AATA Releases Draft 5-Year Service Program

At a special meeting held on April 26, 2012, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority voted formally to release for public review a five-year service and funding draft plan – part of a possible transition to expanded governance and service throughout Washtenaw County. The draft plan incorporates the advice of a financial task force that signed off on recommendations at its Feb. 29 meeting. [.pdf of draft five-year plan]

The plan will undergo a period of public review lasting 30-days.

The five-year program includes: (1) countywide demand-responsive services and feeder services; (2) express bus services and local transit hubs services; (3) local community connectors and local community circulators; (4) park-and-ride intercept lots; and (5) urban bus network enhancements. For Ann Arbor, the program includes increased bus frequencies on key corridors, increased operating hours, and more services at weekends. The total hours of operation in the Ann Arbor district are expected to increase by 33% on weekdays and over 100% on Saturdays and Sundays.

By way of illustration of the five-year service programs for other districts in the county, the west district (including Chelsea and Manchester) would see new weekday and Saturday curb-to-curb services (from home to their final destination), as well as new “feeder services” that would get residents from their homes to a transit connection.

Like the task force recommendations, the AATA’s April 26 draft service and funding program stops short of recommending a new tax as the way to fund additional services: ”This is not a recommendation that a millage be pursued as a funding source, but is intended to illustrate the level of funding that would be needed.” However, the draft program does identify the needed countywide tax rate to cover the $32.9 million gap in revenues and costs for expanded service as 0.5 mill. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

Funding for the service program in the draft plan would also depend in part on fare increases for specific services, as well as a possible fare structure based on concentric zones, centered on Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. The next zone out would include Dexter and Saline. And the third zone would include the rest of Washtenaw County as well as parts of Wayne County, where the AATA already offers service to Detroit Metro Airport. Within zones, travel would be less expensive than across zones. Also included in the draft report are different ticket types, including family fares, and a 7-day weekly pass that would be more economical than a 30-day pass – to appeal to lower-income workers.

The report includes a number of appendices, including demographic projections for each of the county’s districts, as well as a breakdown of how the “transit dependency index” is computed, which was one of many factors in decisions about what services to include in the draft five-year program. Decisions about the elements to include in the draft five-year program also incorporated the results of a public outreach effort the AATA has made over the last year and a half.

Publication of a final funding and service plan is a required step in a framework that could lead to the formation of a new transit authority, tentatively being called the Washtenaw Area Transportation Authority. The new authority would have broader representation, funding and coverage area than the AATA. The so-called “four-party agreement” framework under which the transition could take place has been ratified by only one of the four parties – Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor city council voted 7-4 at its March 5, 2012 meeting to ratify the agreement.

As a party to the agreement and the initiator of the process, the AATA is expected to ratify it in the near future. The city council of the city of Ypsilanti is expected to take up the issue after the May 8 election, when Ypsilanti voters will make a decision on a city income tax and a bond issuance to cover debts associated with the Water Street property. Washtenaw County is the fourth party to the agreement.

The final five-year service and funding plan will be issued by the AATA after public review and discussion with the unincorporated board of the new transit authority (the U196 board), which has been meeting since fall 2011.

A series of district advisory committee meetings will start on May 1, through May 17. The Ann Arbor district meeting will take place on May 14 at 7 p.m. at the Mallets Creek branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.

This brief was filed from the AATA headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway, where the board held its special meeting. A more detailed report will follow: [link]