AirRide Talks OK’d, Ypsilanti to Join AATA?

Board laments lack of Michigan bus battery manufacturers; Nacht: "I encourage all my fellow citizens to serve on a board."

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (April 18, 2013): Board member David Nacht’s final regular meeting after 10 years of service included action on a significant project he’d worked on during that time: bus service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

AATA board member David Nacht

AATA board member David Nacht. (Photos by the writer.)

To provide the AirRide service, which was launched a year ago, the AATA is currently in negotiations with Michigan Flyer to revise terms of the second year of the contract. While the first year called for the AATA to pay Michigan Flyer an amount not to exceed $700,000 for the hourly service, the ridership – given the structure of the revenue-sharing deal – has resulted in a far lower cost.

So the board passed a resolution at its April 18 meeting reflecting the current status of negotiations, which are pointing toward a not-to-exceed amount of $300,000 for the contract’s second year. The board’s action rescinded a resolution it had passed at the previous month’s meeting, in favor of one that reflected the current status of negotiations between AATA and Michigan Flyer.

Besides the resolution on AirRide, the only other item requiring a vote was one honoring David Nacht’s decade of service on the board – which covered two full five-year terms. During his brief remarks, Nacht thanked the riders of the AATA’s service, the bus drivers and the mechanics. He also thanked his family – his two sons attended the meeting. In addition, Nacht thanked the Ann Arbor mayor and city council, which make the appointments to the AATA board. At the council’s April 15 meeting, mayor John Hieftje had announced the nomination of Eric Mahler, currently a city planning commissioner, to replace Nacht.

Discussion on non-voting items included the future of public transportation in the broader region – in two significant ways.

First, board members lamented the fact that no U.S. company, and more specifically no Michigan company, had bid on the AATA’s request for proposals to replace battery kits for its hybrid electric buses. But board sentiment was that a larger purchasing consortium for such kits might eventually be achieved through the newly-created southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA) – which includes the transit agencies in Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland Counties. And that larger consortium might make it worth the while of a Michigan company that’s a part of the state’s nascent battery industry to invest in the capability to produce bus battery kits.

Second, the board was paid a visit by Ypsilanti city councilmember Pete Murdock, who alerted the board to the likelihood that the city of Ypsilanti would make a formal request to join the AATA. The request would need approval from the AATA board and almost certainly the Ann Arbor city council, and could have implications for board membership. The goal of such a move would be to provide a more stable financial foundation for Ypsilanti bus service.

The city of Ypsilanti itself already levies its constitutional cap of 20 mills of property tax. If the AATA were to ask voters of member jurisdictions to approve a millage – an authority the AATA does not currently exercise – that additional amount would not count against Ypsilanti’s constitutional cap.

AirRide Negotiations

Before the board for consideration was a resolution that authorized the negotiation of a second year of a contract between the AATA and Michigan Flyer, to provide AirRide bus service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport.

Ridership on AATA AirRide Service through April 2013

Ridership on AATA AirRide service through April 2013.

The AATA currently provides the hourly service by contracting with Michigan Flyer. The current agreement between Michigan Flyer and AATA has a yearly not-to-exceed cost of $700,000 per year, running for two years starting April 1, 2012. As the contract was set to enter its second year, the AATA board had voted at its March 21, 2013 meeting to support a four-month extension of the contract under its current terms. That was supposed to provide a window to re-negotiate the contract for the second year.

It appears that window will not be required, as the resolution the board was asked to consider on April 18 rescinded the prior resolution on the four-month extension. As part of the April 18 resolution, the board authorized negotiation of the contract’s second year for a not-to-exceed cost of $300,000, which is less than half the cost of the original contract. The reduction is due to the relatively frequent ridership on the service, compared with initial projections.

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: CEO Report, PMER Report

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford said that AirRide had reached a new milestone: In March 2013, 5,840 riders had used the service, which was the highest monthly ridership to date. Since the launch of the new service on April 4, 2012, Ford said that over 53,000 people had been carried to and from the airport.

During his report out from the performance monitoring and external relations (PMER) committee, Jesse Bernstein noted that the budgeted cost for AirRide for the year since it was launched was $700,000 – but due to the relatively high level of ridership, the actual amount spent had been only $326,000. And a “good chunk” of that had been offset by other donations and income, Bernstein said.

AirRide: Board Discussions

David Nacht wanted everyone to understand that the contract amount did not mean that the AATA simply pays that money in order to make AirRide run. “We also get money because we run AirRide. We get fare revenue, we get money from the state of Michigan that is different and extra than we would otherwise get. … We also have money from other partners in the community such as the Convention and Visitors Bureau.” Nacht said the AATA is not discussing those revenues right now, because the AATA is in contract negotiations, so Nacht didn’t think it was in the public’s best interest for the AATA to share the details.

The bottom line is that last month the board had been comfortable continuing the old contract for four months, Nacht said. Now the AATA has a number on the basis of which Nacht thought the AATA could sign a new contract for the second year. He characterized the change in the not-to-exceed amount from the first year to the second year – $700,000 to $300,000 – as a dramatic decrease. That reflects ridership beyond expectations, he said.

The contract language allows the AATA to share profits from passenger fares. And how that surplus would be allocated, Nacht said, would ultimately be a policy decision for the board in the future. Some people might want to take some of that money and roll it into increased service, he said. Or some people might want to subsidize other service within the city of Ann Arbor. He concluded by saying the community would eventually find that AirRide is not just a useful service, but also one that is financially beneficial to the community apart from just the people who ride it.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the resolution authorizing negotiations of the AirRide contract’s second year.

Nacht’s Last Meeting

The board was asked to consider a resolution of appreciation for the 10 years of service of David Nacht, whose second five-year term will end on May 5, 2013. The resolution highlighted several specific contributions made by Nacht during his decade of service.

Among the contributions cited in the resolution are: pursuing public transportation service between Ann Arbor and the Detroit Metropolitan Airport (AirRide); serving as chair of the board; serving as treasurer of the board; and helping negotiate the contract with the University of Michigan to provide service to university affiliates.

Nacht was not seeking reappointment to the board.

He had been a finalist to be appointed as one of two Washtenaw County representatives to the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA), established by the state legislature in late 2012 during its lame duck session.

After a series of interviews of five candidates, he was a consensus choice to be one of the two representatives, but then-chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, Conan Smith – who’s privilege it was to make the appointments – opted not to select Nacht. Smith announced on Dec. 31, 2012 that he’d appointed Richard “Murph” Murphy, a staffer with Michigan Suburbs Alliance – an organization that Smith leads – and Liz Gerber, a University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy professor.

CEO Michael Ford presents David Nacht with the traditional mailbox as a parting gift from the AATA

CEO Michael Ford, right, presents outgoing board member David Nacht with the traditional mailbox as a parting gift from the AATA.

During Nacht’s interview for the RTA position, which he conducted via Skype, Nacht recalled some lessons learned during his time on the AATA board. He described how then-head of the AATA Greg Cook had proposed the idea of transferring the AATA’s paratransit contract to another vendor. The idea seemed to make sense from a financial point of view, but ultimately it proved to be a “complete unmitigated disaster,” Nacht said – because the new vendor “didn’t take care of our people.” Nacht described how the board then killed the contract. “We screwed up,” he said.

What Nacht had learned from that, he said during the RTA interview, was that when the AATA selects vendors, it affects people’s lives. To the extent that the AATA uses vendors, it’s important to remember that those vendors are in it “to make a buck, not to serve people,” he said. But the AATA’s business is to serve people, Nacht noted. He concluded his remarks on the topic during the interview by saying it’s paramount to keep in mind: “Who are the human beings who are actually going to use the service?”

As a replacement for Nacht on the AATA board, Eric Mahler has been nominated by Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje. That announcement came at the city council’s meeting that started on April 15 and concluded at nearly 3 a.m. the following day.

If confirmed at the city council’s May 6 meeting, Mahler would be appointed for a term on the AATA board starting May 6, 2013 lasting through May 5, 2018.

Mahler is currently an Ann Arbor city planning commissioner, near the end of his second three-year term, having first been appointed in 2007. At the council’s April 15 meeting, Hieftje said that Mahler would serve through the end of his current planning commission term, which ends June 30, 2013.

Nacht’s Departure: Board Discussion

When the item was reached on the agenda, board chair Charles Griffith said he was tempted to ignore it because he was still “in denial.”

Griffith asked Nacht if it was his last board meeting. “This is true,” Nacht replied. If there was nothing that could be done about that, Griffith said he’d then read forth the resolution, which he did. [.pdf of David Nacht resolution of appreciation]

The board and staff gave Nacht a round of applause. Board discussion was limited. Sue Gott remarked on the resolution, “It sounds good to me!” The vote on the resolution was unanimous, with Nacht abstaining.

In his remarks, CEO Michael Ford recalled how Nacht had spent three hours with Ford in a Portland, Oregon, bookstore discussing taking the job as head of the AATA. It was a long conversation about the future, Ford said. He told Nacht he appreciated his time, leadership and commitment.

Ford presented Nacht with the traditional mailbox that is presented to outgoing board members. It’s marked up to resemble an AATA bus. Nacht’s mailbox also included a decal for the AirRide service. The decal was a nod to the fact that Nacht had long advocated for establishing the service. From The Chronicle report of the AATA’s Aug. 10, 2010 meeting:

Nacht declared that he was a little frustrated. He said he was willing to spend a little money on things that Ann Arborites might actually use. Airport service, he said, is one thing that people might actually use, but what he gets, he said, is constantly such “pushback” with proposals that are slow and unimaginative. “I can’t begin to express my frustration!”

Nacht’s interest in seeing airport service established is a part of earlier archives as well. From the board’s Feb. 18, 2009 meeting report:

Nacht then declared that he would like to have active consideration of providing the Ann Arbor community with bus service to the airport. He said that he didn’t want to hear back simply, “It’s too expensive,” …

As a farewell gift on April 18, Ford also presented Nacht with an engraved clock.

In his remarks, Nacht thanked the Ann Arbor mayor and city council for giving him the opportunity to have served. He thanked the AATA senior staff and his fellow board members. Most of all, he said, he wanted to thank the riders of the AATA bus service as well as the drivers and the mechanics. It’s the riders and the drivers and the mechanics who provide the “heart of this entity,” he said. If you don’t have riders, you don’t have a bus service. And if you don’t have drivers and mechanics, you don’t have a bus service. You can have a lot of staff and a board, but that doesn’t translate to a service. He called the AATA a “well-run house” with people who’ve been here a long time.

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board chair Charles Griffith raises his hand to vote yes on the resolution of appreciation for David Nacht.

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board chair Charles Griffith raises his hand to vote yes on the resolution of appreciation for David Nacht’s board service.

“I encourage all my fellow citizens to serve on a board,” Nacht said. You learn a lot, he said. He was not a transportation expert when he joined the AATA board, he noted. He just cared about trying to help the community with its environmental challenges, getting people to work on time, and helping the seniors and disabled people who did not have a choice. He was also concerned about future traffic congestion. “I just wanted better transit; I just thought it would improve our community.” He spent a while listening and learning before he began to advocate, he said. He hoped that he’d left “a little good stuff behind, but I got a lot – I learned a ton.”

He wanted taxpayers to know that the Portland, Oregon trip to which Ford had referred was part of a family vacation, so “You did not pay!” He then added that there were two boys in the room age 15 and 11 – his sons. When he’d started his board service, they were 5 and 1. There have been a lot of family dinners missed, and other time away from the family due to his board service. So he thanked his children and his wife for their understanding “for the time I have spent learning about buses.”

Griffith told Nacht that it had been great to serve with Nacht. He’d learned a lot from Nacht.

Outcome: The resolution of appreciation for Nacht passed unanimously, with Nacht abstaining.

Regional Issues

Although they were not voting items, several points of discussion at the April 18 meeting highlighted the importance of the geographic area beyond the city of Ann Arbor borders. Three highlights included the possibility that the city of Ypsilanti could join the AATA, and the possible role of the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA) in generating economic incentives for Michigan companies to develop battery technology for buses.

Regional Issues: Ypsilanti – Background

On the Ypsilanti city council’s agenda for April 23 is a resolution making a request to join the AATA. [.pdf of Ypsilanti council resolution]

The resolution enjoys the support of Ypsilanti councilmember Pete Murdock as well as Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber, who indicated his support in a phone interview with The Chronicle.

Ypsilanti’s possible request comes in the context of an attempt in 2012 to improve public transit by forming a countywide authority. That authority, incorporated under Act 196 of 1986 in mid-2012 and spearheaded by the AATA, was for all practical purposes ended late last year when the Ann Arbor city council voted to opt out of the new transit authority at its Nov. 8, 2012 meeting.

Of the 28 municipalities in Washtenaw County, the city of Ypsilanti is the only one that didn’t opt out. That transit authority, called the Washtenaw Ride, was formally dissolved this month by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its April 17, 2013 meeting.

But under the direction of the Ann Arbor city council, the AATA has been meeting with representatives of the county’s “urban core” communities to discuss possible expanded public transit within a limited area around Ann Arbor. It would be a smaller effort than the previous attempt at countywide service. The AATA hosted a meeting on March 28 at Pittsfield Township Hall to go over details about where improvements or expansion might occur, and how much it might cost. [See Chronicle coverage: "Costs, Services Floated for Urban Core Transit."]

Ypsilanti’s request to join the AATA would be made under a provision of Act 55 of 1963, under which the AATA was originally incorporated. [.pdf of AATA articles of incorporation] [.pdf of Act 55 of 1963] Admission of Ypsilanti as a member would require a majority vote by the AATA board. It would also require that the articles of incorporation for the AATA be amended – which might require action by the Ann Arbor city council.

Act 55 states: “If a political subdivision joins the authority, the board shall amend the articles of incorporation accordingly.” In the past, however, it’s been through a resolution of the Ann Arbor city council that the articles of incorporation have been amended. In that case, the number of board members was increased to seven.

Membership in the AATA has possible implications for governance, including the possibility that through the articles of incorporation or bylaws, the city of Ypsilanti would be represented in some fashion on the AATA board. But the goal of adding Ypsilanti would include providing a more solid funding foundation for the service that AATA already operates between the two cities. Currently, that’s funded in part through a purchase-of-service agreement (POSA) between the AATA and Ypsilanti.

The two cities each already have millages that are designated to support public transportation. Ann Arbor’s millage is perpetual, passed in 1973 at a rate of 2.5 mills. The Headlee rollback has reduced that rate to just over 2 mills currently. Ypsilanti voters in November 2010 authorized a Headlee override of the city’s charter millage, restoring it to the originally authorized level of 20 mills, designating the additional 0.9789 mills for public transit purposes.

The AATA does not currently exercise its Act 55 statutory ability to levy taxes itself – which it could do on approval of a majority of voters who live in a member jurisdiction.

To sustain and improve transportation in the area, the AATA has indicated that additional funding would be required. At the March 28 meeting at Pittsfield Township Hall, four basic scenarios for transportation service in the urban core were presented for consideration: sustain, improve, expand, or expand and improve. [.pdf of March 28, 2013 meeting packet] For the “improve” scenario, the combined total of additional funding that would be required from the city of Ypsilanti and the city of Ann Arbor was between $1.7 million and $2.65 million – depending on the cost allocation methodology.

Based on the Washtenaw County 2013 equalization report, the taxable value of all property in the city of Ypsilanti is $289.6 million. And in the city of Ann Arbor, the taxable value of all property is $4.840 billion. A tax rate of 1 mill is $1 for each $1,000 of taxable value. So Ypsilanti’s transit millage will generate roughly $283,000 this year, while Ann Arbor’s transit millage will generate roughly $9.6 million.

Given the combined taxable value in the two cities, a new AATA millage rate of a bit more than half a mill would be needed to cover the additional $2.65 million required under the “improve” scenario [.52*(4,840,000,000+289,000,000)/1000= 2,667,080].

Regional Issues: Ypsilanti – CEO Report

During his report to the board, AATA CEO Michael Ford described as “very successful” the meeting on March 28, which was attended by representatives of various municipalities associated with the urban core transit effort. The goal had been to come to a consensus on service improvements or expansion that everyone could support. A preliminary consensus among elected officials at the meeting was that improving and expanding transit services in the greater Ann Arbor area was necessary to meet growing transit demands for their citizens, Ford reported. The issues faced by each community are really the same, he continued. Those issues include the need for better transportation for seniors and those with disabilities, retaining youth, giving residents access to jobs and spurring economic growth.

The next meeting would take place at April 25 at 4 p.m. with a focus on organizational funding and governance. The location of the meeting will be at Saline city hall at 100 N. Harris St. in Saline. Ford said he recognized that it’s a location not currently served by transit, but he hoped that in the near future it would be.

Ford reported the new development of Ypsilanti’s interest in joining the AATA. He ventured that the April 25 meeting would include some discussion on that. Ford indicated that the AATA understood the urgency of Ypsilanti’s situation.

Regional Issues: Ypsilanti – City Council

City councilmember Pete Murdock led off his brief remarks to the board by offering an explanation for the fact that he was a few minutes late in arriving – because all the traffic lights were out on Washtenaw Avenue. [The area had experienced some inclement weather in the course of the day.]

Ypsilanti city councilmember Pete Murdock

Ypsilanti city councilmember Pete Murdock at AATA’s April 18 meeting.

Since the demise of the countywide plan, Murdock said, he and Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber had met individually with others – like representatives from AATA, Ann Arbor, and Pittsfield Township – to discuss what to do in the “urban core.” He reminded AATA board members that Ypsilanti has a long history of providing public transit going back at least to the 1970s, and the city of Ypsilanti has had a relationship with AATA to provide that service.

The last discussions that had taken place seemed to focus on the governance issues, Murdock reported, more than the service issues. To him, Murdock said, the AATA is “the transit authority for our region.” So if something regional were to be created, then AATA should be the basis for it.

To start that discussion, Murdock said, the Ypsilanti city council, at its April 23 meeting, would be considering the possibility of making a formal request to join the AATA.

AATA board chair Charles Griffith thanked Murdock for taking the time to drive down Washtenaw Avenue to alert the board to the Ypsilanti city council’s possible intent. [The AATA board meets at the downtown Ann Arbor library.] Griffith indicated that the AATA board would need to create a process to review Ypsilanti’s request for membership and decide if the AATA wanted to move ahead. Griffith said he thought that some requests would need to be made of the city of Ann Arbor as well.

Griffith indicated that the AATA would be “happy to entertain that proposal.” He ventured that the topic of Ypsilanti’s membership in the AATA would be discussed at the next “urban core” meeting on April 25.

Regional Issues: RTA – General

On the topic of the regional transit authority (RTA), Michael Ford – during his CEO’s report to the board – indicated that the AATA’s recent focus has been on creating a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the RTA and the AATA. The goal of such an MOU would be to protect AATA’s funding, as well as its local process and policies, Ford said.

The first official meeting of the RTA board had taken place on April 10, Ford reported, and AATA staff continue to meet with the two Washtenaw County representatives, Richard Murphy and Liz Gerber, who serves as the RTA board’s vice chair. So far the RTA board had discussed establishing a process for appointments to the RTA’s citizens advisory council, and a concept of rotating meeting locations to the different regions of the RTA.

Ford had discussed with the chair of the RTA, Paul Hillegonds, a request for the AATA to appoint two members to the transit providers committee of the RTA. Ford indicated that the RTA would like to have those appointments from the AATA by early May, so Ford would not be waiting until the AATA board retreat – tentatively set for May 22 – to discuss the topic. Instead, he’d take up the issue with the board’s planning and development committee.

Regional Issues: Local Advisory Council

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 recent meeting, Richard “Murph” Murphy – one of the Washtenaw County representatives to the regional transit authority (RTA) board – had presented the council with an overview of his role. Murphy had explained the purpose of the RTA and how it’s intended to strengthen and improve coordination between the transit agencies in the four-county region of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland.

Regional Issues: Urban Core – Public Comment

Jim Mogensen addressed the board during the time allowed for public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting. In thinking about the broader issues of the region, he said it was useful to ask the question: Where’s the power and where’s the money? The countywide effort under Act 196 had been a way to try to answer and resolve that question, he said. That hadn’t worked out. But those issues are still simmering in the community. Those are the kind of dynamics that continue to take place, he said.

Regional Issues: RTA – Batteries?

Though it was not initially presented as a regional issue, an upcoming request to purchase 20 battery kits for the AATA’s hybrid electric bus fleet – for $675,000 – touched on the topic of regional transit.

In his report from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Jesse Bernstein said the committee had an extensive discussion of the hybrid bus battery refresher kits. It takes three months to receive the battery kits, once they’re ordered. AATA staff had wanted to double- and triple-check that there was not a Buy America requirement imposed by the Federal Transit Administration on the purchase. The one responsive bid received by the AATA was from W.W. Williams of Dearborn, Mich., which distributes a product sold by Allison Transmission. The kits are fully assembled in Japan by Panasonic, but are programmed by Allison for use in the energy storage system used in AATA buses. So Allison is pursuing a Buy America waiver from the FTA – as its existing waiver has expired.

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board members Sue Gott and Jesse Bernstein chat before the start of the April 18 meeting.

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board members Sue Gott and Jesse Bernstein chat before the start of the April 18 meeting.

Bernstein reported that there were no U.S. manufacturers capable of making the batteries. He said the purchase will be made before the batteries fail.

During subsequent board discussion, David Nacht reported that when the AATA had learned that the sole source for the battery kits was not in the U.S., the performance monitoring and external relations committee had pointed out that there is an extensive, nascent battery industry in the state of Michigan. So RFPs (requests for proposals) had been sent to battery companies in Michigan, but “no one can make these batteries here,” Nacht reported. The AATA was providing an opportunity for the battery industry, Nacht said, but they’re not coming up with proposals. “So, that’s upsetting,” Nacht concluded.

Board chair Charles Griffith echoed Nacht’s comments about the batteries. In his day job, Griffith said, he’s a part of some discussions about efforts to promote the state’s battery industry. [Griffith is climate and energy programs director at the Ecology Center]. It was troubling to hear the news about the lack of any responses to the AATA’s RFP, he said. Griffith felt it would be worth some exploration before the next purchase of battery kits. He thought that perhaps with more advance warning, it might be possible to interest a Michigan manufacturer in producing the batteries.

Nacht added that he thought it would make sense for the regional transit authority (RTA) and the AATA’s staff people to connect with other staff of the transit authorities that are in the RTA and request that the RTA set up a meeting – where large purchasing decisions could be combined. It would be possible to think rationally across a larger number of transit agencies and perhaps create good economic incentives for a company to gear up its production, Nacht felt. It’s “absolutely crazy” that the state is working so hard to develop this industry right here in Michigan, Nacht continued, “with companies right in this town,” and people aren’t applying for contracts funded with public money. About those public funds, Nacht said “We’d rather spend them on local employers.”

Griffith imagined that the application of technology for the AATA’s buses would be unique – different from the technology required for cars or the power grid. So he ventured that it might take some time to plan and work with a manufacturer and come up with a contract sizable enough to make it worth the company’s investment.

Terry Black, AATA’s manager of maintenance, reported that the request for bids was put out on the Michigan Inter-Governmental Trade Network, which reaches about 100 agencies. Of those, 12 had downloaded the bid, but weren’t able to meet the specifications of the battery pack. Black ventured that over the longer term, there would be U.S. manufacturers. It’s important to keep in mind, he said, that the AATA is somewhat on the “cutting edge” of hybrid battery use, having started in 2007.

Griffith followed up with Black on the AATA’s plan for battery replacement. If the AATA has spare batteries onsite, Griffith wanted to know if it was important to have the battery packs replaced before there is a failure. Griffith seemed to be exploring the possibility that battery packs could be purchased, but not installed until there was an occasion of an actual failure. Black essentially said that would not be a viable strategy, for two reasons. First, the battery packs have limited shelf life, so after about three months, they aren’t any good, he said. Second, the original battery packs were marketed as having a useful life of five years. The AATA is now approaching the sixth year with these batteries, Black noted.

Black allowed that there’d been no battery pack failures to date in AATA buses. But working with Allison, the AATA has been collecting data on amp usage hours off the batteries, and Allison is comparing that data to the batteries in other fleets that have experienced failures. The AATA battery packs are starting to get into that range, Black said. So the AATA is trying to be proactive. As the buses themselves reach their mid-life – which is around 12 years – battery pack replacement now might carry the buses through their entire useful life, and minimize downtime. Black said he has 15 buses that are in roughly the same window for needing battery pack replacement. Given the three-month lead time to order replacements, that could lead to significant downtime, if those batteries start to fail, he said.

After the meeting, Black clarified for The Chronicle that in the fleet of 80 AATA buses, 52 of them use hybrid battery technology.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its April 18 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

Ford reported that the seasonal weight restrictions for roads had now been lifted, so progress on the construction of the new Blake Transit Center on South Fifth Avenue could accelerate somewhat. The project is currently 2.5 weeks behind schedule, but an attempt would be made to try to make up that time over the course of the next few months of construction time.

Comm/Comm: Washtenaw Community College

Ford told the board that AATA’s contract with Washtenaw Community College (WCC) has been renewed. The AATA and the WCC are still talking about installation of a bus stop on the south side of the campus.

Comm/Comm: Connector Study

During his report to the board on the connector study, Ford said a recent meeting with the consultant – URS Corp. – had focused on reviewing the matrix of comparison between Ann Arbor and other communities. The finalization of that matrix was expected before the next public meetings, which are expected to take place in late May or early June.

The connector study is focusing the possibility of developing a transportation connector – for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street and south along State Street to I-94.

Comm/Comm: North-South Commuter Rail (WALLY)

Ford reported that the station location steering committee had met for the north-south commuter rail project, known as WALLY (the Washtenaw and Livingston Line). Ford also reported that a meeting had been held with representatives of the University of Michigan to gauge the university’s attitude. Ford characterized it as “strong and supportive.”

Comm/Comm: New Website

AATA director of communications Mary Stasiak gave the board a presentation on the new website, which is now expected to go live on May 15.

Comm/Comm: Park-and-Ride Lots

In her report out from the planning and development committee, Sue Gott highlighted the committee’s discussion of park-and-ride lots. The committee had received a presentation on the topic from Chris White, AATA manager of service development.

The presentation had included dedicated park-and-ride lots as well as multipurpose spaces. The AATA has used grants to construct or improve dedicated park-and-ride lots. There are about 1,564 spaces currently, and about 965 spaces of those are being used. The last study looking at the inventory of park-and-ride spaces had been done in 1997, so it might be time to look ahead and update that study, Gott said. The committee had discussed the need to reduce parking in the core of the city, so there will be a greater need to depend on the parking capacity in outer areas.

Comm/Comm: Audit, Finances

In his report out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Jesse Bernstein noted that a paragraph had been added to the formal report. It involves a recitation of reason and purpose of the audit. Bernstein characterized it as a change to the “whereas” clauses.

With respect to budget variances, Bernstein said, performance was moving along within budget and there were no red flags. Ridership tends to be leveling off, he said, but that comes after a period of large increases.

Present: Charles Griffith, David Nacht, Jesse Bernstein, Eli Cooper, Sue Gott.

Absent: Roger Kerson, Anya Dale.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, May 16, 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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One Comment

  1. April 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm | permalink

    I’d be curious to see a comparison of operating costs for the hybrid buses vs diesel now that AATA has a few years of experience with them.