AAATA Adopts Five-Year Transit Plan

Ahead of a possible request to voters sometime in 2014 for a new transit millage, the board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has voted formally to approve a five-year transit improvement program. [.pdf of memo and 5-year improvement plan] The board’s action came at its Jan. 16, 2014 meeting after public commentary from three people who supported the board’s resolution.

Generally, the improvements include increased frequency during peak hours, extended service in the evenings and additional service on weekends. Some looped routes are being replaced with out-and-back type route configurations. The plan does not include operation of rail-based services. The AAATA has calculated that the improvements in service add up to 90,000 additional service hours per year, compared to the current service levels, which is a 44% increase. The AAATA refers to the plan in its communications as the 5YTIP.

To provide the additional service, the plan would include the purchase of 19 more fixed-route buses by the end of the full implementation – at the five-year mark. There are currently 80 buses in the AAATA’s fixed-route fleet. The plan would also include the purchase of five additional vehicles for providing demand-response service, which is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

A draft five-year plan was presented to the public in a series of 13 public meetings in the fall of 2013. Changes to the five-year plan made in response to public feedback were included in the board’s information packet for the Jan. 16 meeting. [.pdf of presentation made to the board on Jan. 16]

The plan indicates that $5,456,191 of additional local revenue would be required to fund the expanded services. For the member jurisdictions of the AAATA, that translates to a tax of 0.7 mills. A millage rate of 0.7 translates to dollar amounts as follows: Ann Arbor ($3,387,910), city of Ypsilanti ($202,730), and Ypsilanti Township ($778,207). One mill is $1 for every $1,000 of a real property’s taxable value.

Partners for Transit – a coalition coordinated by the Ecology Center – issued a press release on the afternoon of the AAATA’s Jan. 16 board meeting, calling for the board to put a millage request on the ballot. But the AAATA staff memo accompanying the board’s resolution makes clear that any funding proposal, like a millage, would come in a separate action. In 2010, a ballot question committee was formed with the name Partners for Transit, but Carolyn Grawi indicated in a phone interview with The Chronicle that the current Partners for Transit coalition would be forming its own ballot committee. Grawi is the director for advocacy and education at the Center for Independent Living.

The AAATA board would be unlikely to vote to place a millage on the ballot before analyzing the results of a survey conducted in the fall of 2013, which included an attempt to measure voter attitudes toward a new transportation millage. Those results are expected to be released sometime in the next few weeks. At the Jan. 16  meeting, board chair Charles Griffith indicated that he felt the board would be taking the next step on implementing the program very soon. That indicates a probable vote on the millage question at the AAATA’s February board meeting.

If the millage question is put before voters in May this year, instead of the fall, it could cost the AAATA $90,000 to $100,000 to cover the cost of conducting the election. That’s the figure AAATA manager of community relations Mary Stasiak has been given as a rough estimate by the Washtenaw County clerk’s office. In an email responding to a question from The Chronicle, Stasiak noted that if other proposals resulted in an independent reason for holding an election in May, that could defray the AAATA’s costs.

The two city members of the AAATA – Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – already levy a dedicated transit millage of their own, which would stay in place if voters in the three-jurisdiction area of the AAATA approved a 0.7 mill tax. For Ann Arbor, the rate for the existing millage is 2.056 mills, which is expected to generate a little over $10 million by 2019, the fifth year of the transportation improvement plan. For the city of Ypsilanti, the rate for the existing transit millage is 0.9789, which is expected to generate about $314,000 in 2019.

The transit improvement program also calls for an additional $1,087,344 to come from purchase of service agreements (POSAs), based on increased service hours in Pittsfield, Saline, and Superior townships.

A new millage would be decided by a majority vote of all three member jurisdictions of the AAATA. The two Ypsilanti jurisdictions were added as members of the AAATA just last year. The Ann Arbor city council voted to approve changes to the AAATA’s articles of incorporation – to admit the city and the township of Ypsilanti as members – at its June 3, 2013 and Nov. 18, 2013 meetings, respectively.

The current, more localized expansion of the AAATA contrasts with a now demised effort in 2012 to incorporate all of Washtenaw County into a single countywide transportation authority. Components of the countywide effort’s five-year plan and 30-year vision formed the basis of the current more geographically-confined effort to expand service.

When the Ann Arbor city council withdrew Ann Arbor’s participation in that effort, at its Nov. 8, 2012 meeting, it encouraged the AAATA “to continue to discuss regional transportation options among Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Ann Arbor Township, Pittsfield Township, and Scio Township, leading to a better understanding and process for improving local transit options…”

Over the course of 2013, the AAATA held a series of meetings with officials from those municipalities, a group that came to be called the “urban core” communities.

One outcome of those conversations was an interest in membership in the AAATA on the part of the two Ypsilanti jurisdictions. The city of Ann Arbor (pop. ~116,000), the city of Ypsilanti (pop. ~19,500) and Ypsilanti Township (~53,000) make up a bit more than half the population of Washtenaw County (pop. ~351,000).

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AAATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]