AATA Adds Ypsilanti, Expands Potential

Also approved: fare increases for commuter express services, bus battery refresher kits, sale of bus to Ann Arbor Community Center

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (June 20, 2013): While the AATA board also handled a relatively full agenda of routine items, the main event was formal action to ratify changes to the articles of incorporation of the authority, which added the city of Ypsilanti as a member.

AATA board takes a vote at its June 20, 2013 board meeting.

The AATA board takes a vote at its June 20, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

In the last two weeks the city councils of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor had voted unanimously to support the changes to the articles. The vote on the AATA aboard was also unanimous among the five members who were present. Sue Gott and board chair Charles Griffith were absent.

The change to the articles will also expand the board to nine members, with one of the two additional seats to be appointed by the city of Ypsilanti. The name of the authority will now reflect the fact that the geographic boundaries extend beyond Ann Arbor by changing the name to the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA).

While the change in governance does not in itself have any financial implications, the goal of the governance change is to provide a way for the two cities to generate additional revenue supporting transportation – in addition to the local millages that the cities already levy, which are specifically dedicated to transportation and transmitted to the AATA. An additional millage could be levied by the AAATA – a statutory right also enjoyed by the AATA, but never exercised. The AAATA could put a millage proposal on the ballot, but it would require voter approval.

The board does not have a meeting scheduled for the month of July, but CEO Michael Ford indicated that one might be convened, to handle some routine items as well as next steps related to the addition of Ypsilanti to the AAATA. That would need to be noticed to the public as a special meeting under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

In other business, the AATA board agreed to raise fares for its commuter express service from Canton and Chelsea. The increase in fares, in combination with a one-time agreement with the University of Michigan to defray costs of the fare increase for its employees, allowed the Canton service to continue. Fares were also increased on a certain subset of rides taken on the AATA’s NightRide – a shared taxi service that operates after the AATA regular buses stop running. The fare for NightRide will remain $5 for all rides except those that have origins and destinations both in Ann Arbor, and for those that are made with an advance reservation. However, if a ride has either an origin or destination outside Ann Arbor and no reservation is made in advance, then the cost will be $7. The board also approved a number of other route scheduling changes.

In addition, the board approved the purchase of battery refresher kits for up to 20 of its hybrid electric buses. And the board authorized the sale of an older bus to the Ann Arbor Community Center for one dollar.

The board held a public hearing on its federal program of projects, and received updates on several items. Board members also heard an update on the delayed deployment of the AATA’s new website, an optimistic report on the possibility that around $800,000 of state funding would be restored, and a status report on the connector project. The connector project is still in the planning stages, and could result in high-capacity transit along the corridor that runs from US-23 and Plymouth Road through downtown southward to Briarwood Mall.

The board also took care of some internal housekeeping items at the meeting, electing Eli Cooper as treasurer, who replaces David Nacht. Nacht recently ended his 10 years of service on the board.

Admission of Ypsilanti to AATA

The board was asked to give the final approval necessary to add the city of Ypsilanti as a member municipality of the transportation authority. As part of the move, the name of the organization will be changed to the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority

The geographic footprint of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is shown in green: the two cities of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. The city of Saline and the townships of Pittsfield and Ypsilanti have also been part of recent active discussions about committing to a more stable funding mechanism for existing service and expanded service.

The change to the articles of incorporation also gives Ypsilanti the right to appoint a member of the board – which will expand from seven to nine members. The city councils of the two cities had already approved the change. The Ann Arbor city council voted on June 3, 2013 to approve the change in governance, while the Ypsilanti city council took its vote on June 18. Both councils voted unanimously to support the move. [.pdf of new AAATA articles of incorporation] [.pdf of old AATA articles of incorporation]

While the change to the articles will affect the governance of the AAATA, the goal of the governance change is to provide a way to generate additional funding for transportation. The AAATA could, with voter approval, levy a uniform property tax on the entire geographic area of its membership – something the AATA does not currently do. The cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti now levy their own millages, which are transmitted to the AATA. However, Ypsilanti is currently at its 20-mill state constitutional limit. A millage levied by the AAATA would not count against that 20-mill cap.

Based on information provided to Ann Arbor city council members for their June 3 meeting, the local share of Ypsilanti’s transportation services – the part for which Ypsilanti is responsible – would come to $325,983 for FY 2014. Ypsilanti’s dedicated millage, which is levied at a rate of 0.9789 mills, generated about $308,000 in FY 2012. So there’s some interest in establishing an additional funding source, just to maintain existing levels of service.

However, current discussions indicate that the intent is to increase levels of service – both frequency and the hours of operation – within the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti city boundaries. The additional amount of local funding for the planned increases in service would be the equivalent of around 0.6-0.7 mills. One mill is $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

An AAATA millage proposal would require voter approval. There’s an outside chance for the AAATA to place a millage on the November 2013 ballot, but that decision would need to be made by late August. [Ballot language must be certified to the county clerk by Aug. 27, 2013.] The practicalities of mounting a successful millage campaign mean that a decision to make a millage request would likely need to come sooner than late August, however.

On a possible millage question, AATA staff and board members are currently having “feeler” discussions with some members of the community who have strong interests in transportation.

Regarding the name change, customary pronunciation of the current name is to sound out each letter: A-A-T-A. One possibility that’s been suggested for the new Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is to pronounce the new letter sequence Triple-A-T-A. Another possibility is A-3-T-A.

The proposal to include Ypsilanti in the AAATA came in the context of a demised attempt in 2012 to expand the AATA to all of Washtenaw County. Since then, conversations have continued among a smaller cluster of communities geographically closer to Ann Arbor. The next such meeting is scheduled for June 27 at Pittsfield Township hall, starting at 4 p.m. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Ypsi Waits at Bus Stop, Other Riders Unclear."]

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber, responding to an emailed inquiry from The Chronicle, indicated that he hoped the Ypsilanti appointment to the AAATA board could be confirmed by the council by late July or mid-August.

Admission of Ypsilanti to AATA: Board Deliberations

Reporting out from the planning and development committee, Eli Cooper noted that Jerry Lax – outside counsel for the AATA – had attended the committee’s meeting that month. Lax had answered questions from committee members about the legal ins and outs of the move. There’s some continued interest on financial issues, which he’d keep an eye on as treasurer, Cooper said. The committee, however, was clear about the fact that the change to the governance was separate from the financial issue. The sense of the committee, he concluded, was that adding Ypsilanti is a positive step forward.

AATA board member Eli Cooper

AATA board member Eli Cooper.

Cooper characterized the addition of Ypsilanti to the AATA as a “wonderful opportunity.” He pointed out that the AATA is an Act 55 transit authority, serving Ann Arbor since the 1970s. It’s really been an authority that has served the Ann Arbor area, he noted. The step of moving Ypsilanti into the AATA is a recognition of the regional nature of AATA’s services, Cooper said. He allowed that this is less than the countywide area that the authority had been pursuing last year, but it’s a recognition of the growth of the AATA and the Ann Arbor metropolitan area.

It’s one small step forward in establishing a footprint to serve the transit needs of the community, said Cooper, who also is the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager. He hoped it’s the first of many similar steps, taken incrementally as other communities become interested in having a more formal relationship with the AATA. “Make no mistake about it: The city of Ypsilanti, by moving forward with a transit millage a few years back, is really a partner with us.” So he’d be voting in support of bringing Ypsilanti in and moving forward with the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

Roger Kerson echoed what Cooper had said. He called it a really good step forward in terms of regional thinking. Travel needs don’t stop at municipal boundaries, he noted. Kerson was especially looking forward to having representation from Ypsilanti on the board. He appreciated the fact that Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber, as well as Ypsilanti councilmember Pete Murdock, had attended recent meetings of the AATA board.

Kerson allowed that there’d been “fits and starts” in the effort to expand transit services. He was glad Ypsilanti had jump-started the process. Kerson was also glad the Ann Arbor city council supported the move. Kerson stressed that having Ypsilanti join the AATA doesn’t exclude anyone else, saying that other communities might also want to become full partners. He was very happy to support the resolution.

Eric Mahler echoed what Cooper and Kerson had said. He offered his compliments to the AATA staff and outside counsel Jerry Lax. It was nice to have a willing and full partner who wants to be a real partner. It’s one thing to have a relationship, but it’s another one to have a real partner, he said.

Before proceeding to a vote, Anya Dale indicated she agreed with Mahler, Kerson and Cooper.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the resolution adopting the revised articles of incorporation, admitting the city of Ypsilanti as a member of the AATA.

Admission of Ypsilanti to AATA: Next Steps

During his report to the board, Michael Ford told them that details of their availability had been requested in anticipation of a possible special board meeting to be held in July, in connection with next steps related to adding Ypsilanti to the AATA. Other items that might need board approval at a potential special meeting in July include a print job contract, relocation of a fire hydrant, and purchase of vans for the VanRide program expansion.

Meetings among nearby jurisdictions – including the cities of Ypsilanti and Saline, and the townships of Ypsilanti and Pittsfield – have continued after the end of an effort in 2012 to expand the AATA’s service and governance area to the entire county. The smaller group of government units has been presented with a set of increased services and various funding and governance options. Among those options was the possibility of Ypsilanti and other nearby jurisdictions joining the AATA. Previous Chronicle coverage: “Ypsi Waits at Bus Stop, Other Riders Unclear.”

The next meeting of the urban core group is June 27 at the Pittsfield Township hall, 6201 W. Michigan Ave., starting at 4 p.m. At the AATA board’s June 20 meeting, Ford announced that the June 27 meeting would include an unveiling of the “build out” of a plan and analysis of the urban core. The information will be for informational purposes only, Ford said, to inform stakeholders. Any funding proposal would eventually come before the AATA board for deliberation, he noted.

Ford also reported that the AATA is considering fielding an opinion survey to follow up on one that was conducted in November 2011. The previous survey had focused on the idea of countywide service, but this new one would focus on the “urban core” communities, Ford said.

Fare Increases: NightRide, Express

The board was asked to approve fare increases for two of the AATA’s services – NightRide and ExpressRide.

The NightRide is a shared cab service with a basic fare of $5, which is available weekdays from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. and weekends from 7 p.m. to 6:45 a.m.

The board was asked to approve a proposal that keeps costs at $5 per rider for any trips that have their origin and destination within the city of Ann Arbor. And the current $5 per rider will continue to apply to any rides taken with an advance reservation – a system the AATA will be implementing, using vans. However, a $2 premium – for a total of $7 – will apply to rides with a destination or origin that’s not within the city of Ann Arbor, if no advance reservation is made. The move was proposed as a result of increased ridership on the service, after the AATA expanded the service to include the city of Ypsilanti.

The geographic coverage area of AATA’s NightRide was expanded eastward to Golfside Road in March 2011 and further to downtown Ypsilanti in January 2012 – as part of a broader effort to improve work transportation between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Many downtown Ann Arbor restaurant workers live in Ypsilanti. Ridership increased dramatically.

NightRide, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Chart showing NightRide ridership for fiscal years 2008 into 2012.

That increase in ridership resulted in higher costs – due to an adjustment in the contract between Blue Cab and AATA, which the board authorized on July 16, 2012.

At its June 20 meeting, the board was also asked to approve fare increases for express services – from Canton and Chelsea. The proposal was to raise fares from $99 to $125 for a monthly pass; from $40 to $62.50 for a 10-ride ticket, and from $5 to $6.25 for a single trip. According to documentation on that fare increase provided to AATA board members, the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority have agreed to split the cost of subsidizing the fare increase. UM already subsidizes fares for its workers to ride the service.

At its March 6, 2013 board meeting, however, the DDA declined to include the requested $18,000 subsidy that AATA had requested for Canton and Chelsea express service support. That request had come in the context of AATA requests for other support – for the go!pass program for downtown commuters. The DDA board did agree to $610,662 of support for that program.

The fare increases will be effective in August 2013.

Fare Increases: NightRide, Express – Meeting Deliberations

In introducing the NightRide item to the board, AATA manager of service development Chris White described the service as a “victim of its own success.” He stressed that there are no changes proposed within the city of Ann Arbor. The premium fare applies only to those rides that have either an origin or destination outside of Ann Arbor – and are not made with an advance reservation.

In reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson made clear the Canton service had been “on the chopping block,” but UM had provided the resources necessary to continue the service. In his remarks, Kerson stressed that financing the express services for out-of-town commuters did not rely on any Ann Arbor taxpayer dollars. The funding from UM is for only a year, and the AATA is hoping that the new southeast Michigan regional transit Authority (RTA) – which includes Washtenaw County – would provide funding in future years.

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford made a special note of the fact that the university had agreed to cover the cost of the express ride service to Canton, which avoided eliminating the route. A formal request had been made to the regional transit authority (RTA) for support of the commuter express ride services. The RTA couldn’t meet that request, because the new authority doesn’t have funds for operating transit at this time. Ford said he was very appreciative of UM’s willingness to step up and offer its support for the Canton service.

Kerson said UM’s last-minute provision of the resources to keep that service going indicated the value that UM places on reducing congestion and parking needs. The riders are paying some of the extra cost, Kerson pointed out, through the fare increase. At the end of the day, the AATA still provides the service but no local taxpayer money is used to subsidize out-of-town commuters, Kerson stressed, saying he knew that had been a concern.

AATA board member Eric Mahler

AATA board member Eric Mahler.

A question from Eric Mahler later in the meeting clarified that the commitment from UM was for one year only. Ford indicated that in future years, the AATA hoped to continue the discussion with the RTA. Ford characterized the situation as the UM contribution giving a little bit of a reprieve, but the AATA will continue to work diligently to identify funding sources.

Chris White noted that the proposed change had included the potential for eliminating the Canton service. But that turned out not to be necessary. The fare increase was the result of working on a financing plan, White said, which had included conversations with riders about their willingness to pay an additional fare. Riders are “anxious to maintain the service” and are willing to pay some of those costs, he said.

So the issue the AATA faced was increasing fares versus losing riders, White explained. The increase comes to about 25% increase. The great majority of riders – more than 90% – have half their fare paid by UM or by the DDA through the getDowntown program, White said. So instead of a $26 increase, it works out to a $13 increase per month for those riders, he concluded.

Eli Cooper moved for approval, saying that it’s important to note that both the Chelsea and Canton services were new – when introduced using federal demonstration funding. He’d recalled the debate and the compromise that had been reached on the appropriate fare. The services have been years in developing ridership, he said.

Cooper recalled that when he served his first term on the board in 2005, he used to say: “I can get anywhere in Ann Arbor, but I can’t get outta here. And if I’m not here, I can’t get in here unless I have a car.” The express services respond directly to that challenge, he said. Combined with AirRide, the express services give the AATA a metropolitan area reach. The fact that AATA staff, employers and riders have come together to find stable financial footing for at least the next year reflects a real value that the service represents to all stakeholders, he said.

Cooper was also pleased to hear the RTA accepted the AATA’s request, but just doesn’t have the funding available. The AATA needs to continue to work with the RTA to understand the positive working relationship that can be established to give benefit to Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority riders, he said. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work over a number of years, Cooper noted. It’s not serving the largest number of riders, he allowed, but it’s a new service. He looked forward to continued marketing and expansion of the service as the community grows.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the fare increases and the service changes on three separate votes.

At its June 20 meeting, the AATA board also approved several non-fare-related service changes to different routes. All except one was considered minor. The major change was to Route 12 in Ann Arbor, which changed its departure times from Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor.

“Sale” of Bus to Community Center

The board was asked to approve the sale of an older bus to the Ann Arbor Community Center. Under Michigan Dept. of Transportation guidelines, a transportation authority can sell a bus to a nonprofit at a cost of $1. That’s what the AATA board was asked to do.

AATA board member Roger Kerson

AATA board member Roger Kerson.

The vehicle was a 1999 Gillig low-floor bus originally purchased by the AATA in October 1999. That means the bus has served its minimum 12-year useful life. According to AATA manager of maintenance Terry Black, the bus had about a half-million miles on it. The AATA had previously sold a bus to the community center in 2008 – also for $1. However, replacement parts for that bus are difficult to find.

Roger Kerson noted that buses reach a point where they go out of service and can’t be used by the AATA. But the Ann Arbor Community Center won’t use it that much, compared to the number of miles the AATA would put on it.

No transit authority would be able to use it, given the number of miles on it. It’s a way to support an organization that’s provided support to the community for 90 years, Black said.

Eli Cooper got clarification that the bus would receive a paint job (purple), making it clear that the vehicle was not an AATA bus. Susan Baskett indicated her support for the move, and felt that the community center is grateful for the support.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the sale of the bus.

Hybrid Bus Battery Refreshers

The board was asked to approve the purchase of refresher battery kits for up to 20 hybrid electric buses at a total cost of $675,000. The board had discussed the item at a previous meeting, on April 18, 2013.

At the April 18 meeting, the board 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 the 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 part of the state’s nascent battery industry to invest in the capability to produce bus battery kits.

The board delayed voting on the item in April due to the non-U.S. source – because board members wanted to be certain that federal funds could be used. The only bid had been 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 was pursuing a Buy America waiver from the Federal Transit Administration – as its existing waiver had expired.

The AATA also inquired directly with the FTA. From the AATA staff memo on the results of that inquiry:

AATA requested clarification from the FTA on April 16, 2013 and received approval on June 4, 2013 from the FTA to purchase the battery refresh kits using grant funds. Approval from FTA came as a result of a determination that while the energy storage system (ESS) is a component of the Allison propulsion system, it is comprised of many subcomponents e.g., battery sub packs, relays, fuses, pre-charge resistors, etc. In the FTA’s opinion, components (ESS) of the propulsion system must be manufactured in the United States without regard to the origin of its subcomponents. In the FTA’s determination subcomponents may be of domestic or foreign origin. The purchase of the battery refresh kit is not a purchase of the entire ESS component, but a purchase of a subcomponent that does not require a waiver to be eligible for purchase using grant funds.

In the fleet of 80 AATA buses, 52 use hybrid battery technology.

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson commended AATA manager of maintenance Terry Black. Kerson noted that AATA was an early-adopter of the technology for its buses. It’s easy to say, “Go buy a hybrid,” but it’s not easy when you’ve never run that kind of bus, and nobody actually has done that before.

In introducing the item for a vote, Kerson reiterated that it’s necessary to maintain hybrid bus batteries to keep them on the road. It’s being done in advance of the failure of any battery packs, he noted, so the AATA is addressing this proactively.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the hybrid electric bus battery refresher kits.

Board Organization

The AATA has three officers – chair, treasurer and secretary. Absence of board chair Charles Griffith at the June 20 meeting, and the recent departure from the board of treasurer David Nacht, meant that some housekeeping activity was required at the start of the June 20 meeting.

Due to the chair’s absence, board secretary Anya Dale presided over the meeting. But that meant an acting secretary needed to be appointed. Eli Cooper served as secretary for the duration of the meeting.

The two standing board committees were also set. The planning and development committee (PDC) will consist of: Sue Gott (chair), Eli Cooper and Eric Mahler. The performance monitoring and external relations (PMER) committee will consist of: Roger Kerson (chair), Anya Dale and Susan Baskett.

Because Nacht had left the board after 10 years of service, his position as treasurer needed replacement. Dale, presiding over the meeting, called Nacht’s replacement “in position only.”

Kerson nominated Cooper for the job. Kerson noted that Cooper was now in his second term of service on the AATA board. Cooper has a great deal of professional experience in transit, Kerson continued. He said that based on conversations on the board and off the board, Cooper is a “dedicated and rigorous guardian of public funds.” The AATA board and the taxpayers would be well-served with Cooper as board treasurer, Kerson said. Baskett seconded the nomination.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the appointment of Eli Cooper as treasurer of the AATA board.

Federal Program of Projects Application

The AATA held a formal public hearing on its annual federal program of projects.

Federal Program of Projects Application: Background

Chris White, AATA manager of service development, explained the background of the federal program of projects. A public hearing is a required component each year for the AATA’s application to the Federal Transit Administration for grants. But the public hearing is the last step of the public input process, White said. Earlier opportunities for public input are provided in the planning process that includes development of a long-range plan – working with the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), White said.

The next step in the development of AATA’s transportation improvement program is a four-year program. In order to be included in the FTA grant application, White said, a project must also be included in the long-range plan and the four-year plan. The public has also had previous opportunity to weigh in on the capital and categorical grant program – which is adopted each January. The capital and categorical grant program is a five-year program – which forms the basis of the application for the FTA grant funds.

The AATA receives funds from different formula sources, White explained. The primary source of funds is from Section 5307 (Urbanized Area Formula Program), which totals a little over $6 million this year, White said. The AATA had also received about $700,000 in funds from a new program – Section 5339 (Bus and Bus Facilities Formula Grants), which is a capital-only program. On the list is also about $1.15 million for CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality) funds for the replacement of two buses. Other funds on the list include some from the Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) program and the New Freedom Program – which helps fund transportation for people with disabilities.

After describing the sources of the funds, White then ticked through the items on the list. The items, sorted by the amount of federal funds requested, is as follows:

Federal Share  Project  
$1,680,000     Preventive Maintenance 
$1,474,000     Operating Assistance    
$1,156,320     2 Large Buses (replacement)  
$1,046,400     Blake Transit Center (final funding)      
$1,040,000     2 Large Buses (service expansion) 
  $500,000     25 Vans (vanpool)  
  $400,000     Ypsilanti Transit Center   
  $320,000     Planning  
  $311,760     Job Access Transportation
  $256,000     Bus Components  
  $240,000     Subcontracted Service  
  $151,724     New Freedom Mobility Transportation   
  $120,000     Computer (hardware, software)   
   $72,000     4 support vehicles  
   $64,000     Bus Stops (shelters/benches)


The two buses for service expansion are to be used on Route 5, where service was expanded in January 2013. The Blake Transit Center fund is the “last shot of funding” for the BTC reconstruction. The funding for the Ypsilanti Transit Center is called “rehabilitation” by the feds, but White would call it “renovation.” Design will be done this year (2013) with construction planned for next year (2014). The YTC is about 23 years old, White said, and is in need of some renovation.

The bus stop improvements are mostly shelters. White highlighted the “operating assistance” item, and pointed out the AATA had not been eligible for federal operating assistance for about 15 years. But now that the urbanized area for the AATA has a population of over 200,000, in combination with the MAP 21 rules, that means AATA is now eligible for operating assistance. So the AATA is applying for $1.47 million of operating assistance.

Later in the meeting, Roger Kerson asked what the AATA was planning to spend the additional $1.47 million on. White explained that this money is for FY 2013, the current budget year, so it’s already been budgeted.

The JARC funding, White explained, will be used to continue the NightRide service, and the trip assistance program AATA operates, called MyRide. JARC and New Freedom are programs the feds are looking to help leverage private funds, White said. So the AATA is looking to form partnerships with other agencies to help leverage those transportation funds.

White noted that the comments from the public hearing will be included in the public record, and would be included as part of the grant application.

Federal Program of Projects Application: Public Hearing

Thomas Partridge said he was there to advocate for the members of the community who need and deserve vital transportation, who aren’t well served currently. He was concerned about the lack of funding to meet the needs of seniors and disabled people.

Partridge asked that the application “go back to the drawing board” before it’s submitted to the federal government.

Allison Stroud introduced herself as a public policy intern for the summer at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living. She appreciated that the AATA is trying to make the transit system accessible to everybody with disabilities. But there are many more improvements that can be made. So she asked the board to give consideration to additional improvements, in those areas where the distance to a bus stop is too far, as an example. She also suggested additional transit options, and keeping the bus fares as low as possible so that everyone can afford the services.

Connector Update

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford gave an update on the public engagement process for the connector study.

Rick Nau of URS, the consultant that's conducting the connector study.

Rick Nau of URS, the consultant that’s conducting the connector study, presented information at a June 18 session held at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. (Image links to the poster Nau is holding)

By way of background, the AATA is currently conducting an alternatives analysis study for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, then further south to I-94. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of transit mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops.

A previous study established the feasibility of operating some kind of high-capacity transit in that corridor. A key finding of the feasibility study was that the demand for high-capacity transit is clear in the “core” of the corridor – primarily between the University of Michigan’s north campus, medical facilities and central campus. The demand was found to be less intense on the corridor’s “shoulders.” That basic finding is now evident in the color shading on the draft route alignment map for the current phase of the study, which indicates the density of trips.

At the June 20 AATA board meeting, Ford relayed a point of information that had also been conveyed at a public engagement session held on June 18 at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library: the alternative of an elevated guideway system is not longer among the mix of options that the consultant is considering.

A final report on a locally preferred alternative is expected for this phase of the study sometime in the winter of 2014.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its June 20 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: State Operating Assistance

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford gave an update on supplemental state funding that is on its way to the governor’s desk for signing. By way of background, for the current budget year, the AATA’s anticipated local bus operating assistance from the state of Michigan was about $800,000 less than anticipated, due to the application of a formula governing the allocation of such funds.

AATA was not the only transit agency negatively impacted, and the state legislature took action to make an additional appropriation. Ford said that initial calculations indicate the AATA will receive about $887,000. That could be subject to change.

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson said that if the funding comes through, it would put the AATA’s budget in better shape than it was a couple of months ago. The AATA had dipped into reserves to fund expanded service on Routes #4 and #5, he noted, without an identified funding stream. The restored funding is not finalized, and “Lansing is an exciting place,” he allowed. But if it does get done as expected, he said, it would put the AATA in much better shape.

Comm/Comm: Website Launch

CEO Michael Ford advised the board that the launch of the AATA’s new website has again been delayed. “Surprise, surprise!” he quipped. The project has been delayed for several months.

Jan Hallberg, AATA IT manager, and Chris White, AATA manager of service development

From left: Jan Hallberg, AATA information technology manager, and Chris White, AATA manager of service development.

The problem is in integrating real-time information with the rider tools. The AATA is working closely with the developer to resolve the remaining issues, he said. “We’re almost there,” and the website is really dynamic. In another month or so, it would be ready, he ventured. When it’s launched, Ford added, it will bring a lot of benefit to riders.

Later during the meeting, Eli Cooper asked for some further clarification on the delay of the website. Jan Hallberg, AATA’s manager of information technology, provided more detail. The AATA has routes that start in the morning and continue all day, she explained. So the route makes several “trips” in a day. At the end of a trip and the beginning of a trip, it’s difficult to see the change in status. For example, if Route #4 is arriving at Blake Transit Center, you can see that the direction of the bus is “to Ann Arbor.” But if its status stays “to Ann Arbor” until it leaves the BTC, at that point it’s too late to tell the rider that the bus is headed back to Ypsilanti. So what they’re currently working to fix, Hallberg explained, is to make sure the real-time information changes to “to Ypsilanti” while the bus is still waiting at BTC. The AATA’s previous developer was never able to fix this, and now Hallberg wants to make sure that the issue is addressed before the website is launched.

Comm/Comm: Ridership

CEO Michael Ford gave an update on AirRide service, between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport.

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson said that the AATA is again on pace to have a record number of riders this year. The projection right now is for a 2% increase over last year’s record year.

Comm/Comm: Regional Transit Authority

Regarding the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA), CEO Michael Ford reported that the RTA had recently drafted a master agreement between the RTA and local service providers. Ford characterized the language of the draft agreement as similar to and in the same spirit as a proposed memorandum of understanding that the AATA had drafted earlier. Staff from all the transit providers had given feedback on that at an RTA committee meeting earlier in the week. The master agreement will officially make the RTA the designated recipient of funds per state statute, and outlines the working relationship between transit service providers and the RTA, and the maximum local bus operating assistance the RTA would receive from the state.

Comm/Comm: Blake Transit Center Construction

CEO Michael Ford gave an update on the new transit center construction in downtown Ann Arbor – north of William, between Fourth and Fifth avenues. Utility work continues, and steel is being erected. The beams are expected to be placed in July. The first floor concrete is expected to be poured in the next few days.

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. The group had reviewed the A-Ride application and the User’s Guide, and discussed those two documents at its meeting.

Comm/Comm: Ad Litigation

At its June 20 meeting, the board voted to go into closed session to discuss pending litigation connected to its advertising program. A status conference with the court was held on June 17, and another one is scheduled for June 27. Nothing has happened since the court’s latest ruling, in early June. Recent Chronicle coverage: “Judge: No Anti-Israel Ad on Bus for Now.

Comm/Comm: Thomas Partridge

During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Thomas Partridge told the board he has been a long-time advocate for open and transparent AATA meetings – as far as holding the meetings at sites that can be recorded and broadcast. He asked that all the committees also meet at a similar location so that they can be broadcast. He followed up with a turn of public commentary at the end of the meeting, reminding the board that it’s the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s visit to Detroit.

Present: Eric Mahler, Susan Baskett, Eli Cooper, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale.

Absent: Sue Gott, Charles Griffith.

Next regular meeting: While no regular monthly meeting is currently scheduled for July, CEO Michael Ford indicated at the June 20 meeting that a special meeting might be called sometime during the month. The next scheduled regular meeting is Thursday, Aug. 15, 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.]

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already on board The Chronicle bus, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!


  1. By Phil Dokas
    June 22, 2013 at 10:06 pm | permalink

    Courtesy my girlfriend upon telling her about “AAATA”, she said the name should be “A2ATA”, rolls off the tongue!

  2. June 23, 2013 at 1:07 pm | permalink

    The article notes: “On a possible millage question, AATA staff and board members are currently having “feeler” discussions with some members of the community who have strong interests in transportation.”

    One of my campaign committee members and I had the pleasure of sitting down with Michael Ford and a couple of other AATA administrators on Saturday June 22. I tried to convey my opinion of what the AATA would need to do to avoid the kind of defeat that the arts millage and library bond faced on the November 2012 ballot.

    I told AATA staff that I believed the arts millage and library bond failed for two reasons – trust and purpose. The tiny arts millage failed because the percent for arts program had undermined public trust in arts funding. The library millage failed because the catering kitchen and 400 seat auditorium were seen as being outside the purpose of a library.

    I told the AATA staff that I believe they have problems with both public trust and focus on their purpose. I suggested that they (1) acknowledge recent problems and make firm commitments to abandon those problem areas, and (2) clearly state what service improvements the new 0.7 mill tax will be be spent on.

    I identified these areas of concern:

    (1) high administrative staff to workforce ratio which contributes to high price of AATA services, See [link] (AATA has high per passenger mile cost compared to other michigan systems)
    (2) planning services for areas outside the AATA millage area where the other community does not fully fund the local share for the service,
    (3) trains or any regional service rather than focusing on local service,
    (4) expensive marketing,
    (5) poor service for neighborhood to neighborhood destinations (downtown centric service),
    (6) capricious scheduling (routes and frequency that change during the day, requiring specific knowledge of routes and schedules just to catch the bus).
    (7) inconsistent millage in different communities (2.0 mills in Ann Arbor – 0.9 mills in Ypsi).

    I explained that like the library’s attempt to spend large sums on matters beyond their core purpose, AATA’s county-wide plan, WALLY planning and Canton & Chelsea commuter bus service, were matters for the new regional transit authority not the locally funded AATA (or AAATA). I noted that while the Mayor is telling residents that the WALLY is 20 years from implementation, AATA is spending money to acquire rail stations and planning the rail service. Such inconsistency in message creates trust problems for an entity seeking a tax increase.

    While AATA staff argued with the details of the points I tried to make, I insisted that these are the perceptions they need to address before seeking additional funding. I applaud their efforts to hear from members of the community who are critical of their recent performance. I encourage them to work to restore public trust and develop a sense of focus on transit services within the area that funds their operation.

    If we develop an excellent local transit system, that will demonstrate to nearby communities the value of transit better than expensive failed efforts like the county-wide plan.

  3. June 23, 2013 at 2:06 pm | permalink

    Re: [2]

    Jack, first here’s a hat-tip for providing some insight into the contents of some of those conversations.

    But I don’t think the essay to which you’ve linked provides support for your conclusions about the AATA’s performance as compared to other transit agencies.

    That essay seems to start from an assumption that it’s poor public policy to subsidize public transportation on the backs of motor vehicle drivers, and that the best way to measure transit system performance is to test what percentage of a ride is paid for by riders themselves.

    And it’s not clear to me why that essay was written when it was (May 8, 2013). The freshest data available from the National Transit Database cited by the essayist looks to be from 2011. Maybe the 2011 data was just recently finalized or maybe the essayist has access to more recent NTD than that, or it’s possible that I don’t understand what he means by the NTB. In any case, I don’t see that the essay addresses administrative costs compared to workforce.

    But scanning quickly through this table of 2012 summary stats from MDOT, I don’t immediately notice any glaring deficiencies for AATA on these metrics. [performance metrics for Michigan transit agencies 2012] But .pdf is sort of a cruddy format, because to assess everything comprehensively you have to use your eyeballs (instead of, say, just sorting a spreadsheet by individual metrics and seeing how close to the top/bottom AATA is). Anyway, on what, if any, metrics in that table do you think AATA is performing poorly?

  4. June 23, 2013 at 4:26 pm | permalink

    Re (3) Dave, what caught my eye in the linked article is the following statement:

    “MTA also reported spending just 43 cents per mile to move each of its passengers – far below every other big system in Michigan. “The Rapid” was second best, at 76 cents per mile, followed by CATA (83 cents), SMART ($1.03), DDOT ($1.04) and Ann Arbor Transit Authority ($1.10.)”

    While that comparison is based in 2011 data, during my meeting with AATA staff, they indicated that comparison pretty closely reflects current passenger mile comparisons, too.

    The Rapid in Grand Rapids and CATA in Lansing are pretty good systems with which to compare costs. They are medium sized midwestern towns with conditions not too dissimilar to Ann Arbor. Their passenger mile costs of $0.76 and $0.83 seem to indicate significant differences from the $1.10 AATA cost.

  5. June 23, 2013 at 5:18 pm | permalink

    The table to which Dave refers has a lot of interesting data in it. However, it is confusing to compare systems without choosing the correct units. So we are talking costs per passenger mile? (Vs. simply costs/mile, presumably for all miles traveled, or costs/passenger.) That measure does not appear to be available from that sheet, though one might be able to calculate it from some of the other data provided.

    Two measures that seem useful are costs/passenger and passengers/mile. AATA seems to be at least in the same range with CATA and RAPID on c/p, at $3.64 vs. $3.17 and $3.06 respectively. It is similar to CATA and RAPID in passengers/mile at 1.88, 1.96, and 1.68. But note that for the “non-urban” service, AATA carries only 0.15 passengers/vehicle mile, at a cost of $17.69 per passenger. That is presumably the express services. AATA is spending a lot of resources to serve very few passengers in those services.