AATA OKs Ann Arbor-Ypsi Route Increases

Also: Bus ad rejection affirmed; countywide movement continues

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Nov. 17, 2011): The board’s agenda Thursday night contained two items that were fairly uncontroversial.

Carlisle Participation Tool

Ben Carlisle mans the laptop for the projection onto the screen as his father Dick Carlisle explains to the unincorporated Act 196 (U196) board how an online community input tool can be used to map out suggestions from attendees at public forums. The men are with Carlisle Wortman Associates, an Ann Arbor consulting firm hired by the AATA to help with district planning meetings. The U196 meeting took place on Nov. 14. (Image links to the online participation tool.)

One item was the ratification of a new policy on public input for changes in bus fares and schedules. When the board arrived at the item on the agenda, board member David Nacht, who was first to speak to the issue, suggested the issue was so straightforward that the board could vote immediately.

The board unanimously approved the new public input policy, which distinguishes between major and minor changes to fares and routes, and provides a range of ways that the public is to be notified about such changes. The policy also includes a range of ways the AATA will receive the public’s feedback on such changes.

Another item generating little controversy at the board table was approval of an increase to the number of buses running on the Washtenaw Avenue corridor – between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, which is served by AATA Route #4. Again, Nacht led off board discussion on the issue, calling it a “no-brainer.” At the conclusion of his brief remarks, he declared, “Let’s vote!” Others had more to say, but the board eventually approved the increased bus frequency – up to eight buses per hour during peak periods.

Nacht’s apparent eagerness to dispatch with those items with extra efficiency could be attributed to a hour-long closed session the board had held before those votes.

The session was held to deliberate on a request from the American Civil Liberties Union that the AATA accept an advertisement for the sides of its buses that had been previously rejected. When the board emerged from the closed session – held to consider a written opinion of its legal counsel, which is allowed under the Michigan Open Meetings Act – the board voted to affirm the rejection of the ad. The ad includes the text, “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid.”

In addition to taking those three votes, the board entertained its usual range of committee and staff reports, including updates on a possible transition by the AATA into a countywide authority. Those updates included a report on the second meeting of the U196 – an unincorporated board of a countywide transit authority likely to be formed under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986.

Another update connected to countywide expansion related to progress on a four-way agreement between Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA. The four-way agreement would establish the contribution of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti millage funding to the new countywide authority, and set the role of Washtenaw County to incorporate the new authority.

CEO Michael Ford also announced a $2.1 million federal grant the AATA had received (in addition to a previously announced $2.65 million grant in October) to fund the incremental cost of purchasing hybrid-electric buses.

Thursday’s meeting likely marked the penultimate monthly AATA board meeting for Sue McCormick, who is currently public services area administrator for the city of Ann Arbor. She’s leaving that position to take a job, beginning at the start of 2012, leading Detroit’s water and sewerage department.

Public Input Policy

The board considered a new set of guidelines for receiving input on future changes to routes and fare structures.

The new public input policy replaces an older policy that is described in the resolution as “out of date” and not consistent with the way that AATA currently uses public input for decisions on routes and fares, even though the older policy meets the minimum standards required in order to receive federal assistance.

The policy identifies “major” service changes as those affecting more than 25% of riders of a route, or more than 25% of the miles of a route. A “major” service change also includes changes of multiple routes affecting more than 10% of riders or miles of the regular bus service system. The policy identifies “major” fare changes as any change to the base fare – that is, the full adult cash fare – or any change affecting the fare of more than 10% of fare-paying riders.

According to the new policy, notification of major service and fare changes is to be provided through email subscription, printed brochures, the AATA website, social media, posted notices at bus stops, press releases, specific notification of various organizations (housing, educational, civic, and social services, and senior, disabled and minority organizations), as well as other specific organizations that might have membership that would be affected (high schools and colleges, senior citizen housing, apartment complexes, libraries, government offices, or recreation centers).

After notification, opportunity for public input will be provided through email, telephone, written letters, social media, and face to face. [.pdf of AATA public input policy on fare and route changes]

In reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Sue McCormick said that the policy had been reviewed at the committee level a couple of times. [McCormick was reporting on behalf of committee chair Charles Griffith, who arrived late to the meeting.] McCormick explained that the policy reflects the way the AATA already does its outreach, and said that it goes above and beyond what is required.

When the board landed on the agenda item requiring a vote on the new public input policy, David Nacht led off the deliberations saying that he felt it was such a straightforward issue that the board could vote immediately.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the new public input policy.

Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Service Increases

On the agenda was a resolution to authorize a service increase between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti along Washtenaw Avenue – the Route #4 service. The increase, effective Jan. 29, 2012, roughly doubles the frequency of buses traveling along the corridor. The new service levels include up to eight buses per hour during peak periods. [.pdf of Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti schedule] [.pdf of Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor schedule]

David Nacht led off deliberations, calling the increase in service a “no-brainer” and noting that it had been carefully reviewed and argued before the public. The work had been done beautifully, he said, concluding with: “Let’s vote!

Roger Kerson said he wanted to recognize the work of the AATA staff, who called the increase in service a very important improvement. He said it was a good first step in implementing the transit master plan (TMP) with its expanded service. Kerson’s sentiments were echoed by Sue McCormick.

Board chair Jesse Bernstein said that the increase in service levels reflected a decision the board had made to use some reserve funds to get the TMP started right now. [See Chronicle coverage of AATA budget: "AATA to Use One-Time Deficit as Catapult"]

Bernstein said the board had decided to fund the service increase with reserve funds with its “eyes open,” and said it’s the board’s hope and expectation that the AATA will be able to continue that same level of service. Nacht added that the people who pay the Ann Arbor property tax supporting transit should know that Ann Arbor businesses will benefit, many of which are located along the Route 4 corridor.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the new service levels on Route #4.

As a part of his CEO’s report earlier in the meeting, Michael Ford had said that Chris White, AATA manager of service development, and AATA community outreach coordinator Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz had attended a recent meeting of the Ypsilanti city council. The council had discussed the fact that the dedicated millage Ypsilanti now levies to cover the cost of its purchase-of-service agreement with the AATA would not be sufficient to cover the 2013 cost. Ford noted that a gap had been anticipated, but that the gap was larger than expected due to continuing decline of Ypsilanti property values on which the millage is based.

Rejection of Ad

The AATA has a commercial advertising program offering space on its buses, bus shelters, and benches. During its meeting, the board held a closed session related to the rejection of an advertisement proposed by local pro-Palestinian activist Blaine Coleman.

The board held its closed session under the provision of the Michigan Open Meetings Act that allows such a session to discuss a written opinion from its legal counsel. The AATA’s legal counsel, Jerry Lax – an attorney with Pear Sperling Eggan and Daniels PC – was also on hand for the closed session.

There is not a time limit for such closed sessions; however, it was noted at the meeting that the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings, closes at 9 p.m. The board started its closed session around 7 p.m. and took a bit over an hour to deliberate on the issue.

Rejection of Ad: Background on Ad Program

The AATA’s advertising program currently accounts for about $80,000 a year in a budget (approved recently for fiscal year 2012) that calls for $29.4 million in total revenues. But in the past, the advertising program has netted up to $169,000 a year.

When first implemented in 2005, it was hoped to generate $200,000 a year [.pdf of 2005 Ann Arbor News Article: "Some AATA Buses to Be Used as 'Movable Billboards'". Ann Arbor News coverage from that era documents some controversy associated with the decision to offer advertising on buses, as well as the initial implementation that allowed for complete wraps. [.pdf of 2007 Ann Arbor News Article: "AATA to Review Bus Ads"]

The letter received by the AATA from the ACLU about Coleman’s proposed ad lists examples of text from past ads accepted and placed by the AATA:

  • “Every 9 1/2 minutes someone in the U.S. is infected with HIV”
  • “Two-Faced Landlords Can be Stopped. Housing Discrimination is Against the Law.”
  • “Domestic Violence. It happens here.”
  • “In Washtenaw County black babies are 3x more likely to die than white babies”
  • “Breastfeeding makes babies smarter.”
  • “NorthRidge Church is for Hypocrites. NorthRidge Church is For Fakes. NorthRidge Church is for Liars. NorthRidge Church is For Losers.” [Advertiser was NorthRidge Church]
  • 2WordStory.com, a website featuring the stories of people who “experienced the life changing love and grace of Jesus Christ.”
  • Campaign ads supporting Joan Lowenstein and Margaret Connors for district judge.

Acceptance of the campaign ads, during the 2008 campaign for the 15th District Court judgeship eventually won by Chris Easthope, was apparently a mistake. The AATA’s ad policy states that an ad will not be accepted that: “Supports or opposes the election of any person to office or supports or opposes any ballot proposition.”

The AATA’s advertising policy is administered by the company that sells the ads – Transit Advertising Group.

Rejection of Ad: Letter from the ACLU

The ad that was rejected by the AATA, which is the subject of a letter sent by the ACLU to the AATA, reads “Boycott ‘Israel’” and “Boycott Apartheid.” It also features an image of a spider-like creature with a skull for a head. [.pdf of image and text of proposed ad].

The Aug. 12, 2011 letter to the AATA from the ACLU argues that the AATA’s policy on accepting advertising is unconstitutional. The ACLU does concede that the proposed advertisement “arguably subjects Israel to scorn or ridicule,” which is prohibited under the AATA’s ad policy. [From the AATA policy: "Advertising ... which does any of the following shall be prohibited ... 5. Defames or is likely to hold up to scorn or ridicule a person or group of persons."]

However, the ACLU contends that the policy itself is unconstitutional: “An ad paid for by Israel’s tourist bureau encouraging people to visit the county or purchase its products expresses the opposite view and would be accepted under AATA’s policy. A distinction of this kind, based on the message expressed by the speaker, violates the First Amendment.” [.pdf of ACLU Aug. 12 letter] [.pdf of AATA advertising policy]

A key to the ACLU’s position is a 1998 case involving a labor union that had proposed an advertisement on a regional transit authority’s vehicles. The ad had been rejected on the grounds that it was “too controversial and not aesthetically pleasing.” The case was argued and won by the union in the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit. [.pdf of United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 1099, v. Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority]

In that decision, the Court of Appeals included this statement [emphasis added]:

We note, however, that the Supreme Court has suggested that excluding speech because its controversial nature adversely impacts the forum’s other purposes constitutes a reasonable restriction on access to a nonpublic forum. See Cornelius, 473 U.S. at 811, 105 S.Ct. 3439 (“Although the avoidance of controversy is not a valid ground for restricting speech in a public forum, a nonpublic forum by definition is not dedicated to general debate or the free exchange of ideas. The First Amendment does not forbid a viewpoint-neutral exclusion of speakers who would disrupt a nonpublic forum and hinder its effectiveness for its intended purpose.”);

In the United Food case, the court disagreed with the transit authority’s contention that it maintained a nonpublic forum. The court also disagreed with the transit authority’s position on the reasonableness of its exclusion of the ad, saying that even if the advertising platform were a nonpublic forum, it was not reasonable to exclude the proposed ad on the grounds that the ad would interfere with the transit authority’s purpose.

Part of the ACLU’s argument in the case of the AATA ad relies on the idea that the AATA has, in fact, through its past pattern of accepted ads, established a “public forum,” although the AATA’s ad policy explicitly states that the AATA “does not [with its ad program] intend to create a public forum.”

In a similar case in Seattle, the ACLU has now filed a notice of appeal after the federal district court ruled in October 2011 in favor of the transit authority over an ad with the text, “Israeli War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars at Work,” and featuring a picture of children next to a bomb-damaged building. [.pdf of the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign (SeaMAC) v. King County ruling]

In contrast to the AATA case, the transit authority in Seattle at first accepted the SeaMAC ad. Then, when advance publicity about the prospects of the ad’s future appearance resulted in proposed counter-ads, possible demonstrations, and the specter of violence, the transit authority decided not to allow the ad to appear.

Rejection of Ad: AATA Board Response

On emerging from the closed session after a bit more than an hour, board members voted on a resolution that affirms the AATA policy on accepting ads and the decision to reject the proposed ad in its current form. [.pdf of AATA board resolution rejecting advertisement]

The resolution invites the ACLU and Coleman to discuss the AATA advertising policy.

The board did not deliberate on the issue after it returned to open session.

Outcome: The AATA board unanimously approved the resolution that affirms the rejection of the ad proposed by Coleman.

Countywide Updates

A number of updates were given at the Nov. 17 board meeting, including updates on a possible transition by the AATA into a countywide authority. Those updates included a report from CEO Michael Ford on the second meeting of the U196 – an unincorporated board of a countywide transit authority likely to be formed under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986.

Karen Lovejoy Rowe

Karen Lovejoy Rowe, left, is one of two representatives of the southeast district of an as-yet-unincorporated board for a proposed countywide transit authority. At the board's Nov. 14 meeting, she wanted to know how she was supposed to "sell" her constituents on the idea of the plan, without more robust north-south service in Ypsilanti Township, citing the Whitaker Road corridor in particular. She serves as the township's clerk.

Ford summarized the content of the meeting, held on Nov. 14, highlighting the description of two district meetings that had been held – in the north middle district and in the north east district. Additional meetings are scheduled through the end of the year. [MovingYouForward.org provides a listing of all meetings.] Ford also reported that a community participation tool had been demonstrated by Dick Carlisle of Carlisle Wortman Associates, an Ann Arbor consulting firm.

Ford also summarized some of the material from the last meeting of the financial planning group, held on Oct. 28.

By way of background, at that Oct. 28 meeting the group heard from Dennis Schornack, a special advisor to Gov. Rick 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.

At that meeting, co-chair Albert Berriz concluded that Schornack’s presentation had thrown the group’s conversation into a state of flux. [More Chronicle coverage: "Washtenaw Transit Talk in Flux"]

Representation on U196 board

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

At the U196 meeting on Nov. 14, Jesse Bernstein (who is chairing the group) told members that the financial planning group was enthusiastic about the idea that vehicle registration fees could serve as an alternative to asking voters to approve a millage. On hearing Gov. Snyder’s proposal, Bernstein said, “We were on it like …,” then paused to weigh alternative sentence completions. [More polite versions include "ugly on an ape" and "white on rice."]

Bernstein settled for “icing on a layer cake.” The “layer cake” funding approach to countywide transit is one in which a countywide millage would be layered on top of existing millages levied in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. [For more detail on various funding and governance models for countywide transit, see Chronicle coverage from December 2009: "AATA Gets Advice on Countywide Transit"]

Another countywide-related update from the Nov. 17 meeting involved progress on a four-way agreement between Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA. The four-way agreement would establish the contribution of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti millage funding to the new countywide authority and set the role of Washtenaw County to incorporate the new authority.

The agreement would establish an arrangement for Washtenaw County to incorporate a new transit authority under Act 196 and for the two cities (Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti) to pledge their transit tax funds levied currently for use by the AATA to the new Act 196 organization, once its governance and basis for its funding is clear.

The governing bodies of the four entities would need to sign off on the arrangement. Ford’s written report indicates that the four-party agreement is expected to go before the Ann Arbor city council for discussion at a working session on Dec. 12, with a vote possible as soon as Dec. 19.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its Nov. 17 meeting, the AATA board entertained various miscellaneous 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: Airport Service

CEO Michael Ford reported that negotiations continue with the Indian Trails Michigan Flyer service to establish a contract for service between Ann Arbor and the Detroit Metro airport. Ford said it’s hoped that a contract [which would presumably include a proposed fare] would be ready for review by the board’s planning and development committee in December.

Comm/Comm: Website Development

Mary Stasiak, AATA’s manager of community relations, reported on the status of the new website development. At the board’s Aug. 24, 2011 meeting, board members received a short briefing from John Gilkey of Artemis Solutions Group Inc., which won the bid for the website redesign.

AATA screenshot of new webdesign

Screen shot of the possible layout of a new AATA website design. (Image links to interactive task-based survey on the new design.)

Among the improvements desired by the AATA is a way for staff – who do not have programming skills – to update the website. AATA also wants its new website to be a tool that staff can use to broadcast information to AATA riders via email, text-messaging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Among the enhanced information the AATA wants available on its website is real-time bus location information that includes a way for third-party developers to create and distribute smart phone applications using AATA’s real-time data.

At the Nov. 17 meeting, Stasiak described how the AATA continued to work with the website developer on two main areas. First, the AATA is working on the agreement, which is close to being finalized, that will make sure all the custom website functionality is owned by AATA and that AATA can make needed updates. The second area is usability testing. The initial part of usability testing, Stasiak said, is to make sure things are in the right place on the web page. [AATA website usability test]

Stasiak explained that an interactive survey task had been developed and that about 70 responses had been collected so far. Some responses had been collected at the Blake Transit Center. Plans are to include a visit to a grocery store to get additional input. It will also be distributed by email and via the AATA Facebook page.

Responding to a question from Sue McCormick, Stasiak said that the email list included people who had expressed an interest in keeping up to date on AATA issues.

Comm/Comm: More Hybrid Bus Funding

CEO Michael Ford announced a $2.1 million federal grant the AATA had received (in addition to a previously announced $2.65 million grant in October) to fund the incremental cost of purchasing hybrid-electric buses. The money was awarded through the Federal Transit Administration’s Clean Fuels grant program.

The announcement means that funds are reserved for the AATA and will be awarded, once the documentation is completed that all requirements are met. Ford anticipated delivery of the new vehicles in August 2012.

Comm/Comm: High-Capacity Connector Alternatives Analysis

CEO Michael Ford gave a clarification on the timeline for completion of the alternatives analysis phase of a high-capacity connector study. Last month it was announced that the AATA had received a $1.2 million federal grant to support that phase of the study. The feasibility portion of the study has been completed, with the conclusion that the corridor – which includes Plymouth Road from US-23 down through downtown Ann Arbor to State Street and southward to I-94 – could for at least its middle portion support public transit that’s higher in capacity than conventional buses. [More Chronicle coverage: "Washtenaw Transit Talk in 'Flux'"]

At the AATA’s Nov. 17 meeting, Ford clarified that the timeline for the alternatives analysis phase – in which a preferred technology and route with stop locations would be identified – would take around 16 months if it begins in April 2012. A final report would be expected in August 2013, he said.

Comm/Comm: Paratransit, Grocery Bags

Speaking during public commentary, Christopher Harris began by thanking the board for allowing him to be heard. He said he’d used the AATA since May, and had a great experience up to Nov. 3. On that day, he was doing his grocery shopping, which he does once a month at Kroger. He told the board that his eight-year-old daughter, who accompanied Harris to the board meeting, is his PCA (personal care attendant). He told the board he has Stargardt’s disease – he’s legally blind.

Harris described the events of Nov. 3. He called the A-Ride program, but was immediately refused because of the number of grocery bags – he allowed that in the past he had been told that might happen. The driver then asked Harris if he wanted a “straight meter” ride. [The A-Ride paratransit service is provided through SelectRide, a taxicab company]. Harris said that he then asked for a different cab, which was refused by the driver at the scene. When he then called himself, he was told it was the cab driver’s decision – no.

Harris asked for a supervisor and was put on hold. The public commentary time of two minutes expired as Harris was concluding his remarks. Board chair Jesse Bernstein told him that he wanted to follow up with Harris after the meeting to see what the AATA could do. [The A-Ride paratransit service offered by the AATA is a shared-ride transportation service for those who are not able to ride the fixed route service. There's a limit of "one armload or the equivalent to two (2) grocery bags, or two (2) pieces of luggage." .pdf of A-Ride policy]

Comm/Comm: Local Advisory Council

Cheryl Weber reported out from the AATA’s local advisory council, which provides advice to the AATA on issues related to the senior and disabled community. Highlights included the LAC’s continued work on a driver appreciation program.

Comm/Comm: Center of Independent Living

During public commentary, Carolyn Grawi of the Center for Independent Living thanked the board for its commitment to transit. She also alerted them to the meetings of a Toastmaster group that now meets at the CIL during lunch hours on the first and third Thursdays of the month, from 12:30-1:30 p.m. at the CIL, 3941 Research Drive.

Comm/Comm: Partridge

Thomas Partridge spoke at both opportunities for public commentary. He introduced himself as an advocate for senior citizens and disabled people and other members of the public who need courteous and competent transportation services. He called on the AATA board to adopt training programs for all drivers, especially those who provide services to seniors and disabled people – training that addresses not only competence, but also the provisions of courteous assistance to seniors and disabled people.

Partridge called on the AATA board to end discrimination by the SelectRide company. He arrived at the meeting via a ride provided by SelectRide through the AATA’s A-Ride program, he said. The vehicle that provided his ride had 400,000 miles on it, he claimed, and was a make and a model that had been subject to recall. Partridge called for full disclosure of vehicle conditions and maintenance records.

Partridge reprised similar themes at the conclusion of the meeting.

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

Absent: Rich Robben

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Dec. 15, 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. November 20, 2011 at 2:54 pm | permalink

    Thank you, again, for your comprehensive coverage. Before the Chronicle, one would hardly have known that we had an AATA from its news coverage.

    A point that the AATA board has been dancing delicately around is that the expanded service to Ypsilanti and elsewhere is being done by usage of Ann Arbor tax dollars, whether from the reserves or from current revenue. I’m sure that the board is keeping those open eyes on the question of whether they are violating their charter or not. Probably we can justify the expanded service in various ways. For example, they may have been able to use certain state funds in part. We don’t qualify for Federal operating funds. At one time the DDA was talking of contributing funds (I haven’t done the checking). But the simple fact is that the board decided to initiate a regional service using local tax dollars from Ann Arbor.

  2. November 20, 2011 at 4:12 pm | permalink

    It would be nice if we could also get a more direct or even express bus to Ypsi. The no. 4 takes a very long time to get there.

    Can we just get rid of the ads on buses? If they bring in less than a third of a percent of total budget, they’re not really helping, and I find them annoying. They also seem kind of classist, as we don’t put ads on, say, the mayor’s or city administrator’s cars.

  3. November 20, 2011 at 5:04 pm | permalink

    Re: [2] Jim Rees wrote: “It would be nice if we could also get a more direct or even express bus to Ypsi”

    What is not mentioned in the article, and would have been useful to have included, is the fact that in addition to increased frequency, the Route 4 service enhancement includes a somewhat more direct Route 4B, which goes to Ypsi via the Central Campus transit center instead of looping through the medical campus. The expected travel time for the 4B looks like 37 mins, compared to 42 mins for the 4A. Here’s the link to the .pdf for confirmation of whether I’m understanding that correctly: [link]

    I don’t think 37 mins to Ypsi is quick enough yet to call it “express” service. Any thoughts, Jim, on how fast an Ann Arbor to Ypsi bus would need to be for the AATA to market it as “express” service?

  4. By John Dory
    November 20, 2011 at 5:11 pm | permalink

    The big story that has been simmering for awhile is the conflict between the American Civil Liberties Union and the Ann Arbor Transpotation Authority. This involves the rejection of a proposed ad that is critical of Israel and promotes boycotts against that state. The AATA has rejected that ad due to aesthetics plus the fact it generates controversy.

    The ACLU has contended that the AATA rejection policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. If the sides do not come to a mutual understanding it is possible federal court proceedings may be in the offing to enforce the putative constitutional rights of the prospective purchaser, local immigration attorney Blaine Coleman.

  5. November 20, 2011 at 8:03 pm | permalink

    Re 3: It’s about 19 minutes driving time. I used to commute to Ypsi by bus in the 1970s, and I think at that time the schedule for the express was 25 minutes from the Union to where the Ugly Mug is today. 37 still seems too long to me. How about 30?

    Re 4: I would think this would be a settled question by now. Eliminating ads on the buses would solve this problem.

  6. By Mark Koroi
    November 20, 2011 at 11:57 pm | permalink

    If the AATA and ACLU cannot reach a settlement, I believe that the City of Ann Arbor can expect a lengthy and expensive battle in federal court over the constitutional arguments regarding the ad in question.

    It would likely may be better if the AATA allowed the ads, then stop accepting ads after that to avoid a lawsuit and future lawsuits. The both sides should try to reach accomodations on this issue, although I would agree all sides should consider just getting rid of the horrible and ghastly image of a skull and bones while retaining the political message.

    I think the AATA has encouraged a meeting with Mr. Coleman and the ACLU over this matter and I hope each side can reach an amicable resolution.

  7. November 21, 2011 at 5:34 am | permalink

    re #6, et al: Could someone supply a link showing this proposed ad?

    I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I’d like to make up my own mind as to whether it is hate speech or not. I’m not too keen on censorship, especially the “politically correct” type, a little info would be nice.

  8. November 21, 2011 at 5:56 am | permalink

    Sorry everyone, didn’t notice the existing link — my bad.

    That said, rejecting an ad from a public forum for any reason is a dangerous precedent. Not for Mr Ree’s reasons, but I’ll take the ad, or none at all. We can’t have bureaucrats making this decision, ever.

  9. November 21, 2011 at 6:12 am | permalink

    Re #7: There is a link to the image in the article above. I was finally moved to look at it. It is indeed offensive, regardless of one’s position on the underlying issue. I don’t want to have to look at it in the landscape.

    I agree that AATA might be best served to eliminate the advertising entirely. The ads create visual pollution and the income does not appear to warrant the aggravation. They also undercut the image of the AATA as part of a high quality of life community. For branding purposes, the AATA buses should simply look like transportation.

    I hope that the board reads the Chronicle. The discussion in the article lays out the question very well.

  10. By Rod Johnson
    November 21, 2011 at 9:00 am | permalink

    Ugh, what a nasty, confrontational ad. A better test case would be an ad that tried to make its case rather just express the rage of the boycott proponents. Bad cases make bad law, ACLU.

  11. By Alan Goldsmith
    November 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm | permalink

    “On hearing Gov. Snyder’s proposal, Bernstein said, “We were on it like …,” then paused to weigh alternative sentence completions.”

    Let’s see-like a politcal hack who doesn’t see anything wrong with the handicapped begging a taxi driver to load his groceries into a taxpayer funded ride service while asking Ann Arborites to kick in more tax dollars on top of the current two mills we currently pay?

  12. November 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm | permalink

    Dave – to your question in #3, above, “how fast is express”, I’d have a similar answer to Jim’s. Considering a BlakeTC to YpsiTC driving-a-car-lawfully time of a hair over 20 minutes (assuming Packard, late-afternoon/early rush hour, during my last time trial :) ), I’d want an “express” bus service to clock in around 25-30 min for the same distance, preferably at the low end of that bracket.

    * You’d need a lot fewer stops at that point (we could call it a “limited” rather than an “express”)
    * Packard seems best, for both congestion and number of traffic signals
    * it would probably work best with some amount of signal preemption work on lower-volume intersections (I’m thinking on Packard, of lights at places like Wells, Stone School, Mansfield, and various subdivision entrances in Pittsfield Township), and
    * you could probably a higher fare for it — $2 or $2.50.

    I know on the Ypsi end of the route, I hear from a lot of folks who talk about wanting to ride the bus instead of drive, but don’t because of the speed. With a decent express/limited service, I think we’d pick up a lot of these “riders of choice”, rather than just pulling riders off of existing routes, which is why I think a premium price could be charged.

    It’ll be interesting to see what kind of ridership elasticity the increased frequency and 5-minute time gain on the #4 route prompts.

  13. November 21, 2011 at 6:37 pm | permalink

    In 1861 it took 23 minutes to get between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor by public transit, just over half what it takes today. I don’t expect we can match the technology of 150 years ago, but I hope we can do better than we’re doing now.

  14. November 21, 2011 at 9:20 pm | permalink

    Re #13, do you have any more info on it taking 23 minutes between Ypsi and Ann Arbor in 1861? That seems quite remarkable.

  15. By Rod Johnson
    November 21, 2011 at 9:45 pm | permalink

    Was that an interurban? How fast did those go?

  16. November 21, 2011 at 10:21 pm | permalink

    Regarding the history of trolleys: [link]

    That link starts in the introduction with an interesting story of General Motors et freres, mining the interurbans for cash.

    Kinda, sorta related. I remember hearing once somewhere that produce from California made it to New York three days faster in 1920 than it does today. Ain’t progress a bitch?

  17. November 21, 2011 at 10:34 pm | permalink

    That was the Michigan Central. The Interurban came along later. There were only two trains a day, morning and evening, so it’s more comparable to the Chelsea Express than the 4. In 1861 it was 37 minutes to Chelsea. Today it’s 25, but I don’t think the bus actually takes you all the way in to town, so the total trip time is probably about the same. Plus the bus goes the wrong way, so it’s useless for visiting Chelsea unless you spend the night.

    If this link doesn’t work, just do a web search for “1861 Michigan Central Timetable.”

  18. November 22, 2011 at 9:38 am | permalink

    Right, with no stops in between and some signal work, you could pretty easily get a bus running BTC to YTC in under 20 minutes, maybe as fast as 15, depending how far you went with the signalization.

    But I think we probably want to trade off a little of that speed for more coverage and transfer opportunities. Off the top of my head, I’d suggest EMU Campus, Golfside, Carpenter, Platt, Stadium, State for a Packard Limited that could still clock in at 25 minutes or less.

  19. By Mike
    November 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm | permalink

    The proposed ads are not only offensive and direct hatred at a particular group but could well lead to decreased ridership, while assuring that both AATA riders and those seeing the buses go by will be afforded a very unpleasant environment.

    This ad is not only in very poor taste taste–one can say tasteless–because of the message and the combined frightful image, but note that the artwork is ripped off from Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada (1851-1913) and its use other than by those who own the rights to it constitutes copyright infringement and besides, this was not its original intended purpose. Not only would display of this hateful ad defame, ridicule, and hold up to scorn a specific group (a whole country and its people actually), but could subject anyone who uses it for other than private purposes–and even then in any modified from from the original, i.e., omitting the surrounding relevant text and without including the copyright notice–to a lawsuit that would be much more likely to succeed than one that the ACLU might launch to attempt to overturn its rightful rejection. (The precedent in Seattle indicates that such a lawsuit would probably fail in Michigan as well esp. when the rejected ads in Seattle were slightly less offensive than Mr. Coleman’s.)

    Such copyright violation litigation might be instigated by any heirs of Posada or others who hold the rights to the image and/or the University of New Mexico which has the rights to at least the digital image.

    Compare the original artwork and setting as employed by Posada at [link] with the version Blaine Coleman took for his vulgar and unacknowledged ripoff at [link]

  20. By Rod Johnson
    November 22, 2011 at 6:05 pm | permalink

    Can the work of someone who died in 1913 still be under copyright?

    That notwithstanding, the ad is a giant troll that would accomplish nothing constructive.

  21. By Mike
    November 22, 2011 at 7:02 pm | permalink

    The digital version is under copyright held by U of New Mexico with explicit limitations on it use. Copyright can be renewed at any time so it’s possible that the heirs of Posada or someone else like UNM still hold the rights. Besides the poor taste of the whole idea, use of this image may very well lead to litigation, and if the copyright is still valid, certainly it could cost someone–I hope not we taxpayers in Washtenaw County–big bucks in losing such a lawsuit, a very likely outcome.

  22. November 22, 2011 at 9:15 pm | permalink

    @Mike – My guess is that the UNM holds copyright to /that particular digital version/ of the image, and not to the image itself. (And I’d like to see them prove that Blaine used their particular digital version of the work to make his ad.)

    Copyright’s complicated, and I make no claim to be an expert, but it looks like the work in question was created in 1919, and is thus probably out of copyright by this point–I understand 1923ish to be the horizon for copyright claims in the US. (Beside which, if Posada died in 1913, his image was probably created earlier than 1919–I’m guessing UNM is considering the entire page as the “original work” that they’re citing a Nov 2, 1919 date for, as opposed to the Posada image itself.)

  23. November 22, 2011 at 9:56 pm | permalink

    Isn’t this the essence of free speech, that some see a half-full glass and others see it half-empty? Vivian thinks Coleman’s ad is “tasteless”, Rod thinks it’s “nasty” and Mike chimes in with “poor taste”. But aren’t we forgetting the victims of Israel’s brutality, and many others who may think the ad is “accurate”? What would my friend Basem Abu Rahme have had to say about the ad, had he not been murdered by the Israeli military in 2009? What about the small Palestinian children I met who would flee in terror when they saw Uzi-wielding settlers approaching their farm? Maybe US citizens ought to reflect that their personal opinions aren’t shared by all, indeed not by many if world opinion is taken into consideration. My own opinion of the ad is “eye-catching”.

  24. By Steve Bean
    November 23, 2011 at 12:42 am | permalink

    The ‘offended’ reactions are ironic in light of Mike’s info that the piece was created by a somewhat well-known (to Mike at least) and appreciated (by UNM at least) artist.

    The context of the original piece would be interesting. Anyone care to translate the Spanish text from “Panteon de Menudencias” that surrounds the image? The “Description” on the UNM page reads: “Pictorial broadside with an image of a spider with a calavera face that resembles [Mexican president] Victoriano ['The Jackal'] Huerta.” Sounds political.

  25. By steve
    November 23, 2011 at 9:33 am | permalink

    The provenance of the ad as originally Mexican political art notwitstanding, in the present context it’s like saying the swastika is a neutral symbol of cosmic oneness of sanskrit origin so displayinfg it is just fine .

    This is especially so given the notorious history of its submitter and its defender here ( who finds it ‘eye catching’).

    By the way, there are articulate folks on anti-ad side who’d enjoy a see saw ride.

  26. November 23, 2011 at 10:20 am | permalink

    re #23: If you are referring to me when you quote “Vivian” (not my name), I did not say it was “tasteless”. I said “It is indeed offensive, regardless of one’s position on the underlying issue.”

    Again, I support the removal of all advertising from AATA buses. It is a drag on the image of the service.

  27. By steve
    November 23, 2011 at 10:45 am | permalink

    re the ad’s origin: While the detective work that links the design to Juan Posada is persuasive, I sort of doubt the proposer of the ad is that erudite on subjects other than the sole one for which he is notorious locally.

    This may be a case of independent invention and could plausibly derive from either the CAT scan of the proposers brain or his having somehow seen the tatooed back of Sandra Bullock’s ex-husband ( or his pornstar girlfriend).

  28. By steve
    November 23, 2011 at 10:48 am | permalink

    erratum to my previous: I didn’t meant to suggest that the ad’s proposer was actually ‘erudite’ on his chosen subject of concern.

    “monomaniacal–although ill informed” would be much more accurate.

  29. November 23, 2011 at 12:20 pm | permalink

    Re #26: Apologies, Vivienne, for the misspelling of your name and the misquoted word. However, my point was to take issue with (a) your pronouncement that the image *is* offensive, when in fact that is merely your opinion, to which you are entitled, and (b) to show readers that “one’s position on the underlying issue” does have relationship to one’s opinion. btw, and at the risk of being incorrect (again), I don’t recall reading your support for the “removal of all advertising from AATA buses”, prior to Mr. Coleman’s advertizing request.

  30. November 23, 2011 at 12:27 pm | permalink

    The Chronicle has a fairly straightforward commenting policy: Be Generous. It’s mostly self-regulating and it’s rare that the automatic filter is triggered that sends a comment to the moderation queue (for some reason other than the fact that a hyperlink has been included).

    However, for this thread, there are a number of comments that have been sent automatically to moderation. There are also some comments that appeared (unmoderated) in this thread that might arguably fall short of the “Be Generous” standard. In my experience, simply letting a moderated comment sit there in the queue eventually leads the commenter to reflect on what they’ve written, understand that maybe, just maybe, the comment was ill-considered, or that the world did not absolutely need to see that piece of text anyway, or that keeping score on such matters is not worth the trouble. And that’s the end of it. Sometimes, a commenter will even send an email and ask that it not be moved out of the queue and into public view.

    But this thread and this topic have resulted in righteous indignation and protest on the part of moderated commenters (conveyed in additional comments, also sent automatically to moderation) and the demand that they be allowed to say what they have to say. In those unseen comments, people who have essentially opposite perspectives on this issue have attacked the host of this forum, The Chronicle, for not allowing everything they have to say appear in the forum.

    I don’t think the problem is with the administration of the forum or with programming of the filter. The problem is that there’s folks with perspectives on both sides of the issue who would, as my mother used to say, “argue with a fence post,” and who will not rest until they are satisfied that their perspective has the imprimatur of the forum. I get it. I identify with it, even. (Who do you think my mother was talking about?)

    But it’s the kind of thinking that leads people to insist it’s only fair that they have the opportunity to respond, or that other person was allowed two comments (in a row!) and this different person only got one, or this person was allowed to write 102 words and the other person got 195 words. And so The Chronicle needs to allow this moderated comment to appear or else take down some other comment that has already appeared.

    I find the calculus of “forum fairness” to be unproductive and a waste of everyone’s time. I don’t have any patience for it.

    For those commenters who have opposite perspectives on this issue and would like a forum to air your perspectives, get together and create one.

    With apologies to those whose comments are currently in the automatic moderation queue for various innocuous reasons, this thread is closed.