AATA Grapples With Health Care Issue

Board also increases countywide planning consultant contract

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority special board meeting (July 16, 2012): Although the board does not typically schedule a monthly meeting for July, a special meeting was called because the board had business to transact that could not wait until August.

AATA board members met in a work room at AATA headquarters for their July 16 special meeting. Clockwise around the table starting at 9 o'clock – Anya Dale, David Nacht (obscured behind Dale), Jesse Bernsetin, CEO Michael Ford, Sue Gott and Eli Cooper.

AATA board members met in a workroom at AATA headquarters for their July 16 special meeting. Clockwise around the table starting at the far left: Anya Dale, David Nacht (obscured behind Dale), Jesse Bernstein, CEO Michael Ford, Sue Gott and Eli Cooper. (Photos by the writer.)

However, the longest and most vigorous discussion took place on an item not actually on the published agenda: compliance by the AATA with Michigan’s Public Act 152, signed into law in September 2011, which limits employer health care contributions to a fixed dollar amount. At their July 16 meeting, board members took no further action on the issue, letting the vote taken at their previous meeting on June 21, 2012 stand – for now. An additional special meeting might be called sometime in the next week.

The board’s discussion of new information, obtained from the Michigan attorney general’s office, as well as additional analysis of Act 152, suggested a kind of vindication for the position of two dissenters – Charles Griffith and Roger Kerson – in the board’s June 21 action.

That action had been to limit the AATA’s contributions to no more than 80% of the non-union employee health care cost. Adopting the 80% limit is another way for a public entity to comply with Act 152. And the board had voted on June 21 to do that for its non-union employees – because open enrollment was fast approaching for those employees.

As part of that compliance decision, AATA put together a new health care option, which would allow its non-union employees to choose a health care option that would cost them the same as before – but increase their co-pays. And by the time of the July 16 meeting, employees were participating in the open enrollment process, using the boardroom for that activity.

So the board met in a smaller workroom to handle its business for the July 16 special meeting.

That business included a $60,000 increase in the contract with Steer Davies Gleave, the international consulting firm the AATA hired to assist with the development of its transit master plan. The work has included identifying new service options and financial analysis for AATA’s initiative to expand its governance and service area countywide. With this and other previous increases, the value of the contract now totals $780,622, from a deal first signed in April 2010 for just under $400,000. Some of the additional $60,000 will essentially be passed through to a local consulting firm, Carlisle Wortman Associates.

In other business, the board struck a task-order style deal for marketing and advertising with Quack! Media and Pace & Partners Inc. – a three-year arrangement that could be extended for another two years. The $500,000 total authorized by the board works out to $100,000 a year.

The board also authorized an increase in the contract it has with Blue Cab to provide its NightRide service, which operates after the hours when fixed-route service stops running. The increase is from $28 to $32 per service hour for a contract that extends through 2013. Of the $4 increase, $3 is attributed to the AATA’s relatively new living wage policy.

In a final piece of business, the board authorized a $104,000 contract with RBV Contracting to relocate a fire hydrant as part of AATA’s bus garage expansion project.

Compliance with Michigan’s Public Act 152

The board discussed at length an action it had taken at its previous meeting on June 21, 2012 in order to comply with Michigan’s Public Act 152, which was signed into law last year. The board did not take any action on the issue at its July 16 meeting, but left open the possibility of calling a special meeting before July 23, when the “drop dead” date falls for health care open enrollment for AATA’s non-union employees. The health care plan year begins Aug. 1.

Public Act 152: Background

Public Act 152 limits the amount that a public employer like the AATA can make to its employees’ medical benefits plans – $5,500 for single-person coverage, $11,000 for two-person coverage, and $15,000 for family coverage. However, the act provides another option, under which a public employer can choose through a vote of its governing body (in this case, the AATA board) to not apply the hard dollar cap. Instead, the employer can limit its contribution to 80% of the medical benefit, leaving the employee to cover the remaining 20%. It’s this 80/20 option that the AATA board had exercised in its June 21 vote.

The board’s special meeting on July 16 was held in AATA headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway, instead of the usual location at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library. But it was not held in the dedicated boardroom – because that space was being used for open enrollment in the health care plan.

As part of its compliance with the 80/20 provision, AATA had put together health plan options for non-union employees that would essentially make their health care costs roughly the same as current costs – if they choose to opt for higher co-pays.

Two board members dissented on the June 21 vote: Charles Griffith and Roger Kerson. Neither was able to attend the July 16 meeting. David Nacht, who had not attended the June 21 meeting, was present on July 16.

That led to deliberations that covered much of the same ground as the June 21 discussion. However, a couple of new points are worth highlighting, which were made plainer to the AATA by a letter the Michigan attorney general’s office sent to the U.S. Dept. of Labor. The letter pointed to two specific ways that transit agencies could comply with Act 152, without limiting contributions to employee health care. [.pdf of May 29, 2012 letter] First, a transit agency could vote under Section 8 of Act 152 to exempt itself from compliance. Based on the AATA board member deliberations on June 21, their understanding was that they could not, as appointed officials, exercise that option.

The Michigan attorney general’s letter also points to Section 9 as a way to comply. Section 9 of Act 152 provides an explicit penalty for non-compliance, suggesting that the law in some sense does not apply to transit agencies – because the penalties involve taking back 10% of state funds that such agencies don’t receive anyway. Those funds include the state’s current version of state-shared revenue, as well as school aid funds – which the AATA does not receive. From Act 152:

15.569 Noncompliance by public employer; penalty.
Sec. 9.

If a public employer fails to comply with this act, the public employer shall permit the state treasurer to reduce by 10% each economic vitality incentive program payment received under 2011 PA 63 and the department of education shall assess the public employer a penalty equal to 10% of each payment of any funds for which the public employer qualifies under the state school aid act of 1979, 1979 PA 94, MCL 388.1601 to 388.1772, during the period that the public employer fails to comply with this act. [.pdf of full text of Act 152]

Why was the Michigan attorney general’s office communicating with the U.S. Department of Labor? It’s because Title 49 of United States Code 4333 5333 on labor standards set out conditions for receipt of financial assistance from a range of federal programs – and among those conditions are protection of employment conditions that derive from collective bargaining rights. Based on the Michigan attorney general’s letter, the U.S. Dept. of Labor has found the use of Section 8 or Section 9 by Michigan transit agencies an acceptable way to continue to meet its USC 5333 obligations. From USC 5333(b):

(b) Employee Protective Arrangements.
(1) As a condition of financial assistance under sections 5307–5312, 5316, 5318, 5323 (a)(1), 5323 (b), 5323 (d), 5328, 5337, and 5338 (b) of this title, the interests of employees affected by the assistance shall be protected under arrangements the Secretary of Labor concludes are fair and equitable. …
(2) Arrangements under this subsection shall include provisions that may be necessary for—
(A) the preservation of rights, privileges, and benefits (including continuation of pension rights and benefits) under existing collective bargaining agreements or otherwise;
(B) the continuation of collective bargaining rights;
(C) the protection of individual employees against a worsening of their positions related to employment;
(D) assurances of employment to employees of acquired public transportation systems;
(E) assurances of priority of reemployment of employees whose employment is ended or who are laid off; and
(F) paid training or retraining programs.

Public Act 152: Board Deliberations

Board chair Jesse Bernstein began by posing a question about the employee health insurance benefits, which David Nacht translated roughly as follows: If the board doesn’t rescind its June 21 motion today, and takes action later to rescind, would that “screw up” what’s happening right now in open enrollment? In response to Nacht, Ed Robertson, AATA’s human resources manager, told him: “I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that question.”

Board member David Nacht deliberates at the July 16, 2012 meeting.

Board member David Nacht deliberates at the July 16, 2012 meeting.

Robertson clarified that the new health plan, about which AATA’s non-union employees are currently making choices, starts Aug. 1. [AATA's union employees are not immediately affected, as their contract goes through the end of the year; however, they participate in the same health care plan as non-union employees.]

Robertson indicated that his uncertainty was based on the fact that he’s not sure what information has already been transmitted to the AATA’s health insurance carrier. He stressed he was not saying the plan couldn’t be revised. Bernstein confirmed with Robertson that employees are making their decisions on health care coverage, based on the motion the board passed on June 21. Bernstein ventured that the board needs to find a way to “back out of it.”

Nacht, who is an attorney but does not provide legal counsel to the AATA, responded by saying the first thing the AATA must do is make sure it follows the law. As he understood the draft resolution that the board had been presented that day, there’s at least an oral opinion from the U.S. Dept. of Labor that Michigan’s Act 152 violates federal law with regard to the AATA’s labor union. However, Nacht continued, the AATA might still have a legal obligation under the state law to follow it with respect to the AATA’s non-union employees. Nacht said he understood that there’s an attorney general opinion, which has some relevance – because Michigan attorney general opinions are treated as legally binding in the absence of a court opinion.

But the bottom line is, said Nacht, that “we need our lawyer to tell us what to do.” The board risks breaking a law, if the board says it doesn’t have to follow a state law. So he concluded that the board should get legal advice, before passing a resolution saying that the AATA isn’t going to follow a state law.

Michael Ford, the AATA’s chief executive officer, commented that other transit agencies in Michigan are doing this “right now as we speak.” Robertson confirmed Ford’s statement, saying that’s what the AATA had been told by the U.S. Dept. of Labor. Bernstein indicated that he felt the board needs to find out how to back out of the board’s previous vote for non-union administrative staff, so that on Aug. 1 they can continue with the health plan they have now, if they choose to do that.

Nacht responded to Bernstein by saying if the state passed a law saying the AATA should follow it, he was not sure why the AATA should back out of it. Bernstein indicated his understanding was that there were certain criteria – based on the receipt of certain kinds of money from the state. The AATA does not receive that kind of money from the state, he said. If the law doesn’t cover the AATA, he continued, he didn’t know why the AATA would put its non-union employees through this procedure.

Ford asked Chris White, AATA’s manager of service development, to explain further, building on Bernstein’s comments. White said that Act 152 contains an opt-out provision for cities [Section 8] – which allows a governing body to take a 2/3 vote to opt out of following the law. [It's not clear why AATA believes Section 8 could not also apply to a transit agency.] For non-cities, White continued, there is a separate clause [Section 9], which he summarized as saying that are no penalties for not following the law. The legislature had given “an out” for both cities and non-cities in Act 152, White concluded.

Nacht ventured that the board has both a legal issue and a policy issue. The policy issue, he said, is complicated. He said it’s not something that he’d be prepared to say how he feels, because he hasn’t seen a memo analyzing it. It’d be possible to say, for example, Nacht said, that we have to comply with this law, but we’re concerned about regressive impacts on employees, and want to have some budgetary compensation for employees – but at the same time we want our organization to do what most public entities are doing.

Otherwise put, the AATA’s position might be that it doesn’t want employees to take a hit, because the agency is concerned about its people, Nacht said. But in the spirit of the legislature’s action, as much as the AATA cares about its people, the board also has a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayer dollars. The board needs to discuss its obligations under both law and policy, before it does anything, Nacht said: “We need to have a conversation about that.”

Bernstein ventured that the board did have a conversation about that at its last meeting [which Nacht did not attend]. Bernstein told Nacht that the consensus was that the board did not want to negatively impact “any employee” based on Act 152. He felt the sentiment on the board was fairly clear.

Eli Cooper picked up on Bernstein’s phrase “any employee” and noted that he felt the consensus was more about “employees as a class,” and the board had looked to the staff to recommend something that was equitable to the employees as a group. He agreed with Nacht that it’s a legal and a policy issue. Cooper conveyed some dissatisfaction with the fact that the draft resolution had been presented “as we walk into a meeting without an opportunity to review any background.” The issue was not “ripe for decision making,” he ventured.

He did appreciate the urgency of the matter, Cooper said. If the board can collect more information in the next day or two, there are still more calendar days when an emergency meeting of the board could be called – if the legal opinions and the policy analysis is such that the board is compelled to take action.

Ford responded to Cooper’s comment about the late introduction of the issue, saying he took responsibility for it. The AATA had just received the information, and he felt it was important for the board to be aware of it. He noted that the board had given staff direction at its last meeting to follow up on the issue. Ford said there’d not yet been an opportunity to follow up with legal counsel.

Nacht then apologized for not attending the last meeting, but noted that he’d read the minutes. From the minutes, he didn’t get the sense of the kind of consensus on the board that Bernstein had articulated. What he’d see in the minutes, Nacht said, was a divided vote. And he guessed that the additional information has been resolved “in favor of the dissenters.” Bernstein stressed to Nacht that “none of us were thrilled with this from a legal or a policy position.” The board was looking for a way – if the AATA had to comply with the law – to be fair to employees. It’s coming up at a bad time, he said, because of the tight deadline.

Bernstein asked for clarification from Karen Wheeler, Ford’s executive assistant, about what the rules are on voting if people are not present. [Bernstein was anticipating the possibility of convening a special meeting, and having some people participate by telephone or by sending a proxy.] Wheeler’s answer: “You cannot do it.” Bernstein confirmed that a person had to be present to vote, and could not vote by phone or with a proxy.

Nacht asked why the board could not deal with it as a financial matter. For now, he suggested, the AATA complies with the law until its lawyer gives a different opinion. If the board’s lawyer writes a letter saying the AATA doesn’t have to follow the law, then the board is in a whole different position about voting. He felt differently about voting under that kind of situation. But Nacht stressed that the decision has a financial impact for employees and their families. So through the budget process, the AATA can compensate and adjust if there’s a board consensus that there should be neutral impact to employees financially.

Bernstein returned to Cooper’s comment on individual employees, stressing that the potential impact to an employee is difficult to predict, because it’s dependent on each employee’s medical experience during the year. Ed Robertson had left the room during the deliberations to get some additional information, but returned to tell the board that the “drop-dead date” on open enrollment was a week from that day [July 23] for management staff.

Bernstein ventured that they should give staff a chance to gather more data and to get a legal opinion. Sue Gott stressed that she wanted a legal opinion in writing – so she could read it ahead of time. Nacht also ventured that he’d like to have a legal opinion on supplemental employee compensation based on health care receipts. Bernstein indicated no enthusiasm for that approach, saying it would be a “total nightmare,” citing concerns about breaching confidentiality. Responding to Nacht’s suggestion that confidentiality concerns could be addressed by using third-party administrators, Bernstein feared that costs would keep getting added.

Ford tried to extract some specific direction from the board. He ventured that he was supposed to get a legal opinion and then convene a special meeting. He’d need board members’ schedules for that, he noted. Nacht clarified for Ford that he’d like a legal opinion on three subjects: (1) How does compliance with Act 152 affect the AATA as it relates to USC 5333(b) for union employees? (2) How does compliance with Act 152 affect the AATA as it relates to USC 5333(b) for non-union employees? and (3) To the extent the AATA is following the law, what are some legal options about the AATA’s ability to adjust employee compensation? The deliberations concluded with Bernstein querying Ford: “Michael, are you clear?” “Got it,” was Ford’s reply.

Outcome: The board took no action on the issue, but held out the possibility for a special meeting to be convened in order to vote on the question.

Transit Master Plan Consultant Contract

The board considered adding $60,000 to the contract with Steer Davies Gleave, a consulting firm originally hired on April 21, 2010 to help develop a transportation master plan (TMP). The TMP is the basis for the AATA’s initiative possibly to convert the AATA to an Act 196 transit authority, with the intent to expand geographically the agency’s governance and service coverage area countywide. The consulting firm is assisting the AATA in that effort.

The original contract with Steer Davies Gleave was for $399,805. Over the last two years, the contract amount has been increased by board authorization on three occasions (on Nov. 18, 2010July 19, 2011 and Feb. 16, 2012), which brought the total contract to $720,622. The July 16, 2012 authorization brought that total to $780,622.

Among other things, this most recent contract increase was to cover the following items: documentation of financial analysis; methodology for an equity analysis of the new service program; design and monitoring of the long-term countywide district-based community input; and administration of a community input planning tool. Of the additional amount in the contract, a portion will essentially be passed through to a local consultant, Carlisle Wortman Associates of Ann Arbor.

The previous increases to the contract covered an expanded public process, support to a financial task force, and the generation of a draft five-year service program. [.pdf of detail on Steer Davies Gleave contract changes]

Board member David Nacht said his understanding was that to some extent the additional funds would go to a local company [Carlisle Wortman Associates], which CEO Michael Ford confirmed. Nacht ask: “Is this going to be it, ya think, with this contract?” Ford indicated that the AATA is trying to “internalize” all the work that SDG has been doing until now. It’s his hope that this would be the final revision to the contract, he indicated.

Anya Dale, who serves as chair of the planning and development committee that had recommended the additional funds, noted that the resolution states it’s the “final contract amendment.” Ford indicated that if there were some compelling reason, it could be brought back, but the AATA is trying to bring the work in-house and “own it.”

Board chair Jesse Bernstein ventured that if the AATA needed some help from an international consultant like SDG, they could be hired for new contract, but this would finalize the transit master plan process. Nacht asked his colleagues to imagine that there’s some kind of an election in the spring [for example, on the question of a countywide transit millage to support expanded service]. No matter the outcome of that election, Nacht supposed, there would still not be any continuation of the SDG contract.

AATA strategic planner Michael Benham confirmed Nacht’s understanding. The intent is to bring the work in-house so that any changes to the plan or the service that might result from a popular vote could be implemented by the AATA staff. He expected that any necessary changes that might come from the results of an election would be, for example, to add a service here or take away a service there.

Sue Gott asked Benham to elaborate generally on the value SDG is bringing in terms of additional expertise, and productivity for added deliverables. She wondered if the issue was a matter of additional expertise or time and availability of AATA staff.

Benham clarified that the need for outside help had been the combination of the sheer volume of the issues that had to be handled, and with the fact that the AATA didn’t have staff on board who could do some of the analysis necessary. Now that the basic plan has been created, he said, AATA staff is in a position to do adjustments and revisions. Creation of the plan by AATA staff would have been difficult, he said. Gott asked if it’s fair to say that the majority of what SDG is bringing is added expertise. Ford indicated that it’s the expertise that SDG brings, as well as their international experience.

Responding to the mention of SDG’s international experience as critical – as it relates to some of the work that the additional funding will pay for, David Nacht asked, “Really? I mean, to attend the DAC [countywide district advisory committee] meetings and organize the DAC meetings?” Benham indicated that a lot of what this final contract revision is covering could be thought of as “training.” SDG has a lot of expertise, he said, and the AATA is asking SDG to hand it over to the AATA now.

Nacht told Benham that what he really heard Benham saying, and what sells Nacht on it, is not that SDG has international expertise. Rather, it’s that AATA has invested a lot of money with SDG to figure out the complexity of the service that will generate the actual routes for the buses in a countywide system. So as the AATA works with communities in the county and tries to transfer that knowledge – so people really understand it – the AATA needs to understand all of that, too, Nacht said. So it’s really in-house training for the AATA, so that AATA can run a countywide system, Nacht concluded.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the $60,000 contract increase with Steer Davies Gleave.

NightRide Contract

The board considered an increase in its contract with Blue Cab, which is the vendor that operates the AATA’s NightRide service. The increase is from $28 to $32 per service hour for a contract that extends through 2013. The current three-year contract was set to expire in November 2012.

The NightRide is a shared cab service with a basic fare of $5, which is available weekdays from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. and weekends from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Those are hours when the AATA’s regular fixed-route service does not operate.

Of the $4 per service hour cost increase in Blue Cab’s contract, $3 is analyzed by the AATA as based on compliance with the AATA’s relatively new living wage policy. The other $1 is analyzed as a general cost increase.

The geographic coverage area of AATA’s NightRide was expanded eastward to Golfside Road in March 2011 and further to downtown Ypsilanti in January 2012 – as part of a broader effort to improve work transportation between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Ridership has increased about 40% from last year – with about 25 points of that increase due to broader geographic coverage and the other 15 points due to demand in Ann Arbor.

Night Ride Chart AATA

Ridership on the AATA’s NightRide service showed a clear increase starting in January 2012. 

During her report from the planning and development committee, Anya Dale characterized the increased net cost to the AATA of the hourly operating increase as coming to around $46,000.

During deliberations, board member David Nacht asked if there’d been any complaints about Blue Cab by patrons. Board chair Jesse Bernstein noted that he’d been thanked several times by restaurant employees for the geographic expansion of service.

Chris White, manager of AATA service development, indicated that the number of complaints about Blue Cab has been low historically. However, he allowed that in recent months, complaints had shown an increase. White attributed the increased complaints to the fact that a lot of new people are using the NightRide. White also said that Blue Cab has been good at addressing complaints when they’ve occurred.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the Blue Cab contract extension.

Marketing, Public Relations Contract

The board was asked to authorize purchasing up to $500,000 of marketing and public relations services from Quack! Media and Pace & Partners Inc. over the next five years.

The marketing and public relations work will cover “public relations, education, community outreach and other communication services in support of AATA’s initiatives and general operations.” The two firms were selected after the issuance of a request for proposals that generated 13 responses from the 35 firms to whom the request was sent. Quack! Media is an Ann Arbor firm, while Pace & Partners is based in Lansing.

Board member David Nacht led off deliberations by asking why the AATA had switched vendors. Mary Stasiak, AATA director of community relations, explained that it had been a competitive procurement process. The decision was based on relative experience and qualifications, she continued. There was some specific experience, approach and management style the AATA was looking for, she said, to help move the strategic marketing and information plan forward. It requires a more sophisticated effort and project management, she said. The two companies the AATA had settled on use the same project management software, and they also have transit-related experience, she said.

Nacht confirmed with Stasiak that the AATA had a consultant study the AATA’s marketing efforts and that the request for proposals (RFP) had been designed in part based on findings of that study. But the company that performed the study is one of the companies that is being awarded the contract, Nacht said. He wondered: “So they came up with a recommendation that we should change in a way where they had a competitive advantage?” No, Stasiak said, because all respondents to the RFP were provided with the same information – the same marketing and strategic plan.

Nacht wanted to know if the situation had been scrutinized to make sure that the deck wasn’t stacked – that the consultant didn’t say, “What AATA really needs is a company that provides X” when the company “knows fully well that they have X better than their competition.” That’s always a danger, Nacht said. Stasiak came back to her point that all the bidders had the same information.

AATA board member Eli Cooper deliberates at the July 16, 2012 meeting.

AATA board member Eli Cooper deliberates at the July 16, 2012 special meeting. To his right is board member Sue Gott. To her right is CEO Michael Ford.

Board chair Jesse Bernstein noted that the RFP was generated by AATA staff. Eli Cooper noted that the proposals had been reviewed by AATA staff and had been winnowed down from 13 to 5 and ultimately decided based on AATA’s needs, not whether the firm could “do X better.”

Subsequent board discussion clarified that the total limit on the contract is $500,000 over possibly five years – three years plus two one-year extensions. Stasiak indicated that the previous contract with the previous vendor had resulted in expenditures of $427,000 over three years. Nacht got clarification that the contract is subject to 30-day termination. Bernstein and Sue Gott indicated that they were interested in monitoring the performance of the two firms. Bernstein said there should be substantial reporting back to the performance monitoring and external relations (PMER) committee. Cooper drew out the fact that the contract is an “on-call” or “task-order” type contract. Nacht ventured that the AATA has the option not to give the two companies any tasks.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the media and marketing contract with Quack! Media and Pace & Partners Inc. over the next five years.

Fire Hydrant Contractor

The board considered a $104,000 contract with RBV Contracting to relocate a fire hydrant as part of the AATA’s bus garage expansion project. The city of Ann Arbor is requiring the relocation of the hydrant – located on the south end of the AATA’s property at 2700 S. Industrial Highway.

In the new location, the hydrant will connect to the neighboring property, which is owned by the University of Michigan. The change will create a continuous loop connection of the fire hydrant system in the area.

Commenting on the resolution, Eli Cooper – who sits on the planning and development committee that had recommended the action – noted that moving the hydrant is a city requirement for occupying the new space. David Nacht wondered why the board even need to vote on the action. Board chair Jesse Bernstein told him it was because it’s a lot of money. [With the contingency, the project went over the $100,000 threshold that requires board approval.]

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the contract to relocate the fire hydrant.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its July 16 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: Countywide Expansion

In his update to the board, CEO Michael Ford alerted the board to the fact that the Washtenaw County board of commissioners would be giving final consideration to the four-party agreement (between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, the AATA and Washtenaw County) and the articles of incorporation of a new transit authority at the county board’s Aug. 1 meeting. The county board gave initial approval to the two documents at its July 11, 2012 ways & means committee meeting, after lengthy deliberations.

Comm/Comm: New Blake Transit Center

Ford noted that the new downtown Blake Transit Center would be reviewed by the city planning commission at its meeting the following day, on July 17. [Outcome of that review was an affirmation by the planning commission that the project meets city requirements for private development, with two exceptions involving landscaping and driveway width. The key change in the site, compared to the current configuration, will be moving the transit center building from the Fourth Avenue side of the midblock driveway to the Fifth Avenue side. The buses will also enter the driveway from the Fourth Avenue side and exit onto Fifth Avenue – which is the reverse of the current traffic flow. ]

Ford told the board that he hopes to be able to bring the Blake Transit Center proposal to the  Aug. 20 Ann Arbor city council meeting.

Comm/Comm: Triennial Review

In his update to the board, Ford noted that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) had come in to review the way that the AATA handles its federal grants, which the FTA does every three years. Ford told the board that the AATA had done a very good job. A typical transit agency will have about seven deficiencies, Ford said, but FTA had found only one at the AATA – and that one was corrected “on the spot.” The FTA had told the AATA was the review was “top notch,” so Ford  commended the AATA staff on that.

Comm/Comm: Revisions to Five-Year Service Plan

Jim Mogensen reminded board members that a while back he’d addressed them about the parallels between the current countywide plan and the plans from the mid-1970s. A barrier to implementing that vision at that time was the confluence of money and politics, he noted. Now that conversation has opened again with all its complexity.

He observed that there are 15 different amendments to the service plan that are being looked at – so Mogensen ventured that it might be good to have a central place with all of that documented so that people can track what’s going on. Board chair Jesse Bernstein responded to Mogensen by saying, “We’re with you and that’s [strategic planner] Michael Benham’s job.”

Comm/Comm: General Complaints

Thomas Partridge addressed the board as an advocate for those who need transportation services the most. He complained that Blue Cab had not undergone sufficient evaluation and scrutiny. He expressed continued concerns about problems with service on the A-Ride service, for which the AATA contracts with SelectRide. He claimed there are violations so serious that they’re violations of criminal and civil laws. He questioned the continued “proclivity” of the board to go to outside contractors and pay their expensive rates without the board first exploring AATA’s ability to provide services in-house.

When he reached the end of his two-minute time, Partridge told board chair Jesse Bernstein he would appreciate additional time – otherwise Bernstein would be giving the appearance that the board didn’t want to hear constructive criticism. Bernstein explained to Partridge that there’s a rule that everyone gets two minutes. Partridge replied that before 1920 there was a law that said women couldn’t vote.

Present: David Nacht, Jesse Bernstein, Eli Cooper, Sue Gott, Anya Dale.

Absent: Charles Griffith, Roger Kerson.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. in the fourth floor conference room at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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One Comment

  1. By Jack Eaton
    July 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm | permalink

    Your cite to “Title 49 of United States Code 4333″ should be section 5333 not 4333.

    For anyone interested in transit employee labor protections, the U.S. Department of Labor has a web page that explains the obligations that attach to the receipt of federal transit funding: [link]

    For purposes of disclosure, I represent transit employee unions and have been involved in discussions of PA 152 compliance involving other Michigan transit systems as it affects the requirements of the labor protections found in 49 USC section 5333(b).