Revised 5-Year Transit Plan: More Service, Cost

The board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has released a final draft of a 5-year service plan as part of a possible transition to expanded governance and service throughout Washtenaw County. A millage to support the new transit authority, to be called The Washtenaw Ride, could be placed on the ballot by May 2013.

The service plan and the AATA’s position on the plan were released at a special meeting of the board on Sept. 5 and through a press release embargoed until the start of that meeting at 10:30 a.m.

The estimated cost of the service in the plan is 0.584 mills, which is an increase of 0.084 mills compared to the estimated cost in a draft plan, released earlier this year in April. Compared to the draft plan, the final version also includes several additional services – which were added based on input from district advisory committees (DACs).

The five-year service plan includes: (1) countywide demand-responsive services and feeder services; (2) express bus services and local transit hub 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 on weekends. According to the Sept. 5 press release, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti will get a 56% increase in service hours compared to current levels.

The geographic areas of the district committees would be represented on a proposed 15-member board for a new transit authority, which would be incorporated under Act 196 of 1986. That incorporation would take place under the framework of a four-party agreement, ratified between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and AATA.  [The Washtenaw County board of commissioners will have the agreement on its agenda for its Sept. 5 meeting – but that's intended only to affirm some administrative changes to the document. See "Washtenaw Board to Re-Vote Accord."]

That four-party agreement establishes the legal conditions under which assets of the AATA could be transferred to the Washtenaw Ride. A key condition is a voter-approved funding source adequate to pay for the services outlined in the plan released on Sept. 5. While the draft plan released in April of this year stopped short of recommending a millage as the funding source, the AATA now indicates that a millage vote could take place as soon as May 2013.

The four-party agreement also calls for the cities of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor to direct the proceeds of their current transportation millages to the new authority. If approved by voters, the 0.584 mills from a new millage would be paid by property owners in those cities in addition to the existing transit taxes. Current transit taxes are about 1 mill for Ypsilanti and about 2 mills for Ann Arbor.

Washtenaw County’s role will 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. This is the current phase of the possible transition. At the point of incorporation, jurisdictions throughout Washtenaw County would have the ability to opt out of the new transit authority. If their governing bodies don’t opt out, those jurisdictions will be included in the new authority.

At the AATA board’s Aug. 16, 2012 meeting, AATA strategic planner Michael Benham had sketched out in broad strokes some of the changes that had been made since the draft service plan had been released earlier this year in April. For example, the urban bus network [Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti] has been expanded compared to the draft. In the draft plan, 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.

Connectors and circulators for Milan have been added. The Northfield Express has been extended to Brighton. At the Aug. 16 board meeting, Benham also indicated the AATA is 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 a 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.

A digital version of the service plan will be available later in the day on Sept. 5. Updated:  [.pdf of Final 5-Year Transit Program]

This brief was filed from AATA headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway, where the board’s Sept. 5 meeting was held. A more detailed report will follow: [link]