Ann Arbor to Detroit corridor, and connections to Detroit Metro and Willow Run airports. It notes that state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) – who is married to Conan Smith – has introduced legislation as part of a bipartisan package to create a regional transportation authority.

The main resolved clause of the Washtenaw County resolution states:

Be It Therefore Resolved that the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners supports the creation of a new Regional Transportation Authority to enhance interconnectivity among the communities of the southeast Michigan region and urges the participants in the 2011 Southeast Michigan Regional Summit to aggressively pursue work that meets the above outlined goals.

Based on the sketch of the RTA that Schornack provided, voters in the four-county region forming the RTA would have a proposal put before them to enact a vehicle registration fee of up to $40 per year. Whether the fee (which would depend on the value of the vehicle) and the RTA were enacted would not depend on the results of county-by-county voting but rather on the result in the four-county area. That is, if the referendum failed in one of the counties, it would not mean that county had opted out. If a majority of voters in the four-county approved the plan, it would pass, Schornack said – that’s what it means for it to be regional.

Schornack described how roughly 95% of that revenue would come back to Washtenaw County. Members of the financial group seemed enthusiastic about that, because they held out some expectation that vehicle registration fees as a funding source might cover a roughly $60.8 million funding gap they’d identified over the first five years of implementation of the AATA’s transit master plan.

Funding Gap, Vetting Services (Financial Group)

The $60.8 million figure is the cumulative total funding gap for the first five years of implementation of the AATA’s countywide transit master plan. That gap is the sum of a $27 million gap on the capital side and a $34 million gap on the operating side. The gap is calculated based on no additional revenue sources in the categories of: (1) business/philanthropic sources; (2) local countywide millage; and (3) new local/state enabled funds.

At the Oct. 28 meeting of the financial group, Berriz had initially expressed a desire to divide into three sub-committees based on those categories of funding, to further study those specific issues. But that idea was paused after Schornack’s presentation.

Instead, Berriz took volunteers who were willing to take on the task of “vetting” the collection of services and sequencing over AATA’s 30-year transit master plan. Berriz argued that the financial group had a fiduciary responsibility to weigh in on the expenditures, as well as the revenues. He said he didn’t feel his task was simply to figure out how to raise $60.8 million. There are line items in the first five years of the plan, he said, that had three problems – low ridership, high cost per rider, and limited opportunity of external funding.


At the financial group’s Oct. 28 meeting, Michael Benham, project coordinator for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s transit master plan, distributed “one page” summaries of the financial projections for the first five years of the plan.

[Door-to-door countywide paratransit service, for example, fits that general description and is a key component of the first five-year phase of the transit master plan (TMP) as developed by the AATA. It's also one of the features that makes the TMP attractive to communities countywide, which have voted initially to join the U196 board, the possible precursor to a countywide transit authority for Washtenaw County.]

Berriz said that Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, “has a lot of people asking for things and not  a lot of people giving him money.”

More than once, Berriz characterized a certain set of line items as “not fitting.” At one point the head of the county/city of Ann Arbor office of community development, Mary Jo Callan (who is the only woman serving on the financial group), asked Berriz to explain what he exactly meant by “not fitting.” Berriz explained that, to him, items that “don’t fit” are services that have been requested by a certain constituency, without necessarily providing any revenue – items that are far more expensive than the existing service.

Earlier in the meeting, Berriz had characterized a lot of those types of services as “social services” as opposed to “running a bus company.” Berriz said he was not against providing those kinds of services, but the group needed to be clear and upfront about it, if that’s what they were doing.

Near the end of the meeting, Berriz called for a subcommittee to form that would “vet” the services and their sequencing. Callan was one of the first to raise her hand, and will serve on that subcommittee. [.pdf of "Volume I: A Transit Vision for Washtenaw County"] [.pdf of "Volume II: Transit Master Plan Implementation Strategy"] [.pdf of Part 1 of the Vol. 3 Funding Report] [.pdf of Part 2 of the Vol. 3 Funding Report]

Title VI, Social Services (Financial Group, AATA Board)

Also at the  meeting of the financial group, Schornack state that the proposed RTA would be the designated recipient of federal transit funds for the four-county area of the RTA. This represents a funding issue for the AATA, which is currently the designated recipient for the Ann Arbor area.

It also has an impact on requirements that the RTA will need to meet under federal civil rights legislation.

During public commentary at the AATA board’s Oct. 20 meeting, Jim Mogensen noted that in CEO Michael Ford’s written monthly report, there’s a note about the new Federal Transit Authority Title VI circular. Title VI, as Mogensen pointed out, is the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. AATA is the designated recipient of federal funds and is responsible for compliance with the act, he said. [.pdf of 2007 FTA Title VI Circular] [.pdf of proposed FTA Title VI Circular]

Mogensen reminded the board of the requirements that the AATA must meet under the Civil Rights Act. He said he was trying to point out that changes to routes can have a disparate impact on different populations, and although they may not be intentionally discriminating, they might still have that impact. As an example, he gave local Ypsilanti routes, and questioned whether they would be as robust when the TMP gets implemented. As the AATA moves towards the TMP, he asked the board to make sure those issues of possible disparate impact are taken care of and addressed.

High-Capacity Connector Study (City Council)

Besides service between Ann Arbor and the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, the AATA has a number of other service initiatives it’s currently pursuing, including several inside Washtenaw County.

Map of Ann Arbor's Plymouth-State Street transit corridor

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 AATA board received an update earlier this year on a feasibility study for a boomerang- or crescent-shaped  area extending from Plymouth Road and US-23 down through the center of Ann Arbor along State Street to I-94. [Chronicle coverage: "AATA Transit Study Planning Updates"]

The result of that feasibility study was that there’s sufficient ridership in the core area of that boomerang swath – between the University of Michigan north and central campuses – to support transportation technologies more robust than regular buses. Those could include bus rapid transit (BRT), light rail (street cars), or an elevated rail system. BRT is a combination of longer vehicles, typically with an accordion connector at some point, and various dedicated lanes and signalization systems that would give such a rubber-tired vehicle a travel-time advantage over other traffic. When Gov. Snyder refers to “rolling rapid transit,” it’s essentially BRT-type technology to which he’s referring.

That same result was presented to the Ann Arbor city council at a working session on Oct. 10. Rick Nau of URS Corp., the consultant that did the feasibility study, fielded questions from councilmembers. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) got clarification from Nau that based on current forecasts for growth (due in large part to the University of Michigan), roadway capacity in the corridor would result in significant congestion if some alternative were not provided.

Core shoulders connector study ann arbor transportation

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

In response to councilmember questions,  Nau explained that a BRT vehicle could roll on regular roadways, which meant that there was flexibility in implementation. A BRT system could be built out in incremental fashion, he said. In response to a query from Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Nau explained that it would not be as simple as assigning some existing lanes to BRT vehicles – in some cases, traffic engineering would dictate that you could not use existing lanes for regular traffic in favor of mass transit.

In response to a question from Hohnke, Nau clarified that by concluding that high-capacity transit in the corridor would be operationally feasible, the study had not established that there would be sufficient fare-box revenues for the system to be self-sustaining. In general, Nau said, public transportation requires some kind of additional subsidy, but for high capacity systems, that subsidy is lower as a percentage of operating costs.

High-Capacity Connector Study (AATA Board, WATS)

While the result of the feasibility study on the high-capacity connector was old news, the prospects for funding of the second phase of the study have become somewhat more concrete in recent weeks.

That next phase of the study would identify a “locally preferred alternative.” That would mean analyzing all the various challenges (the Huron River crossing, elevation changes, at least two railroad crossings, right-of-way issues, historic districts, flood plains and the like) and identifying a mode (BRT or light rail or elevated guideway) and a system of routes and station locations.

At its Oct. 19 meeting, the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) policy board voted to add the alternatives analysis to its Unified Planning Work Program. [.pdf of current UPWP before amendment]. At the WATS meeting, brief discussion unfolded on the question of adding the role of different partners on the study. Chris White, AATA’s manager of service development, pointed out that the connector study is a joint University of Michigan and city of Ann Arbor project, with the AATA taking the lead. WATS executive director Terri Blackmore asked if the city of Ann Arbor should be added in the text of the plan. White noted that city has not committed any funds to the next phase of the study. Blackmore wondered if “other local” might be appropriate to add.

Blackmore kidded city councilmember Tony Derezinski, who was attending the meeting as the council’s representative to the WATS policy board: “Is the city going to pay any money, Tony?” Derezinski smiled, “We’ll see.” The question was raised about a possible contribution from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Blackmore ventured that the Ann Arbor DDA did not have any money it could contribute at the moment. White added that in the discussions of the relative shares for funding the initial feasibility phase of the study, the DDA and the city had eventually been analyzed as a single unit.

Doug Fuller Yousef Rabhi

Before the Oct. 19 meeting of the WATS policy board, Washtenaw County road commissioner Doug Fuller, left, and Washtenaw County commissioner Yousef Rabhi talked about bridges. Both men serve on the WATS policy board.

That brief conversation recalled some of the history that unfolded over the course of more than a year from 2008-09 among the UM, city of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor DDA and the AATA about the proper share for each partner in the $640,000 study. [Detailed Chronicle coverage of that issue: "Transit Connector Study: Initial Analysis"]

It also recalled the AATA board discussion earlier this year, when board members were presented with the results of the feasibility study. Board member David Nacht had been emphatic that the UM, as one of the chief beneficiaries of such a high-capacity system, would need to pay its fair share. [Chronicle coverage: "AATA Transit Study Planning Updates"]

The item approved by the WATS policy board calls for $393,400 in the first year and $1,179,000 in the second year, for a total of $1,572,400. The breakdown for the first year’s funding would be $314,720 of federal funds and $39,340 apiece from AATA and UM.

Next up will be formal action by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and the Michigan Dept. of Transportation that will facilitate funding applications to the Federal Highway Administration by the spring of 2012. At the AATA’s Oct. 20 board meeting, White indicated that work on the study might begin before complete federal funding is in place. From the time a contract with URS Corp. is signed, White said, it would take around 18 months of work.

Earlier news released on Oct. 13 that the U.S. Dept. of Transportation had awarded a grant of $1.2 million to AATA for the study’s next phase was met with some caution from White at the AATA Oct. 20 board meeting. He noted that while it’s good news, it will not cover the cost of the environmental impact study. [The total cost of the study, White told The Chronicle on Oct. 28, would be around $3.4 million.]

Hybrid-Electric Buses: Too Expensive? (AATA Board) 

Also at their Oct. 20 meeting, the AATA board discussed the U.S. DOT announcement on Oct. 13 that the AATA had been awarded a $2,625,000 grant to purchase five additional hybrid electric buses for increased service on Route #4 between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. The grant award came in connection with the Reimagine Washtenaw project, an effort to redevelop the Washenaw Avenue corridor. The federal money is expected to cover 83% of the cost, and the state of Michigan is expected to provide the non-federal share. The AATA’s Chris White described how a series of required approvals would mean the buses would be ordered in April 2012, but the buses wouldn’t be built until the beginning of 2013.

Discussion of the grant award prompted questions from board member David Nacht. In his time on the AATA board, Nacht has more than once made the point that federal money is still taxpayer money and that the AATA board has a responsibility to watch that it is spent appropriately.

Nacht said he was concerned about the purchase price of the buses as well as the maintenance costs. He got clarification from AATA CEO Michael Ford that the buses cost about $650,000 apiece. Said Nacht, “I think that’s too much money.” Board chair Jesse Bernstein confirmed with Ford that the AATA is looking at maintenance costs of the hybrids versus conventional buses.

Rich Robben ventured that with the federal funding involved, there’s not a choice about buying hybrid electrics or conventional buses. However, White clarified that the request had been for the hybrid electric funding and the federal award had covered the base price of $400,000 plus the increment for the roughly $225,000 for the hybrid. White explained the decision to request funding for the hybrid electric buses based on the board’s policy that the AATA should pursue acquisition of hybrid electric buses.

Nacht recalled that some years ago, AATA board member Charles Griffith had made a powerful case for the hybrid electric buses. Nacht noted that he’d chaired the board at the time, and the board had enacted the policy. The board was very excited, Nacht said. However, the cost of hybrid electric buses has migrated from $500,000 to $650,000 while there’s a recession going on and a lot of communities are buying the buses. Nacht ventured that with increased demand, you’d think prices would go down, based on classic economic theory.

Nacht noted that the AATA cares about the environment and sustainability, but at a certain point if you have more buses, and you’re getting more people on those buses, that’s better than having fewer buses that run cleaner. He called for reexamining the policy he himself had helped push through. It might be more environmentally friendly to use conventional buses, he said. Nacht said he was not suggesting anything different right at the moment, but at some price point the hybrid electrics are too expensive. He simply wanted to have AATA staff come to alternative way of thinking about it.

Bernstein wanted to know if the next time a grant application is filed, Nacht wanted it to be for conventional buses. Nacht said no, he was comfortable with the board’s PMER (performance monitoring and external relations) committee just thinking about it and figuring out at a committee level what they want to do. Nacht said he just felt it had reached a point where something should be said.

AATA manager of maintenance Terry Black offered that maintenance costs of the hybrids have been a concern of his. He’s called around to other agencies to try to identify  trends, he said. The challenge is that the technology hasn’t been out in the field for more than about six years. So far, he said, manufacturers have stood behind the product. The AATA now has five years with the first 15-20 buses and has had some failures that make him a little bit uncomfortable. When he’s talked with transit agencies in Minneapolis and Seattle, he hears the same uncertainty. He noted that the purchase price is competitive for the market.

But Black said he felt, “I have a lot of eggs in one basket and I can’t get a solid answer, because nobody I call can tell.” He said he would love to be able to say definitively if the AATA is headed down the wrong path. Bernstein wondered if other transit agencies are having the same issues, isn’t that a benchmark? Black explained it wasn’t a benchmark, because he’s looking at keeping a bus for 12 years. A battery pack is supposed to have life of 5 years. He allowed that there’s been only one battery failure and that failed on delivery.

Washtenaw County: U196 Initial Meeting

Current AATA initiatives like acquisition of additional hybrid electric buses, study of the high-capacity connector, and launching airport service are taking place in the context of a countywide transit master planning effort. Governance of the countywide authority would be under Act 196 of 1986, which is a state enabling statute that explicitly provides for the formation of a transit authority at the county level. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority is formed under Act 55 of 1963.

The unincorporated version of a possible future Act 196 countywide authority in Washtenaw County met for the first time on Oct. 20, 2011.

Membership in the 11-member unincorporated board (U196) is as follows: Pittsfield District – Mandy Grewal (supervisor, Pittsfield Township); Northeast District – David Phillips (clerk, Superior Township); North Middle District – David Read (trustee, Scio Township) with alternate Jim Carson (councilmember, Village of Dexter); Southeast District – (1) Karen Lovejoy Roe (clerk, Ypsilanti Township) and (2) John McGehee (director of human resources, Lincoln Consolidated Schools); West District – Bob Mester (trustee, Lyndon Township) with alternate Ann Feeney (councilmember, city of Chelsea); Ypsilanti District – Paul Schreiber (mayor of Ypsilanti) with alternate: Peter Murdock (councilmember, city of Ypsilanti); South Middle District – Bill Lavery (resident, York Township); Ann Arbor District: (1) Jesse Bernstein (AATA board), (2) Charles Griffith (AATA board) and (3) Rich Robben (AATA board).

All the districts were represented at the first meeting except for the South Middle District – Lavery could not attend. Lyndon, Bridgewater, Salem, and Sylvan townships are not participating. Other townships currently participating can choose to opt out later.

U196 Board

Group photo taken at the Oct. 20 meeting of the U196 Board.

The eventual governance of an Act 196 organization has been proposed to be 15 members, with the same distribution geographically as the U196 board except for Ann Arbor’s membership, which has been proposed to be seven members. For now, the membership of AATA board members on the U196 board has been limited to three – less than a quorum of board members – in order to avoid the perception that any action that might be taken by the U196 board was an action of the AATA board. At the Oct. 20 meeting, AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein stressed that the U196 board meetings would be open to the public and that its work would be done in public.

The Oct. 20 initial meeting was mostly a meet-and-greet and included a tour of the AATA headquarters on South Industrial. The U196 members who were present agreed that they would try to meet in November and December, and that the location of those meetings would be the AATA headquarters.

Representation on U196 board

Districts of Washtenaw County and their respective representation on the U196 board.

They also agreed that Bernstein would chair their initial meetings, which will focus on developing bylaws for the organization, setting a committee structure, receiving presentations on service options, and receiving updates from district advisory committee meetings. Reporting out from the U196 meeting to the AATA board, Bernstein quipped that his chairship of the group meant he had “lost the vote.” Each district will convene meetings of advisory committees to focus on implementing service options for their districts.

The day and time of the November and December meetings will be set after surveying board member availability.

Speaking during the public commentary slot of the AATA’s board meeting, which was held later on Oct. 20, after the U196 board met, Vivienne Armentrout told the board she’d attended the first meeting of the U196 that day.

At the meeting, Armentrout said she’d heard board chair Jesse Bernstein say the U196 group was intended to be fully open. She thanked Bernstein for that, saying that it would enhance public trust. She followed up by asking how can the public be notified of meetings for U196, and for the financial group. She hoped the information would be posted on the AATA’s movingyouforward.org website or that an email list could be created for people who request to be notified.

Revised Bylaws – Meeting Time (AATA Board)

On the agenda at AATA’s Oct. 20 meeting was a revision to its bylaws so that its meeting time is set each year at the same time that it approves the budget.

Before revision, the bylaws stipulated 6:30 p.m. as the meeting time. The resolution struck specific mention of a clocktime in favor of the language: “The Board shall set the time of Board meetings at such time as the budget is passed for the fiscal year.” The bylaws still specify the third Thursday of the month as the regular meeting time.

During deliberations, David Nacht said he would  like to make the meeting time even more flexible – to the extent the board can get higher attendance. Board chair Jesse Bernstein said part of the issue is for the public to know reliably when the board is going to meet – he was comfortable setting the meeting time year to year. The board will continue to meet at 6:30 p.m. at least until it sets the budget next year in September.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to change its bylaws with respect to its meeting times.

Bus Storage Facility (AATA Board)

Before the board was a resolution to authorize its CEO to execute construction contracts with 11 different companies totaling $1,695,167. With the contingency of $169,517, the total construction budget for the project comes to $1,864,684.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to authorize the contracts.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary (AATA Board)

At its Oct. 20 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 CEO Michael Ford. The board also heard commentary from the public. Here are some highlights.

Comm/Comm: On-Time Performance

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Charles Griffith noted that current on-time performance does not meet the AATA’s service standard. The organization has struggled with that over the last few years, he said.

Monthly Ridership AATA September 2011

The dark red bars are ridership numbers for the current year, month by month. Since March, ridership has been higher than in the corresponding month for last year, with a marked increase in September. (Image links to higher resolution graphs, including A-Ride numbers.)

The time standards were developed when the roads didn’t have the congestion we have now, he said, so there’s some discussion of  adjusting the time standards. But he said that they were not giving up.  The committee would be focusing on the issue of  ”very late” buses.

Comm/Comm: Ridership

Griffith also noted that ridership continued to increase compared with last year. That would be further helped by increased service that is planned on Route #4 between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, he said. Also included in the board packet were ridership numbers for A-Ride, which is AATA’s paratransit service for disabled passengers who are not able to use the regular fixed route service. Ridership numbers for A-Ride had been lagging behind last year’s numbers, but have increased slightly to roughly match last year’s levels in the last two months.

Com/Comm: SelectRide Allegations

AATA’s paratransit service is provided by SelectRide taxicab company. The company is a frequent target of complaint by Thomas Partridge during his public commentary – he alleges their vehicles are not in good repair and that the company engages in discriminatory practices. At the board meeting, CEO Michael Ford  reported out on an investigation he’d conducted, which had included inspection of maintenance facilities, and review of practices and procedures. He had found no evidence that SelectRide had engaged in discrimination or was not living up to its contract with AATA. Partridge complained that the investigation had been cursory and not sufficiently thorough.

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

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

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  1. By Rod Johnson
    October 31, 2011 at 10:03 am | permalink

    Am I the only person who, reading about the various transit initiatives (WALLY, the east-west commuter route, Plymouth-State BRT, countywide transit, etc.) feels like he’s looking through a window into some parallel reality? In the current economic, political and demographic climate, is there anyone (who doesn’t have a direct interest) who really feels these things are likely to happen? It seems, in the strict sense of the word, incredible.

  2. October 31, 2011 at 11:08 am | permalink

    At the u196 meeting, Michael Ford had a cloud picture of all the pieces (including the Fuller Road Station, which I don’t think is included in this compilation) and he named it the “Ball of Confusion”.

    Even for those of us following the issue(s), it is hard to take in. Congratulations, Dave, for getting it all in one place.

  3. October 31, 2011 at 11:33 am | permalink

    Rod, I had the same reaction. The advice to negotiate a short-term contract for airport buses seems particularly misguided. I’d be amazed if we had a regional transit authority any time in the next 20 years.

  4. November 1, 2011 at 2:10 am | permalink

    In comparison to the situation with Ann Arbor Public Schools busing issues, this is all relatively transparent, open, and public, and though it’s somewhat confusing I appreciate that it’s happening at all.

  5. November 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm | permalink

    Yes, AATA is now very good about supplying information, including docs, special websites, and meeting notices. It’s all there if you have the time to take it in.

    I do have some concerns about the finances. As I noted in my recent blog post, [link] even if we do vote in a countywide millage, there will be a gap of funding between September 2012 and July 2013.

  6. By Andy
    November 1, 2011 at 2:03 pm | permalink

    RE #1, I can see where you’re coming from on every issue you cited except for the north-south BRT. The transportation challenges for the U and for the VA are getting too massive for the status quo (standard bus service) to continue. I think you’re going to see a lot of willingness on the part of the university to subsidize it, whether it happens through AATA or whether the U undertakes it separately. Local taxpayers are obviously going to want the U to pay for everything, while the U will obviously want the taxpayers to chip in as much as possible, so we’ll be in for some interesting tug of war.

  7. By Rod Johnson
    November 1, 2011 at 2:46 pm | permalink

    Andy, can you really see a dedicated lane coming into being on that route? Consider State between Packard and Stadium (not to mention by campus). Where would it go? I’m not saying BRT isn’t desirable, just that, practically speaking it doesn’t seem feasible.

  8. By Andy
    November 1, 2011 at 3:35 pm | permalink

    That’s a good point. It’s been a while since I had to drive the stretch of State you’re referencing (I try to avoid it, frankly) so that didn’t occur to me. North of Packard, you’d probably have to eliminate on-street parking; south of it, you’d have to eliminate the bike lanes. So you’re right, there would have to be some pretty aggressive engineering on South State.

    My experience has been more with the northern segment(CC Little to North Campus), where you would, for the most part, have more flexibility as far as road width/number of lanes.

  9. By Rod Johnson
    November 1, 2011 at 5:51 pm | permalink

    Well, maybe we can hold out some hope for the monorail. :)

  10. November 1, 2011 at 5:52 pm | permalink

    #’s 7 & 8: Tunnels?

  11. By Jordan
    November 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm | permalink

    Can someone give me a sense for why these studies are so expensive?