Next Steps for AATA’s Possible Transition

Also: North-south rail station location and design study OK'd

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Aug. 16, 2012): The AATA board achieved its minimum quorum of four out of seven members at its monthly meeting. But they were joined by three as-yet non-voting members of a possible new transit authority, The Washtenaw Ride – which could have a countywide governance structure and service area.

Karen Lovejoy Roe

Karen Lovejoy Roe, Ypsilanti Township clerk, attended the AATA board’s Aug. 16 meeting as representative of the Southeast District on an as-yet unincorporated board of a countywide transportation authority. During the meeting she expressed enthusiastic support for expanded transit. (Photos by the writer.)

As part of that goal of establishing the new authority, the AATA board gave final approval to a four-party agreement – between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA. The agreement would establish a framework for the transition of the AATA to a transit authority incorporated under Act 196 of 1986 – to be called The Washtenaw Ride. That authority would have a 15-member board.

An unincorporated version of the Washtenaw Ride’s board (the U196) has been meeting since late 2011. The three guests at the table for the Aug. 16 AATA board meeting are representatives of three districts in the possible new authority: Karen Lovejoy Roe (Southeast District), Bob Mester (West District) and David Phillips (Northeast District).

Those three were not there to vote, and did not participate in deliberations, though they could have. However, Lovejoy Roe – who serves as Ypsilanti Township clerk, an elected position – gave one of the most enthusiastic statements of support for the countywide initiative that’s been heard at the AATA board table over the last two years. “I’m just really excited about where we’re headed as a community, as a county at large. I know that there’s been a lot of hiccups, but I think that that’s normal … I’m committed, and I think that those who’ve asked me to be here working willingly and openly to do what’s best for all county residents [are, too] …”

One element of the 30-year vision that the AATA has developed for countywide transportation is a north-south commuter rail connection between Ann Arbor and Howell, in Livingston County. And the planning effort was given continued support at the Aug. 16 meeting when the board awarded a $105,200 contract to SmithGroupJJR for station location and design services in connection with the WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway) project.

That overall planning effort was given a boost by a somewhat unexpected $640,000 federal grant to the AATA and Michigan Dept. of Transportation. The grant was awarded on Aug. 6, 2012 under the Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP) program. AATA had applied for the grant last November, but did not have high expectations, given the competitive nature of the grants.

In other business, the board decided to accept a non-applicable penalty – which has no actual impact – and not comply with Michigan’s Public Act 192 for its unionized employees. The act mandates limits on how much public employers can contribute to their employee health care costs. The decision was essentially based on deference to a federal law that applies to agencies receiving federal funding – like the AATA. That federal law requires benefits like health care to be collectively bargained, not stipulated. Under the state law, failure by the AATA to comply would just mean that it would be denied state funds to which it is not even entitled.

In the meeting’s other business item, the AATA approved a three-year contract with CBS Outdoor Advertising of Lexington, New York, to handle placement of ads on its buses and bus stops. That’s a change from the previous contract, which was held by Transit Advertising Group (TAG) of Farmington Hills, Mich.

Four-Party Agreement, Countywide

In front of the board again for its approval was the four-party agreement outlining a framework for a possible countywide transportation authority, and its articles of incorporation. The other three parties to the agreement are the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and Washtenaw County.

The most recent iteration of approvals came as a result of an amendment to the articles of incorporation made by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its Aug. 1, 2012 meeting. The county board’s amendment changed the minimum threshold of votes required on the proposed new 15-member transit authority board, in order for the board to change the authority’s articles of incorporation. That threshold was increased from a 2/3 majority (10 votes) to a 4/5 majority (12 votes).

Washtenaw County’s role will now be to file the articles of incorporation for a new transit authority – The Washtenaw Ride. The articles would be filed with the state of Michigan under Act 196 of 1986. But that filing would come only after a request from the AATA and only after the AATA publishes details of the service and funding plan for the authority in newspapers of general circulation in Washtenaw County. At that point, jurisdictions throughout Washtenaw County would have the ability to opt out of the new transit authority.

Even after the funding plan is published and the new authority is incorporated, the four-party agreement stipulates that any transfer of assets from the AATA to The Washtenaw Ride would take place only after a voter-approved funding mechanism is established. And only after a voter-approved funding mechanism is established would proceeds from the transportation millages currently levied by the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti be pledged to The Washtenaw Ride.

A financial task force recruited by the AATA – to assess the amount of funding that would be necessary to offer the kind of service that AATA is proposing – concluded that it would require roughly the equivalent of 0.5 mills countywide. [.pdf of final version of transit documents] It will not be on the ballot for Nov. 6, as the deadline will expire by the end of August and not nearly enough time exists to complete remaining steps before then.

Four-Party Agreement, Countywide: Comment from Lovejoy Roe

Karen Lovejoy Roe, Ypsilanti Township clerk, will represent the Southeast District in the proposed new transit authority. That district consists of Ypsilanti Township and Augusta Township. Of the three members of the as-yet unincorporated (U196) transit board who attended the Aug. 16 meeting, she was the only one who spoke at the table.

Her remarks prompted Thomas Partridge, a frequent critic of the AATA, to rise from his seat and applaud.

She opened by saying, “I’m just really excited about where we’re headed as a community, as a county at large. I know that there’s been a lot of hiccups, but I think that that’s normal … A lot of questions have been raised about trust and I just want everybody to know I’m committed, and I think that those who’ve asked me to be here working willingly and openly to do what’s best for all county residents [are, too] …”

She stressed three key points related to the importance of better transportation in the county: jobs, seniors and young people.

What drew her attention, she said, is the impact that countywide transportation could have on economic development. Even though the national climate is difficult, she allowed, “we can control our destiny here, so we focus on that.” She said was sitting at a dinner table with a top executive of one of the largest private employers in the county, Thompson Reuters, who told her that they make their decisions about where to locate their businesses based on where public transportation is located. A huge lightbulb went off in her head, she said. That had led her to conclude: “I don’t even know why this is up to debate. The debate should be about the details of what we’re going to do, but not about whether we’re going to do it.”

As the process has gone along, she told the board, one of the things that she’d pushed for was data. She always knew that Ypsilanti Township had a huge population and travels to Ann Arbor to work – but how many? And she’d been given those numbers, she said – about 5,000-6,000. When you add in the city of Ypsilanti and Superior Township, it’s even more, she said. “Our folks need jobs,” she said, and Ann Arbor is where the jobs are. She expressed support for that idea, saying what’s good for Ann Arbor is good for the rest of the county. Ypsilanti Township and Augusta Township residents need jobs, she said, and they don’t care where those jobs are located.

Turning her attention to senior issues, Lovejoy Roe told the board that during the primary election campaign, she and Ypsilanti Township supervisor Brenda Stumbo had, between the two of them, knocked on every door in the township. As a result of that, she said, they know now that their intuition was exactly right: “Our seniors need transportation.” There are so many people that she knew four years ago who used to drive, and are not driving now, she said. They would ask, “Karen, Brenda, what can we do?” It’s true not just for Ypsilanti Township, she said, but for all of Washtenaw County – the population is aging. Seniors deserve to be able to stay in their homes, Lovejoy Roe said – especially facing an inability to sell their homes without taking a huge loss. There is not enough assisted living housing that they can move into, she said. By helping seniors stay in their homes by providing on-demand door-to-door services, it’s providing “assisted living” by helping them stay in their homes, she said.

Lovejoy Roe rounded out her remarks by talking about the importance of public transportation for young people. Washtenaw County has to be a place where young people want to live and stay, she said. She wants her five children to stay here and she’s looking forward to having grandchildren. And they need public transportation, she said. She’s learned so much through her own children and talking to other young residents, she said. For them, it’s a cultural positive. When she grew up, whoever had the fastest, hottest car was the coolest around. But now your status gets measured by whether you’re able to live and work without an automobile. That’s who young people are today, she said.

She’s really excited about the future, she said, and she knows there’s still a long way to go to get to where we need to be. But for her, the arguments for doing it are: jobs, our seniors, and our young people.

Lovejoy Roe allowed there are a lot of questions, and watching the Washtenaw County board of commissioner meetings, she knows that people are concerned that they’re going to get sucked in and “screwed over” – saying she’s probably not as politically tactful as they are. She believes in her heart that it’s going to work. She pointed out that if the millage is requested and voters approve it, then it will eventually need to be renewed – so every single community will need to benefit. They’re not going to be voting for a millage in perpetuity. So there’s a real incentive to everybody working together to move the process forward, she said.

Four-Party Agreement, Countywide: Public Comment

All of the public commentary could be connected in some way to the four-party agreement and the possibility it provides for broader governance and service area.

Carolyn Grawi from the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living addressed the board during public commentary at the end of the meeting. She congratulated the board as well as the community, saying that we will now move forward with a chance to have countywide transportation. The disability community can’t wait for this opportunity to exist, she said. She echoed the comments of Karen Lovejoy Roe. It really will help add value to the community, Grawi said.

Larry Krieg introduced himself as an Ypsilanti Township resident, and began by thanking his township clerk [Karen Lovejoy Roe] for such rousing support. He said he wanted to bring three things together that are significant.

The first was an article in online Bridge Magazine about the number of millages that were passed in Michigan at the Aug. 7, 2012 primary. Out of 805 millages on the ballot, a total of 90% passed, he reported. Of the road millages that were on the ballot, 89% had passed. In spite of the rhetoric against taxes, people are passing millages at a remarkable rate, he observed. Second, he said the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor last week released the estimate that in the next 20 years, cars will average $50,000 apiece. The third point is that as he is researching fuel costs and where the money goes, almost all the money leaves Michigan, he said, and over half of it leaves the United States. And up to 8% goes to governments that are hostile to the United States. So when people object to increasing taxes, they don’t realize that just by filling up their gas tank they are paying money to governments that are hostile to the United States. So he encouraged the board to be a bit more aggressive.

At the first opportunity for public comment, at the start of the meeting, Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a resident of the city of Ann Arbor, and advocate for everyone in Ann Arbor and all of the cities and villages and townships of Washtenaw County and the state of Michigan. He called on the board to mount an assertive, stepped-up campaign to bring about a quality countywide transportation system. It had been his proposal, he contended, made to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners more than six years ago at a board meeting, to bring about the foundation of a Washtenaw County department of transportation under the Washtenaw County government. Instead, the board has bided its time and avoided tackling this very important and vital issue, he contended.

Partridge also called on the AATA board to be more assertive about getting the proposal on the ballot as soon as possible. [It will not be on the Nov. 6 ballot.] He called on the representatives of the new transit authority board to become more vocal and more assertive to bring about this much-needed countywide transportation system.

At the second opportunity for public commentary at the end of the meeting, Partridge expressed appreciation for those who’d voted for him in the Democratic primary election – as he’d run for state representative of the 53rd District. [He received 11.5% of the vote, compared to 88% for incumbent Jeff Irwin.] He ventured that they’d voted for him based on his leadership on the issue of bringing about a badly-needed countywide transportation system. He called on everyone to unite the county in order to achieve progress.

Four-Party Agreement, Countywide: Board Deliberations

Board chair Jesse Bernstein briefly described the Washtenaw County board’s amendment, made on Aug. 1, 2012. The amendment changed the minimum threshold of votes required on the proposed new 15-member transit authority board, if the board wants to change the authority’s articles of incorporation. That threshold was increased from a 2/3 majority (10 votes) to a 4/5 majority (12 votes).

Outcome: The board voted without further discussion. That means that the all four parties to the agreement have given final approval. After the Washtenaw County board had given its approval on Aug. 1, the Ann Arbor city council re-approved the agreement on Aug. 9, 2012, and the Ypsilanti city council gave its re-approval on Aug. 14.

Four-Party Agreement, Countywide: Next Steps

In his verbal report to the board, CEO Michael Ford outlined the next steps. They include making sure that all the stakeholders know all service benefits that each district will receive. When the AATA board believes it has done all it can to inform the public of the benefits of the five-year transit program, the board can then request that the county initiate the incorporation process – filing articles of incorporation for the new authority with the state. And at that point, he continued, the local governments of the county will have 30 days to opt out, if they choose to do so.

David Philips Michael Ford

Left to right: AATA CEO Michael Ford welcomes David Phillips to the meeting. Philips, Superior Township clerk, represents the Northeast District on the U196 board.

But several steps will precede the decision to request incorporation. The week of Aug. 20, the AATA will be mailing out a letter to all local clerks to explain the incorporation process, Ford explained. AATA will be planning and following up with all those communities. The AATA will also be sending out a newsletter to all community leaders and the public. And on Aug. 23, Ford said, the AATA will meet with the unincorporated board members to prepare for the public release of the five-year transit program.

Throughout the month of September, the AATA will be meeting with the district advisory committees (DACs) to seek local recommendations on the proposed program. They’ll also meet with local leaders and government boards to explain the program and answer all questions to build support. The AATA board and the district representatives will play an important role in ensuring that the local leadership and the public understand what the plan provides, he said. When the AATA believes it has a consensus on the scope of the service plan, the current board will then request that the county start the incorporation process. Ford said: “We believe the plan, guided by the 30-year master plan and vision, clearly benefits all local government units and citizens in the county.”

Ford stated that the AATA will continue its relationship with each local government, whether or not they decide to participate in the new transit authority.

Four-Party Agreement, Countywide: Five-Year Service Plan

A condition for a request to incorporate the new transit authority is to publish a five-year service plan. A draft of the plan was released in April.

At the board’s Aug. 16 meeting, Michael Benham – strategic planner with the AATA – gave an update on the five-year service plan. The plan is in the process of being introduced to the public, he said. There have been a number of new suggestions for additional services, he said.

Since the previous draft, which was released in April, he said, a Milan connector has been included. That will run on Carpenter Road from Milan to a Meier store at Ellsworth and Carpenter. Also, a Milan circulator has been added. That’s contingent on involvement with the southern part of Milan, which extends into Monroe County. The Milan connector is actually a rerouting of something that was previously in the plan that went from Milan through Saline to Ann Arbor. He explained that “connector services” are “semi-express services” that connect communities in rural areas.

Other changes include an extension of the previously included Northfield Express to Brighton. The urban bus network [Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti] has been expanded. Previously, it was based on a 16-hour day and now it’s based on an 18-hour day for some routes. That will involve a number of select routes operating until midnight. Some routes will also operate a little bit earlier in the morning, starting at 6 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m. There were also a number of miscellaneous routing and scheduling changes to the urban bus network – too numerous to get into, he said.

They are also thinking about extending service to Lincoln Consolidated Schools in August Township, using a combination of flex service and limited extensions of the already-proposed Route #46. They’re also looking at the park-and-ride proposed in Pittsfield Township – and they’re thinking about either adding an additional park-and-ride, which would be further east, or perhaps just taking the existing one and moving it.

The schedule for the next round of District Advisory Committee meetings is available on the AATA’s Moving You Forward website.

North-South Rail (WALLY)

A somewhat unexpected $640,000 federal grant to the AATA and Michigan Dept. of Transportation was part of the background for a resolution the board was asked to consider – which continues planning and study for the WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway) project. The grant was announced on Aug. 6, 2012 and was awarded under the federal Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP) program. AATA had applied for the grant last November, but did not have high expectations, given the competitive nature of the grants.

The AATA had also allocated other funds for continued planning on WALLY at its June 21, 2012 meeting.

On Aug. 16, the AATA board was asked to award a $105,200 contract to SmithGroupJJR for “station location and design services” in connection with the WALLY project. The board’s authorization includes an option to increase the contract scope at a later date.

Possible downtown location for Ann Arbor rail station.

A possible downtown location for an Ann Arbor rail station, between Washington and Liberty streets. The railway is highlighted in yellow. The city-owned First and William lot has been designated by the city council as part of a future greenway. The city-owned 415 W. Washington parcel is the focus of possible development as a greenway and arts center.

Based on a staff memo included in the AATA’s performance monitoring and external relations committee minutes, the initial phase of the project will focus on station location studies for five communities: Ann Arbor, Whitmore Lake, Hamburg Township, Genoa Township and Howell. In Ann Arbor, attention will be focused on the Barton Road location and how a station can be designed that overcomes the constraints imposed by a large drainage culvert.

Future phases would also include detailed designs of each site selected in the initial phase, with additional station sites in Ann Arbor – a downtown location (probably between Liberty and Washington streets, according to the memo) and one near the University of Michigan football stadium at Main and Stadium Boulevard.

The track from the Barton Road location southward is owned by the Ann Arbor Railroad, which has historically been uninterested in passenger rail use on it tracks. But in the fall of 2011, AARR indicated at least a willingness to entertain a “business proposition” on such use. Some kind of arrangement would be necessary in order to contemplate stations south of Barton Road – like downtown or the football stadium.

North-South Rail (WALLY): Board Deliberations

Charles Griffith said he was excited that the AATA can continue to evaluate the potential of this commuter rail line. It’s nice to propose something like this, Griffith said, but then you have to really figure out the details – where exactly would you put the stations and what would they look like, and how would they connect up to other services. So the AATA is very fortunate to have support from the federal government to help figure that out.

Eli Cooper stated that this step is really important – because it is work that the AATA is doing on behalf of many others. He spoke of the local contributions that come from other communities in Washtenaw and Livingston counties that had enabled the AATA to think about a smaller station design process.

By way of background, the financial support outside the AATA for WALLY includes: Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority ($50,000); Washtenaw County ($50,000); and the city of Howell DDA ($37,000).

“Lo and behold, as we were bringing this forward, comes to us support from above!” Cooper said. It’s very interesting to see that not only has the Federal Transit Administration provided AATA the grant – but the FTA has done it through the Michigan Dept. of Transportation. In the early stages of the WALLY rail service planning, Cooper said, it was all about the local involvement. And what can be seen in this agenda item, he said, is the importance to all levels of government and to all the communities to do a proper job of planning for future rail service. A new rail system, even on an existing railroad, requires a lot of effort, Cooper cautioned.

MDOT has invested in the rail infrastructure to make sure the existing rails can sustain passenger service, Cooper said, but we don’t have rail stations yet. So this begins the process of putting ideas and plans together to allow those stations to emerge – as the system becomes ready for carrying employees and families back and forth, up and down this corridor.

Cooper reported on a session sponsored by the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce with Joseph C. Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. [The press was barred from the event.] Cooper relayed some numbers provided by Szabo. For the generation age 16-35, the amount of vehicle miles traveled is down 23%. Their reliance on transit and rail is up 40%. That’s a generational shift, Cooper concluded.

These investments are really allowing this generation to prepare for the next one, Cooper said.

Bernstein noted that he and AATA strategic planner Michael Benham had also attended the meeting at the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti chamber. Bernstein said he was glad to see the commitment that the FRA has to commuter rail and also to long-distance rail. He was especially glad that the AATA had received the extra $640,000.

Bernstein is deeply concerned about the terminus of the north-south line, and he believes it needs to come into downtown Ann Arbor. He hopes this study will give more time and wherewithal to make that happen.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the WALLY station design and location study.

Health Care Contribution Policy

The board was asked to authorize a resolution that sets a policy that the AATA will not meet the conditions of Michigan’s Act 152 – which limits the amount that public employers can contribute to their employee health care. The resolution stipulates that the AATA will accept the penalty specified in Section 9 of Act 152, which actually has no practical effect on the AATA. But the resolution also allows the AATA to comply with its obligations under federal law with respect to collective bargaining rights.

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. And the law provides another option, where the employer limits its contribution to 80% of the medical benefit.

The penalty specified in Section 9 of the law involves funds to which the AATA is not entitled in any case:

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]

The rationale for the resolution was this: In order for the AATA to comply with Title 49 of United States Code 5333, as an agency that receives federal assistance, unionized health care benefits must be subject to collective bargaining – not the state’s mandated fixed-dollar or percentage caps. AATA bus drivers are members of the Transport Workers Union Local 171.

The AATA had already begun to grapple with this issue, when it voted at its June 21, 2012 meeting to comply with Michigan’s Act 152 for its non-union management staff. That was followed with a discussion of possibly rescinding that vote at the board’s July 16, 2012 meeting. Although the possibility of scheduling a special meeting was discussed – to deal with non-union employee health care – no meeting was scheduled.

Health Care Contribution Policy: Board Deliberations

The board deliberations were significant, because they highlighted differing views on the appropriate language to describe the action the board was taking. The resolution itself stated [emphasis added]:

IT IS RESOLVED, that the AATA Board of Directors invokes Section 9 of Act 152 so as to protect the collective bargaining rights of its union employees under its Section 13(c) agreement with the TWU, and …

When he described the resolution in his report from the board’s performance monitoring and external relations committee, Charles Griffith reminded his colleagues that they’d already addressed the issue for non-union management staff. What the board is being asked to do now, he said, and what is being recommended, is that the resolution be passed, giving an assurance that the AATA will address the impacts to union health care benefits only through the collective bargaining process. This is triggering what he called “a waiver” in Section 9 of Act 152.

When the board came to the item on the agenda, board chair Jesse Bernstein ventured that there are conflicting requirements in state and federal law regarding health care costs and collective bargaining. The bottom line, he contended, is that the AATA can claim an “exemption” under Section 9, and the consequences don’t impact the AATA, because the AATA does not receive the money that would be impacted if it did not comply with Act 152. So Bernstein indicated that the AATA is invoking the section that says the AATA is not going to participate in the state law – and that covers the AATA for the federal law.

AATA board member Eli Cooper

AATA board member Eli Cooper, who also serves as the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager.

Eli Cooper took a different view of the appropriate description of the board’s action. Having read the opinion of the AATA’s legal counsel, he said, and having read the statute, he felt that words like “waiver” and “exemption” don’t fully describe what is at play. He indicated that he felt a better description would be “not applicable.” The penalties that are referenced in Section 9 of the statute do not apply to an authority such as the AATA – and as such, the AATA is not being granted a waiver or an exemption, he pointed out. It’s just that the statute, as fashioned, doesn’t have a penalty clause that applies to the AATA.

Cooper felt that it’s the right thing to do – to stay in step with the federal authorities and to continue to work constructively and positively with the union representation. He called it a point of clarification that there’s not a waiver or an exemption. The penalty is simply not applicable to the authority.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the resolution that defers to federal requirements over state law with respect to health care contributions.

Bus Advertising

The board was asked to authorize a three-year contract with CBS Outdoor Advertising of Lexington, New York, to handle placement of ads on its buses and bus stops. That’s a change from the AATA’s previous contract with Transit Advertising Group (TAG) of Farmington Hills, Mich.

The contract had been held by TAG for the last seven years, but expired. The AATA selected CBS Outdoor Advertising from seven respondents to an RFP (request for proposals). The contract required board approval because the amount of revenue generated from the deal is expected to exceed $100,000 for the three-year period of the contract.

In the most recent court action connected to a lawsuit filed against the AATA over an advertisement rejected for its buses – which included the text “Boycott ‘Israel’” – TAG and its president Randy Oram were dropped as defendants in the case by mutual agreement of the parties. The court has not ruled since an evidentiary hearing was held on July 23.

During board deliberations, Eli Cooper talked about the way the authority is operated. He felt it was important to note that bus advertising is a revenue source. The authority and the staff use all means to generate revenue to help provide the high level of service that it does to the community. It might be seen as a simple award of a contract, he said, but it’s part of a manner of doing business that is entrepreneurial and is in partnership with the private sector. So he fully supported the resolution. Board chair Jesse Bernstein noted that every bus presents a different configuration – it’s not just slapping something up on the side of a bus. It requires a great deal of skill on the part of the vendor, he said.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to award the advertising contract to CBS Outdoor Advertising.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its Aug. 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. Here are some highlights.

Comm/Comm: Blake Transit Center

In his verbal report to the board, CEO Michael Ford noted that the new downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center would go before the Ann Arbor city council on Monday, Aug. 20.

By way of background, the new BTC will be built on the opposite site of the lot from the current center. So it will front on Fifth Avenue instead of Fourth Avenue. Buses will enter from Fourth and exit onto Fifth, which is the opposite traffic flow from the current configuration. The plans were reviewed by the city planning commission on July 17, 2012. As a public entity, the AATA is not required to get planning commission or city council approval. But the planning commission voted to affirm that the site plan conformed to city code with two exceptions. The city council had the BTC on its Aug. 20 agenda only as a written communication from the city administrator, and did not discuss the BTC at all. But AATA staff were in the audience until the meeting ended – after midnight – in case they were called upon to answer questions.

At the AATA board meeting on Aug. 16, Ford indicated that the BTC would be before the AATA board in October and e hoped to start breaking ground at that time.

Comm/Comm: New Website

CEO Michael Ford told the board that new AATA website will be brought online in mid- to late September. He felt that people would be very impressed with the outcome of that.

Comm/Comm: Ridership

Also as part of his verbal report, CEO Michael Ford said that ridership on Route #4 since January, compared to this time last year, is up over 28% as a result of the more frequent service being offered. NightRide service is up over 55%. ExpressRide – which included commuter service to Canton and Chelsea – is up 54%. Reverse commutes [leaving Ann Arbor in the morning for those two cities] are also now available, Ford said. The first week of AirRide service [between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport] had around 400 passengers. Now the service is averaging consistently between 800 and 1,000 passengers per week. Ford also reported that AATA now has 20 vanpools on the road.

AATA board member Charles Griffith, reporting from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, said that Routes #3 and #5, because of the increased ridership, have struggled a bit with staying on time and with overcrowding. So AATA is continuing to look at ways to address that. It’s not in the budget to increase the frequency of the service as the AATA had done for Route #4, he said – at least not at this time. Route #3 runs between Ann Arbor and Washtenaw Community College. Route #5 runs along Packard between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

Comm/Comm: Financial Update

Reporting from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Charles Griffith noted that both expenses and revenues are under budget.

Expenses are lower due to the later start for the AirRide service and filling some positions later than had been projected in the budget.

An issue of concern, Griffith said, is the possibility of state operating assistance decreasing for fiscal year 2013, due to a change in the formula the state has been using to distribute money to transit agencies around the state. It could result in a loss of $800,000 in next year’s budget. Griffith said that “we have folks working on that,” and the AATA is working with some of the other transit agencies in the state, and will be attempting to address that going forward.

Present: Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, Eli Cooper, Anya Dale.

Absent: David Nacht, Sue Gott, Roger Kerson.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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  1. August 23, 2012 at 5:16 pm | permalink

    I’d like to suggest that AATA board members be required to display advertising on their cars. It would be hypocritical for the board to ask us to ride around in vehicles covered in ads if they are unwilling to do so themselves.

  2. By Tom Whitaker
    August 23, 2012 at 5:25 pm | permalink

    Or perhaps at least the head of AATA should have ads on HIS car. That might help offset the cost of his $10,000 annual vehicle allowance.

  3. By Alan Goldsmith
    August 24, 2012 at 8:51 am | permalink

    Tom, he doesn’t take AATA? Are you sure? I’m shocked, shocked!