AATA Receives Audit, Preps for Urban Core

March 28 meeting of possible partners to explore transit improvements within an expanded geographical footprint near Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (March 21, 2013): The board’s main business of the evening was a presentation from the audit firm Plante Moran on the result of AATA’s fiscal year 2012 audit.

David Helisek, at the podium, presented highlights of the audit report to the AATA board.

David Helisek, at the podium, presented highlights of the audit report to the AATA board on March 21, 2013. (Photo by the writer.)

About the audit report, Plante Moran’s David Helisek told the board: “Hopefully, you found it somewhat boring.” By that he meant there were no material weaknesses or significant deficiencies to report. And his firm had struggled even to find suggestions for improvement in controls and processes. In the category of a suggestion was a recommendation to formalize a policy on user access to IT systems. And one question was left over from the previous year’s audit – on the legal basis of the AATA’s investment in heating oil futures as a hedge against possible price increases in diesel fuel. The AATA has inquired with the state of Michigan on that issue, but has not received an answer.

At the meeting, the board also rescinded a $119,980 contract it had authorized with PM Environmental – because of a failure on the AATA’s side to go through the standard procedure for bidding out the contract. The contract is for remediation of contaminated soil at the AATA’s headwaters on 2700 S. Industrial Highway. That contract will now be re-bid, and PM Environmental will have an opportunity to participate in that process.

In a final voting item on its agenda, the board authorized a four-month extension to the current pricing agreement the AATA has with Michigan Flyer – to provide AirRide service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro airport. The extension will allow negotiations to take place on a new arrangement, which is being considered in the context of at least two factors. Ridership on the service, launched last year in April, has exceeded projections. And Michigan Flyer may be eligible for a federal grant that could increase the number of trips per day. The current service is hourly.

The board also heard a range of updates from its committees and CEO Michael Ford. Among the most significant was about a meeting scheduled for March 28 among representatives of Washtenaw County’s “urban core” communities that have, for the last few months, been engaged in discussions with AATA about expanded transit in a much smaller geographic footprint than the entire county.

FY 2012 Audit

The board was asked to accept the result of AATA’s fiscal year 2012 audit report. [.pdf of FY 2012 audit]

There were no significant deficiencies found in the audit, which resulted in an “unqualified opinion” from the audit firm of Plante Moran. A question remained from last year’s audit – about the legal basis for the AATA’s investments in heating oil futures. The AATA has inquired with the state of Michigan seeking a legal opinion on the issue, but has not yet heard back.

The auditor also had some suggestions for implementing a formal policy on user accounts for information technology (IT) systems.

The AATA’s basic financial picture at the end of FY 2012 was as follows:

$17,109,000 Current assets
 37,094,000 Capital assets, net
 54,203,000 Total assets
  1,619,000 Current liabilities
  1,233,000 Noncurrent liabilities
  2,852,000 Total liabilities
 37,094,000 Invested in capital assets
 14,257,000 Unrestricted
 51,351,000 Total net assets
$54,000,000 Total liabilities and net assets


The AATA operates on a fiscal year that runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. The audit is due to be submitted to the state of Michigan within 180 days of the end of the fiscal year. That deadline translates to the end of March.

FY 2012 Audit: Auditor Presentation

AATA controller Phil Webb introduced auditors David Helisek and Alicia Davis of Plante Moran.

Helisek said it was great to be before the board again. He reminded the board that last year had been the first time he’d appeared before them. [Plante Moran was awarded the auditing contract at the board's Sept. 15, 2011 meeting.] On that occasion, he’d presented the audited financial statements for FY 2011. This year he was there to present the statements for FY 2012.

Helisek distinguished between the financial statements themselves, which are a comparative statement between this year and last year, and the communication to the board, which is charged with governance of the organization. The letter to the board, he noted, is a required communication under the auditing standards. He told the full board that he and Davis had met with the performance monitoring and external relations committee of the AATA board the previous day. The committee and the auditors had gone over the statements in detail for about 45 minutes to an hour, he said, covering highlights and answering questions from committee members.

The number one highlight, Helisek said, is the opinion. Plante Moran was once again able to give the AATA an “unqualified opinion,” he reported. That’s the highest level of assurance that an auditing firm can give to a set of financial statements, he explained. It means that the statements, as presented fairly, represent the financial position of the AATA as of Sept. 30, 2012. That’s the opinion that the AATA should strive for on an annual basis, he continued, and as a result of the audit procedures, it’s the opinion that Plante Moran had given.

Helisek also noted that the report included a supplemental schedule of federal awards. Any entity that receives and spends in excess of $0.5 million in federal awards during the year is required to have a federal compliance audit – to ensure that the federal awards comply with laws and regulations related to those specific federal grants. For the federal awards audit, he reported, Plante Moran also had given the AATA the equivalent of an unqualified opinion.

Helisek then turned over presentation to Davis, who went over the highlights of the financial statement. She began on page 6 of the report by looking at a comparative financial statement based on the prior year, but focused her comments on fiscal year 2012. For the fiscal year 2012, the AATA ended with just over $54 million in total assets. The majority of the assets held by the AATA, she said, are related to amounts invested in capital purchases – a little over 70% of the asset value, or $37 million. The total “current” assets are about $17.1 million, most of which is composed of cash investments and receivables. She pointed out that on a comparative basis, as of the end of 2012, grants receivable were a little bit higher than last year. She attributed that to a difference in timing compared to last year, and the way the grant money was collected. As a result, there was less money in the bank. She described it as a “collection pending” issue.

Moving from assets to liabilities, she said, the key highlight is that there is no long-term debt. She described that as “fantastic.” The AATA has about $14.2 million viewed as unrestricted – to be used at the AATA’s discretion. It’s important to be mindful of the fact that this includes property tax revenue, Davis cautioned, which is levied on July 1 every year. So while the AATA has some money in the bank, a large amount of that is already earmarked to get the AATA through the current budget year. She told the board that they were in solid financial position with some cash reserves, but reminded the board that some of that has “already been spoken for.”

On the income statement, Davis highlighted the fact that operating revenues were up about 13%, or $670,000 compared to the previous year. Total operating expenses were a little over $32 million. That reflected a roughly $3 million increase in operating expenses, she said. That had an impact on the operating loss compared year-over-year, she noted. The largest source of revenue consists of local and state revenue, she pointed out – totaling close to $22 million for fiscal year 2012. That total did not include capital amounts that are received from the federal and state government.

The change in net assets, before considering any capital contributions, was roughly negative $5 million. There was a significant capital contribution received during the year – about $10.5 million, most of which was investments in the AATA’s fleet. She estimated that about 98% of that was funded by federal and state sources. When the capital contribution is added to the equation, the result is a net change in the net asset figure of about positive $5.6 million for the year. Summarizing the year-to-year comparison, Davis said AATA started out at $45.7 million and wound up with $51 million in net assets at the end of the year.

Moving to page 8, Davis reviewed the statement of cash flow. She highlighted the third line from the bottom, which indicates a net decrease in cash of about $2.2 million. She assured the board that this simply relates to the fact that some of the cash had not “come in the door” before the end of the fiscal year. Because the receivable balance was higher, the cash inflow was lower. She described the rest of the statements as mostly boilerplate language, which does not change from year to year. There are some informational schedules that the state requires to be included – but Plante Moran does not audit that portion of the report.

Davis then moved to the federal awards audit. She noted that pages 40 and 41 were essentially another version of the opinion on the basic financial statements. On page 42 there is an opinion on the federal awards audit, which is also clean, she told the board. Everything had been done properly and in accordance with all the rules and regulations. On page 44 she highlighted the total federal awards of about $11.6 million, which was a significant increase compared to the $5 million spent last year. Much of that she attributed to investments in the fleet.

Davis pointed out that on page 46 is a summary of all the results – on the financial statements and on the federal awards audit. “This is the best that it could look,” she told the board. There was an unqualified opinion on both audits, with no material weaknesses or deficiencies on either audit.

Audit: Preliminary Board Discussion

Board chair Charles Griffith invited questions from the board.

Board treasurer David Nacht reported that he’d had some conversation with the auditors before the meeting. He told the auditors that Plante Moran is a well-respected audit firm – which audits other transit agencies, as well as other governmental entities, nonprofits, and businesses. Obviously, Nacht continued, the opinion on the audit was unqualified, which means that the AATA is doing what it is legally supposed to do, and is in accordance with the accounting standards that apply to a transit authority.

But Nacht wondered about best practices. Based on the audit firm’s experience with other entities, he wanted to know what their overall sense was. “Could we use some work? How do you feel about our entity?” Davis told him that they always had an eye out for suggestions they could make to their clients. As they do the audit, reviewing internal controls and really digging into things, they always look for recommendations they could make to the board. “I tell you, we had a really tough time coming up with anything, because you guys have some really sound internal controls, checks and balances in place,” Davis said.

She noted that there were some minor suggestions that Helisek would cover – but it had been tough to come up with those suggestions. In about 95% of the audits done by the firm, there is a third letter that’s issued, which is a report on internal controls, including a report on significant deficiencies. It’s rare that they would not find something, she told the board – because there are just so many transactions that go through an organization. But there was no deficiency letter for the AATA, she noted.

Audit: Additional Presentation

Helisek returned to the financial statements and the net asset number. Of the multiple components in the net asset figure, the most significant is the number of capital assets, he said. A lot of that is the fleet. So around 75% of it is capital, not liquid, and not something that the AATA can spend money on for operations. He also reiterated the point Davis had made about property taxes, which are reported as revenue as of Sept. 30. That means the collection cycle does not come around for another nine months. So you have to keep that in mind, he said – not only looking at the audit, but also as the AATA assembles its budget on an ongoing basis.

Related to the federal awards audit, the two major programs the auditors tested covered about 97% of all the AATA’s federal expenditures. Helisek allowed that they don’t have a choice on what they audit, but he did observe that 97% is an extraordinarily high coverage level for this year’s audit.

Helisek reminded the board that the previous year the accounting firm had recommended an adjustment to the way property taxes are reported. There’d also been some other suggestions last year that Plante Moran thought the AATA should implement. This year’s letter is pretty boilerplate, he said. There’s nothing really remarkable to point out in this year’s letter. “Hopefully you found it somewhat boring. Boring letters are good letters,” he said. During the course of the audit, nothing rose to the level of a significant deficiency in terms of the internal control structure. The AATA is living by the control system and is able to produce a financial statement that merits an unqualified opinion, Helisek concluded.

Helisek told the board that he and Davis were excited by the fact that the one main suggestion they had made last year had been implemented by the AATA. That suggestion related to Public Act 217 of 2007, which requires quarterly reporting of investment activities to the board. It’s his understanding that as a result of that suggestion, an investment report is now presented quarterly to the board.

This year the one suggestion that Helisek had to report to the board related to general controls for information technology (IT) user accounts. In terms of best practices, he suggested a formalization of a policy related to adding, modifying, and terminating user rights in the system. The existing policy is adequate that an unqualified opinion could be issued for the audit, he said. But he suggested a formal policy that included the handling of user rights.

Audit: Additional Board Discussion

During question time Eli Cooper noted that a question had been raised in the report about the AATA’s policy on investing in heating oil futures. He wanted to know if the AATA had yet heard anything from the state of Michigan that would help settle the issue. Controller Phil Webb told Cooper that no reply had yet been received.

Board treasurer David Nacht took the opportunity to explain that the practice of investing in heating oil futures have been used for quite some time by the AATA. The futures are purchased as a hedge – just as farmers would use the options market, he explained. Nacht described the strategy as having been quite successful. The board is keenly aware of the question about whether this is allowed under the state of Michigan’s regulations. The AATA has made the case that it is not gambling, but has asked for a legal opinion, Nacht said. He was comfortable as treasurer that it’s definitely a prudent financial practice. And he hopes that the state will confirm that the practice conforms with regulatory practices as well.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to accept the audit.

Audit: Current Operations Report

Reporting out from the board’s performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson presented highlights from the monthly operations statement. He noted that the new advertising contractor is performing better than the previous one. From the notes to the monthly statement:

Advertising [revenue] is over budget for the year by $111,000. CBS Outdoor, our new bus advertising contractor, has been paying us our annual minimum on a monthly basis. In February, we recorded the amount $74,800 earned during the 5.5 months of the contract, but not yet paid. We will receive this amount (and more) in September 2013 at the end of the 1st contract year.

Revenue from University of Michigan passengers through the MRide program is not as great as expected, Kerson reported. UM ridership is not dropping, Kerson explained, but it’s not growing as much as projected. According to the notes in the monthly report, the original ridership projection was revised only after the budget was adopted, and the unfavorable difference for the year is projected to be $160,000.

Kerson also noted there’s a gap in the reserves of about $300,000. At the Feb. 21, 2013 board meeting, it was reported that AATA is operating with a level of unrestricted fund balance that equates to about 2.88 months of operating expenses. Board policy is to keep a minimum of a 3-month reserve on hand.

By way of background, the AATA’s portion of the $166 million in state operating assistance took a roughly $800,000 dip last year – compared to what AATA expected at the time the AATA set its budget. The reduction in funding relates to the way the state’s formula applies when spending is reduced by other transit agencies in the AATA’s category.

The AATA is hopeful that the “placeholder” bill SB 126 would eventually restore the $800,000.

Kerson noted that AATA staff have been directed to come up with a contingency plan in the event that the legislature does not act as expected.

AirRide Airport Service

The board was asked to extend for another four months the current pricing agreement it has with Michigan Flyer to provide bus service between downtown Ann Arbor and the Detroit Metro airport, known as AirRide.

AirRide Weekly Boardings: April 2012 through March 2013

AirRide Weekly Boardings: April 2012 through March 2013.

The current agreement has a yearly not-to-exceed cost of $700,000 per year, running for two years starting April 1, 2012. As the second year of the agreement is approaching, Michigan Flyer has indicated a willingness to renegotiate the arrangement in the context of a Transportation, Community, and System Preservation (TCSP) grant that Michigan Flyer might be awarded. The grant could support four additional trips from East Lansing to the airport, which would also stop in Ann Arbor.

The agreement the board was asked to approve at its March 21, 2013 meeting will extend the current pricing arrangement until the negotiations on the options offered can be completed. The cost during the four-month extension is not to exceed $230,000, based on current annual costs.

The weekly ridership for the hourly service between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro airport now averages more than 1,000 passengers a week, with some weeks reaching 1,400 riders.

AirRide Airport Service: Board Discussion

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson noted that the AATA is involved in renegotiating the contract for the AirRide service with Michigan Flyer. There’s an open question about whether Michigan Flyer will receive a federal grant, so there’s not enough information right now to renegotiate the contract for a full year, Kerson said. That’s why the proposal before the board was to extend it just for four months. He said it seemed like a good idea all the way around.

He noted that after almost a full year of operating the AirRide service, it is now possible to assess more completely how it’s working out. About 23,000 people had ridden the service at a net cost of Ann Arbor property tax dollars of around $80,000, he said. Kerson concluded that the expansion of service between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro airport was being done in a very cost-effective way.

And during his oral report to the board, CEO Michael Ford provided recent ridership numbers for the AirRide service. In connection with the spring break for University of Michigan, 1,476 rode the service during the week of Feb. 24. And 1,438 people rode the service the following week of March 3. Ford indicated that the AATA was pleased with the progress and wanted to continue the working relationship with Michigan Flyer for that airport service.

When the board reached the AirRide item on the agenda, Ford described the AATA as in the middle of negotiations with Michigan Flyer. He noted that there is a grant that Michigan Flyer might receive, but it’s not yet clear whether the grant will be awarded. The AATA is also working on different service-delivery scenarios with Michigan Flyer to see if anything can be changed to make it most effective in the future. Ford felt that a four-month period for a contract extension would be helpful to achieve that.

Board treasurer David Nacht observed that the AirRide contract is a transaction where money is not only spent, but revenue is also received. He noted the board policy is that a vote must be taken on any contract that is more than $100,000 – and the policy applies even if there is offsetting revenue.

Nacht picked up on the optimistic figure that Roger Kerson had given earlier in the meeting about 23,000 passengers in the first year of service at a net cost of $80,000. Nacht said that in general terms, AirRide is not only carrying a lot of people; it was also a useful and invaluable component of the financial health of the AATA going forward, he said.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the four-month extension.

Soils Contract

The board was asked to rescind the award of a $119,980 contract with PM Environmental – because of a failure on the AATA’s side to go through the standard procedure for bidding out the contract. The contract is for remediation of contaminated soil at the AATA’s headwaters on 2700 S. Industrial Highway.

The board had originally approved the soil remediation contract at its Feb. 21, 2013 meeting. That action essentially extended the scope of work of the contract that PM Environmental already had for the site assessment work. However, the evacuation and remediation work was supposed to be bid out separately. From an AATA staff memo:

AATA processes require that a second RFP be issued for the soil remediation, to ensure full and open competition. AATA, therefore requests the Board to rescind this unexecuted contract with PM. AATA has notified PM with our intent to issue a new RFP so that they will not begin any work or incur any costs. AATA will publish a new RFP, to which PM is free to respond.

The remediation activity dates back to 2010, and will address an in-ground gas leak that was discovered when the AATA upgraded a fuel tank monitoring system. A final assessment report (FAR), based on monitoring wells and ground water sampling, was filed with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality on Dec. 15, 2011.

The costs for the work will be reimbursed by the AATA’s insurance carrier, Chartis, which is a subsidiary of American International Group Inc. (AIG). The AATA’s deductible for its policy was $25,000, which the AATA has already expended.

Soils Contract: Board Discussion

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson said, “I guess we goofed on the soil remediation contract.” There was testing and analysis, and a rebid should have been completed before the remediation was actually done, but the AATA had not done that, he said.

When the board reached the soil remediation contract item on the agenda, CEO Michael Ford reported that there was a two-step process that was not followed – but the AATA had caught it in time, before any contracts were executed. The AATA needed to go back out and open the contract for a competitive bidding process. Ford noted that some checks and balances didn’t happen internally that should have happened. For that reason, the contract needed to be rescinded. The bottom line was there was a misstep, he said, it had been caught, and steps have been taken to ensure that the appropriate checks and balances would apply in the future to avoid the need to rescind contracts.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to rescind the contract.

Future Transit Planning

Two future initiatives factored into comments and reports during the March 21 meeting: (1) a reduced-scope effort to expand AATA services in the communities adjoining Ann Arbor; and (2) the formation of a four-county regional transit authority (RTA) during the state legislature’s lame duck session of December 2012.

Future Transit Planning: Urban Core Communities

By way of background, the AATA had led an effort to expand the governance and funding base for the AATA to a newly incorporated transit authority that would cover all of Washtenaw County. But the Ann Arbor city council voted to opt out of the newly incorporated Act 196 authority late last year – effectively bringing to a close that particular approach to expanded transit services in Washtenaw County.

However, the council gave direction to continue discussion with several communities immediately adjacent to Ann Arbor. The AATA has engaged in talks with communities about a new transit authority with possible members to include the cities of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Saline, as well as the townships of Pittsfield and Ypsilanti. Involvement with the townships of Superior and Ann Arbor is also a possibility.

Since mid-November 2012, the AATA has been working under the direction of the Ann Arbor city council’s resolution [passed on Nov. 8, 2012] and has been focused on planning expanded services in the “urban core communities.” That has included meetings with elected representatives of those communities. One recent meeting held on March 16 included Ann Arbor city council representatives as well as representatives from Ypsilanti Township.

Future Transit Planning: Urban Core – March 28

CEO Michael Ford reported at the AATA’s March 21 board meeting that staff are working to finalize the agenda for a meeting of urban core community representatives on March 28 starting at 5 p.m. at the Pittsfield Township Hall, 6201 W. Michigan Ave. The agenda will include a financial analysis, a benefit analysis, and responses to sidebar issues raised by elected officials over the past few months. Three service themes will be presented to facilitate discussion and decision-making among urban core elected officials, Ford said. Daniel Cherrin, from North Coast Strategies, will provide pro bono facilitation on March 28, Ford said.

During question time, board chair Charles Griffith asked if the meeting scheduled for March 28 has been publicly noticed. Ford indicated that the urban core partners are helping with that effort. Mary Stasiak, AATA manager of community relations, reported that the communication had been done through individual websites and newsletters. Ford indicated it would be an open meeting.

Roger Kerson raised the question: What would happen if more than four AATA board members (a quorum) attended? Some back-and-forth – including some additional discussion at the end of the meeting – established that if more than a quorum of any AATA board members attended, the standard Michigan Open Meetings Act requirements would be followed, including a formal agenda that included public commentary. Added on March 23, 2013, after initial publication: [.pdf of March 28 meeting materials]

Future Transit Planning: Telling D.C. About It

During his oral report to the board, Ford reported that in late February he had traveled to Washington D.C. He met with Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Congressman John Dingell, and staff members of Sen. Carl Levin. He’d also met with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s representatives in Washington, and with Peter Rogoff of the Federal Transit Administration.

Ford told the board that in meeting with those people, he’d highlighted the record ridership AATA had shown for the 2012 calendar year, and explained how AATA is transitioning from countywide transit master planning to a more narrowly focused effort on the “urban core.” Ford noted that he had also continued to meet with local area and community leaders to discuss the urban core to support expanded fixed route and commuter service.

Future Transit Planning: Urban Core – Title VI

During public commentary, Jim Mogensen offered a perspective on the “urban core” process. The desire to preserve, improve, and expand transportation service, he noted, is about preserving, improving, and expanding AATA’s service, not the service of the partners. And that’s why he felt the process needed a Title VI analysis. He told the board that he was glad that the March 28 meeting would be open to the public – but he hoped that any documents related to the meeting could be made available in advance, noting that the meeting location is not served by public transit.

Related to Title VI, during his oral report to the board, CEO Michael Ford followed up with some issues raised at the previous board meeting. Regarding the Title VI requirements from the Federal Transit Administration, he summarized by saying that the AATA had been given a due date of Nov. 1, 2014 to submit documentation to the FTA to demonstrate compliance with Title VI – that there is no discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, low-income persons, or persons with limited English proficiency.

Future Transit Planning: RTA

Legislation authorizing a southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA) was passed late last year. The geographic area includes the city of Detroit, and the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland. On the RTA front, Ford reported at the AATA board’s March 21 meeting that staff had met with the two Washtenaw County appointees to the board – Liz Gerber and Richard Murphy – to discuss the mechanics of state funding and the need to establish an understanding of how the funding process would work between the AATA and the RTA.

AATA staff had also met with Shanelle Jackson, the Michigan Dept. of Transportation director of outreach and strategic relations for the RTA, as well as with representatives from the Detroit Dept. of Transportation and SMART – as part of the AATA’s effort to further AATA’s outreach with RTA partners. Ford had met with Paul Hillegonds, the governor-appointed, non-voting chair of the RTA board. Ford had shared information with Hillegonds about the range of service the AATA offers, how the AATA is funded, the transit master plan and the urban core planning process.

According to Ford, Hillegonds expressed that it would be important for the RTA board to show that the RTA has value for the AATA, Ann Arbor, and Washtenaw County. Hillegonds gave some assurance that AATA federal funds are protected through separate urbanized areas – but understood that the AATA would like RTA board resolutions on several processes, including state funding, and the budget.

The RTA board will be holding a planning workshop on March 28, Ford reported. The first RTA board meeting will be held on April 10. Both are open to the public, Ford said. The RTA workshop will be held just before the AATA’s “urban core” meeting, so Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz will be attending the workshop on behalf of the AATA and will bring back a full report, according to Ford.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its March 21 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: Website

Ford reported that external testing on the website is now complete. Three focus group sessions had been held at the Ann Arbor District Library, and there are some other people that staff still wants to meet with. But feedback from the 20 participants will be used to address specific areas of focus. The launch is expected in May, although Ford indicated a bit of hesitation about specifying that May would be the month for the scheduled launch. [The project has taken longer than expected. The board had authorized the implementation of the new website at its Aug. 24, 2011 meeting.] Ford concluded with a seemingly less-than-certain: “You heard it here!”

Comm/Comm: Blake Transit Center

Due to the poor spring weather, Ford said, construction work on the new Blake Transit Center is about two weeks behind schedule. Additional bids include some for artwork, furniture, walkways, and redesign of bus shelters on Fourth Avenue.

Comm/Comm: AAPS

Ford reported that the AATA is continuing to work with Ann Arbor Public Schools on transportation solutions. This year, students in some areas are using AATA buses, with the school district paying the fare. Next year, students in additional selected areas could use existing AATA services. That would allow the elimination of some school bus routes, he said.

Comm/Comm: WCC, EMU

Ford indicated that an agreement is being worked on with Washtenaw Community College. The college has asked for a stop to be installed on the south side of its campus, and the AATA is working with the college to resolve that agreement by the end of the month.

Included in Ford’s written report to the board, but not highlighted at the board meeting, are discussions that are taking place between Eastern Michigan University and the AATA to implement a program similar to the University of Michigan’s MRide program, which allows university affiliates to board buses by swiping their ID cards, without paying a fare. The cost of the rides would be paid by EMU, just as UM pays for rides taken by its students, faculty and staff.

Comm/Comm: DDA Support

Ford reported that the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority had appropriated funds to support the getDowntown program and the go!pass program. [The vote to authorize $610,662 came at the DDA board's March 6, 2013 meeting.] Ford noted that DDA board members had deferred a decision on supporting the Canton and Chelsea express services right now – until they had a bit more information about how that service fit with the DDA’s mission.

Comm/Comm: WALLY

A possible north-south commuter rail service known as WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway) is currently in a phase of station design. [The AATA received a federal grant last year, at its Aug. 16, 2012 meeting, to proceed with station location design.] Ford described how the work on station location design is proceeding.

The project is currently undertaking station location studies for five communities: Ann Arbor, Whitmore Lake, Hamburg Township, Genoa Township and Howell.

Ford reported that he’d met with Ward 5 Ann Arbor city councilmembers Chuck Warpehoski and Mike Anglin to give them some advance information on WALLY station design. A robust public involvement process is being planned, he said, with a list of stakeholders being developed to include in the preliminary outreach.

Eli Cooper also reported from the planning and development committee that the station design planning work in connection with the WALLY project is now underway.

Comm/Comm: Washtenaw Avenue

Eli Cooper reported that the planning and development committee had received a presentation on Reimagine Washtenaw. He described it as a study to change the character and utility of the corridor that runs from the Stadium/Washtenaw split in Ann Arbor, five miles east to the city of Ypsilanti. It includes organizing land development into activity centers, he said. The project also looks at aligning transit services with the activity centers and ramping up the level of transit service.

The AATA is critical to the success of the Reimagine Washtenaw program, Cooper said. There was some discussion of a grant award to the program for a travel demand management study. Smart Growth America has come in and is providing particular expertise and guidance to several large business operations along the corridor, on how to apply transportation management strategies, Cooper said.

Comm/Comm: Bike Share

Reporting out from the planning and development committee, Eli Cooper said the committee had received a brief presentation from the Clean Energy Coalition on an anticipated bike share program. Cooper characterized the interaction at the committee meeting as “good dialogue,” saying that AATA staff had been asked to make a recommendation to the committee for its April meeting.

The CEC is seeking support for the bike share program from the University of Michigan, the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the AATA.

Comm/Comm: Route 12A, 12B Service Changes?

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson said that of the current service changes being considered, the one involving the most passengers relates to Routes #12A and #12B. The idea would be to arrange the scheduling so that the routes are not running at the same time – with the idea that better coverage could be achieved.

Comm/Comm: LAC Report

Rebecca Burke reported from the AATA’s local advisory council (LAC), a group that provides input and feedback to AATA on disability and senior issues. At the council’s most recent meeting, Clark Charnetski had given a background presentation on the regional transit authority (RTA), she said. And Richard Murphy, one of two Washtenaw County appointees to the RTA board, has been invited to the next meeting of the LAC. They’re waiting to see if he’ll be able to attend. The group had also received a presentation from Nick Sapkiewicz of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS).

Comm/Comm: Misc. Public Commentary

Thomas Partridge addressed the board during public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, calling on them to expand transit. He ventured that millions of dollars have been spent on studies and surveys – surveys that have indicated a positive reaction on the part of the public to expanded transit. He accused the board of undertaking a strategy to expand transit countywide that it knew was doomed to failure. He complained about setting up the March 28 meeting of the urban core communities out of sight of the Community Television Network.

Partridge’s turn came at the end of the meeting after board chair Charles Griffith had checked for additional speakers after Jim Mogensen had addressed the board. Griffith asked: “Anybody else?” Partridge responded with: “I am anybody else,” and then took the podium.

Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Eli Cooper, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale.

Absent: Jesse Bernstein, Sue Gott.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, April 18, 2013 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. March 22, 2013 at 9:27 pm | permalink

    Regarding the urban core meeting on March 28: I had heard rumors of this. However, it was unclear to me that it was an open public meeting. I am on every conceivable Ann Arbor feed but have not received a notice. I did read in a Saline publication that its mayor announced that it would be a public meeting.

    I am glad that the chair Charles Griffith asked that question. But when I inquired among Council members, they did not seem to have received a notice.

    I hope there is a good Ann Arbor presence at the meeting.

  2. March 23, 2013 at 4:43 pm | permalink

    Now added to the article is a link to [.pdf with March 28 meeting materials].

  3. By Ken
    March 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm | permalink

    Vivienne, correct me if I am wrong(Urban Core info) this to me appears to be a resurrection of the now deceased County Wide plan that basically died. Additionally, once again there is mention of expanding beyond the perceived “Urban Core” and it’s partners.

  4. March 24, 2013 at 12:16 pm | permalink

    Ken, this is my impression too, although there is some retooling. There has even been talk of resurrecting the idea of a new Act 196 authority. I think the leaders of the AATA are having a hard time acknowledging their failures. I have to cite my last blog post [link] and preceding posts as the detail.

  5. By Donna Estabrook
    March 24, 2013 at 1:05 pm | permalink

    Those who most depend on public transit – those without cars – will not be able to get to the March 28 meeting site using public transit.

  6. March 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm | permalink

    Ken, I don’t believe it’s accurate to characterize this current effort as a resurrection of the countywide plan – with its associated governance structure.

    But I do think it’s accurate to characterize the kind of proposed service improvements in this confined geographic footprint as similar to those for the proposed countywide service plan – if it were confined to this limited geographic footprint. In fact, I think it would be odd if the previous planning efforts were not incorporated into the current discussion.

    I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that during the countywide debate, Ann Arbor city councilmember Stephen Kunselman – and many others were critical of the countywide proposal – argued that it was geographically too ambitious and did not allow Ann Arbor to maintain enough control in the new transit authority’s governance. Kunselman specifically called for a more limited approach, where transit improvements would be centered on Ann Arbor and those communities geographically adjacent to Ann Arbor, who stepped forward to be willing partners. Ken, I’m curious to understand how you believe the current effort diverges from the approach that Kunselman espoused?

    I also think it’s unfortunate that by now in our community “Act 196″ is equated by many people with “countywide” and the negative (for many people) association of that will probably attach to any proposal that mentions Act 196 in any way. In fact, Act 196 can be used in a variety of geographic configurations. For example, it’s my understanding that in just spitballing various ideas of governance and funding, some of the conversations recently have included the idea that maybe a collection of nearby jurisdictions outside Ann Arbor might band together to form an Act 196 transit authority (not including Ann Arbor), levy taxes, and contract with the AATA (which would remain an Act 55 authority).

    On that general type of approach – one that would maintain separate governance – Ann Arbor residents wouldn’t need to vote through a new transit millage associated with a new transit authority. Instead they could vote to approve a Headlee override, restoring Ann Arbor’s transit millage to 2.5 mills (from just over 2.0 mills), and that would have roughly the same financial effect as levying a new tax, while maintaining the same control over the levy – because it would be the same old familiar levy. Or they could also reject that request, for any number of reasons: they can’t afford it; they don’t believe transit improvements in Ann Arbor are necessary; they think the needed transit improvement could be achieved without additional local funding; they are worried about the unknown factor of the regional transit authority (RTA); they don’t think we should fund public transportation at all.

    I see the March 28 meeting as putting on the table some specific services in a limited geographic footprint, explaining the cost of those services, and asking elected officials in that limited geographic footprint if they think they can work out an equitable governance and payment arrangement that will allow the AATA to deliver the services – and that their constituents will support.

  7. By Roger Kuhlman
    April 2, 2013 at 5:21 pm | permalink

    These audited financial statements of AATA tell us next to nothing about whether AATA is well-run and whether it should continue to receive the high levels of taxpayer support that it currently has.

  8. By John Floyd
    April 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm | permalink


    I suggest that the negative vibe which many associate with the number “196″ does not come out of a vacuum. Rather, it may come out from hole into which the local political class has dug itself: its words and actions in recent years have led some in our community – especially those who pay close attention to public affairs – to conclude that no assurance of any kind, from this group, can be relied upon, period. Fairly or not, this lack of credibility seems to apply to most elected officials from Ann Arbor, their appointees, and their hirelings, across government bodies. I wonder if there has yet been enough political turnover to create an environment in which the credibility of our public institutions could begin to be re-established.