Ann Arbor Opts Out of Countywide Vehicle

On a 10-0 vote, the Ann Arbor city council has opted out of the new transit authority – called The Washtenaw Ride – that was incorporated on Oct. 3, 2012, a little over a month ago. Incorporation of the new transit authority under Act 196 of 1986 had been preceded by the development of a 30-year transit master plan and a five-year service plan by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, over a more than two-year period.

At the Nov. 8, 2012 council meeting, when the Ann Arbor opt-out vote took place, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) described the effort that had gone into planning for The Washtenaw Ride as a colossal waste of time and money. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) countered that it had been valuable and appropriate to engage in that effort. And mayor John Hieftje pointed out that a criticism of the recently failed library bond proposal was that there was no specific plan for the new library building – and that the AATA’s approach had relied on first developing a plan, which required an investment of money.

The decision by the Ann Arbor city council ends this particular approach to expanding transportation services in the area by terminating a four-party agreement – between Washtenaw County, the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the AATA – that would have governed a transition from the AATA to a countywide authority.

The language of the council’s resolution offered some optimism that expanded transportation services might be pursued with some other mechanism than a countywide Act 196 incorporation: “… AATA is encouraged to continue to discuss regional transportation options among Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti township, Ann Arbor township, Scio township and Pittsfield township, leading to a better understanding and process for improving local transit options …”

During public commentary, members of Partners for Transit described disappointment at the withdrawal, but urged the council to take the initiative to work toward a new accord on expanded transit, saying they were encouraged by the language of the resolution calling for continued dialogue.

AATA strategic planner Michael Benham was allowed to answer questions from the podium – over dissent from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). Benham indicated he was heartened by the language in the resolution that essentially says “keep going.” He indicated optimism that the community could arrive at a vision of expanded transit for those who need it the most. During questioning, Higgins made clear to Benham that she and other councilmembers had heard repeatedly that basic transportation among neighborhoods was a need that currently isn’t being met.

Kunselman sketched out a possibility of maintaining incorporation under Act 55, which would allow Ann Arbor to maintain control over the AATA, but also mooted the possibility of expanding the AATA board membership to include representatives of communities that have “skin in the game” through purchase-of-service agreements.

The Ann Arbor city council’s decision came in the context of opt-out decisions by most of the other 28 municipalities in the county. Until Ann Arbor’s decision, those jurisdictions still participating in the new authority included more than half the county’s population, and included the county’s largest population centers: Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and Saline.

Ann Arbor had been expected to help lead the initiative, and had been the first of the four parties to ratify the agreement, on March 5, 2012. Since incorporation on Oct. 3, more than one glitch was encountered in the technical implementation. Those included the unclarity about the start of a 30-day opt-out period, and the eligibility of current AATA board members to serve on the board of the new authority.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]