AATA Receives Financial Group Report

At its April 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board formally accepted for further consideration the recommendations of a financial task force on funding for an expanded, countywide governance and service area.

The task force is currently “on hold” following its Feb. 29, 2012 meeting, when it made its recommendations to the AATA. A few days after that task force meeting, the Ann Arbor city council ratified its part of a four-party agreement – between the AATA, city of Ann Arbor, city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – that provides a framework for possible transition to a new governance structure for the AATA.

The April 19 board resolution addresses part of the reason that the task force was reluctant to make a specific funding recommendation: Pending currently is state legislation on transportation funding through vehicle registration fees and the establishment of a regional transit authority for a four-county area in southeast Michigan (including Washtenaw County). From the board’s April 19 resolution: “…the AATA will monitor proposed legislation and other conditions affecting transit funding, and reconvene the FTF as needed to consider amendments to their recommendations …”

The financial task force had calculated that there’s a roughly $32.9 million gap between existing funding and what would be needed to fund the first five years of expanded services. To cover that gap, the task force calculated that a countywide millage of 0.5 mill would be needed – if the mechanism of funding were to be a countywide transit tax. But the task force declined to identify a millage as the solution to that funding gap, in light of pending legislation at the state level that might make other mechanisms available. [.pdf of Feb. 29 report draft approved by whole group]

The categories of service recommended as part of the first five years of the program include ongoing bus replacements, urban bus network enhancements (including enhancements to the WAVE, a western Washtenaw express), countywide door-to-door and flex services, express bus services, local community circulators, park-and-ride lots, vanpool services, and “superstops” in the Washtenaw Avenue corridor.

The subcommittee also recommended an average increase for fixed-route fares of $0.50, with the possibility of fare increases for paratransit services as well. Higher fares should be charged for express bus services, with the possibility of distance-based zone fares.

Also significant in the financial task force report was a recommendation that certain projects – like the north-south high-capacity connector, the Washtenaw Avenue high-capacity service, as well as the east-west and north-south commuter rail service – be considered separately. Those projects are not recommended for inclusion for local expenditures in the first five years. It’s also recommended that the Ann Arbor downtown circulator service (previously called The LINK) should be discretionary and should rely on private investment.

The language of the resolution passed by the AATA board on April 19 does not accept the task force recommendations unconditionally. The resolved clause reads [emphasis added] “… accepts the recommendations of the Financial Task Force for consideration by the AATA and the community.”

And the minutes from the April 10 meeting of the planning and development committee indicate that there may not be universal agreement on the AATA board with at least one of the task force recommendations – to exclude rail projects from expenditures of local funds in the first five years of the plan, and to spend local money only on local projects.

From the minutes: “Eli Cooper was assured by Michael Benham [AATA strategic planner] that the FTF is an advisory task force, with the board having ultimate authority to accept, decline, or modify their recommendations. Eli expressed concern with only using local money for local projects for the first 5 years. If this was to occur, then the Board may not be in alignment with their overall priorities (for expansion of services). Other than that, Eli was interested to hear more about the FTF and staff opinions as to how they see the first 5 years playing out.”

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]