AAATA Gears Up for More Accessible Service

Voting items relate to expanded services to begin Aug. 24: approval of a plan for 20 new buses; adjustments to FY 2104 operating budget; and approval of mission statement tweak.

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (July 24, 2014): The board’s meeting this month was the next-to-last one before the initial expansion of services that the transit authority will be implementing. The expansion results from the new millage that was approved in a voter referendum held on May 6, 2014. The rollout of additional service is scheduled for Aug. 24, while the board’s next meeting is three days before that.

From left: AAATA strategic planner Michael Benham, Ed Vielmetti (background) and CEO  Michael Ford, talked after he meeting.

From left: AAATA strategic planner Michael Benham, Ed Vielmetti (background) and CEO Michael Ford, talked after the meeting.

The board barely achieved a quorum – with six of 10 board members attending. Anya Dale presided over the meeting in the absence of board chair Charles Griffith.

The board received some updates on the preparations for implementing that expanded service plan. And three of the board’s July 24 voting items were related at least indirectly to the additional services: a plan for acquiring 20 new buses; adjustments to the current fiscal year’s operating budget; and a tweak to the AAATA’s mission statement.

The mission statement was modified to highlight “accessible” as the kind of transit services that the AAATA aspires to provide. The change to the mission statement also reflected the addition last year of the word “area” to the name of the organization. That name change came as the result of adding the city of Ypsilanti as well as Ypsilanti Township as members of the authority. Previously, the city of Ann Arbor had been the sole member. The additional services will be paid for with a millage levied on property owners from all the member jurisdictions.

The fiscal 2014 budget ends Sept. 30. Revenues were adjusted to reflect the millage revenue. Of the additional $4,543,695 in local millage revenues, $3,850,000 is being put toward next year’s FY 2015 budget. Adjustments to this year’s budget include changes to reflect the hiring and training of 11 new bus drivers, bringing the total to 138 drivers. An operations supervisor, two new vehicle mechanics, an additional service crew member, and a human resources administrative assistant will also be added.

The additional 20 buses the AAATA is acquiring for the service expansion are spread over the next three years, with two to be acquired this year, 11 in FY 2015 and 7 in FY 2016. The buses for FY 2015 and 2016 will be paid for with the additional local millage funds, while the buses this year will tap a federal grant with matching state funds. A public hearing was held on the federal grant application that will include those two buses.

Potential future expansion of services – in addition to those to be implemented starting Aug. 24 – was also reflected in a voting item on the board’s July 24 agenda. The board approved an increase in the contract with SmithGroupJJR from $105,200 to $800,000 – to continue study of north-south commuter rail options between Howell and Ann Arbor. An earlier phase of the study for the WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway) project identified a segment of the Ann Arbor Railroad right-of-way, between Liberty and Washington streets, as a preferred location for a downtown Ann Arbor station. A portion of the work is being paid for with a $640,000 federal Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP) program grant.

The final voting item on the board’s agenda was a $234,360 contract with GZA GeoEnvironmental to perform environmental cleanup work at the AAATA headquarters building at 2700 S. Industrial Highway. The cleanup, which involves contamination from a gasoline leak that was identified in 2010, is covered by insurance.

At its July 24 meeting, the board also heard its usual range of updates, reports and public commentary, much of which highlighted the idea of accessibility.

AAATA Mission Statement

The board considered an update to the organization’s mission statement – to reflect the new name of the organization and a few other concerns. The proposed modified mission statement, which reflected board discussion at its June 10 retreat, read as follows [added words in bold, deleted words in strike-through]

It is the Mission of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority to provide accessible useful, reliable, safe, environmentally responsible, and cost-effective public transportation options for the benefit of the Greater Ann Arbor Area Community.

The mission statement had been last affirmed over five years ago at the AAATA’s Feb. 18, 2009 board meeting.

The word “useful” was critiqued by some board members at the June retreat as too modest an attribute, and they argued for “valuable” instead. Ultimately, the consensus was that this positive, goal-oriented attribute could be incorporated through adding the word “benefit.”

Inserting the word “accessible” was championed at the retreat by board member Jack Bernard. He works in the office of the University of Michigan’s general counsel and serves on the university’s council for disability concerns.

The insertion of the word “area” in the mission statement reflects the geographic expansion of the AAATA’s jurisdiction in 2013 to include the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township – as well as the formal change of the authority’s name to include “area.” [.pdf of memo on AAATA mission statement]

Mission Statement: Public Commentary

Thomas Partridge addressed the board’s mission statement. He said it needed to be expanded – to serve the needs of the most vulnerable riders. The operating budget needs to have additional funding to greater serve the most vulnerable riders in terms of disabled persons and senior citizens in particular, he said. And the board needs to answer how, with the passage of the millage, service will be targeted to the disabled people and seniors. Partridge did not see those priorities in the existing materials and the existing applications to the FTA for formula funding. He also questioned whether existing funding could be used to continue planning for a true countywide transportation system. Such a system is certainly needed to serve those areas of the county that do not have existing bus service, senior ride service, or paratransit handicap ride service, he said.

Mission Statement: Board Discussion

Roger Kerson reported out for the performance monitoring and external relations (PMER) committee. He noted that the revised mission statement was on the board’s agenda. He pointed out that there had been some debate about the use of the word “useful.” He urged the board to take a careful read of the proposed new language, saying that the issue should not be re-debated at every meeting – the board should adopt a mission statement that it really likes.

During question time, Jack Bernard talked about the image of the “service star” in some of the marketing materials and how it matches up with the mission statement. He asked that the board continue to think about how that star is going to look after the mission statement is adjusted. He put a plug in for “accessibility” to be added into that graphic.

When the board came to the item on its agenda, Kerson was asked to read aloud the new mission statement, which he did. Larry Krieg said he rather lamented the demise of the word “useful” but was willing to live with a mission statement as it stands. He felt it would require too much revision of planned materials to change it now. In some ways, usefulness is so fundamental to the mission of any transit organization that it almost goes without saying. So Krieg could live without saying it, as long as the AAATA remembers that it needs to be useful to the community – that is why it’s there.

Jack Bernard thanked his board colleagues for including the word “accessible.” He also appreciated the fact that the word had not been relegated to the end. So often, accessibility is relegated to an afterthought at the end of the statement. Putting it at the beginning heralds that all the programs, services and buses are to be accessible to all – people who have disabilities, older passengers, kids, people with resources and people who don’t have a great deal of resources. It’s the entire community that they are trying to serve. So he commended the board for stepping up to this and including the word “accessible.”

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to adopt the new mission statement.

Mission Statement: Accessibility

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford noted that during public commentary at the planning and development committee meeting, there had been a request for additional information at bus stops to aid passengers. The AAATA is considering redesigning its bus stops and changing the size of the signs to provide more information on each side of each sign, he said.

During question time, Jack Bernard thanked Ford for talking about the expansion of information at the bus stops. He felt it was a very important thing. But as the organization thinks about doing that, he wanted to encourage people to be aware of a general trend across organizations: When more information is provided, the font tends to be shrunk. He encouraged the AAATA, as it thinks about the real estate of the sign, to understand that there’s a cost associated with shrinking everything down – because it ends up not having a great deal of utility.

Bernard asked that a QR code be included, as more information is added on bus stops signs. That would enable somebody to get that information and then enlarge it or get expanded information using a mobile device. Those QR codes are a very efficient way to drive people to information that they want, which can not be included on the sign. He allowed that not all riders have a smartphone, so essential information still needs to be included on the physical sign. Increasingly, however, riders are connected with mobile devices.

Ford responded to Bernard by saying that staff just had a meeting about QR codes and signage, and they discussed issues of color contrast, placement and height. So Ford welcomed Bernard’s comments.

During public commentary time at the conclusion of the meeting, Ed Vielmetti responded to Bernard’s suggestion about QR codes. A local example of where that’s being done is the University of Michigan’s transit system, he said. There are QR codes on a number of the university’s bus stop signs. You put your phone up to it, it beeps, and it gives you a link to information that is specific to that individual stop – so it is not general information about the system, or general information about the line that you’re on, but rather it’s information relevant to your exact location. That is immensely helpful, Vielmetti said, especially if you are in an unfamiliar spot wondering where the bus goes, or when the bus coming, or if it is even running right now. It’s not a trivial exercise to assemble real-time, pinpoint information for thousands of stops, he ventured, but he called it a worthwhile goal.

Also during public commentary at the end of the meeting, Thomas Partridge told the board that he had attended the AAATA’s meetings numerous times over more than a decade, pleading for greater assistance for the most vulnerable riders – including handicapped riders and senior citizens. He questioned whether the board and administration of the AAATA comprehended and absorbed the full range of difficulties that disabled people and senior riders have in using the system.

Earlier in the meeting, during his report from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson noted that a new web developer has been hired on staff: Preston Stewart. Kerson felt it was a good transition to bring the web project in-house so that the AAATA is not at the mercy of a contractor. If you think about the core functions of the agency, Kerson said, the ability to communicate regularly with its customers in an efficient and up-to-date manner is not an add-on – that is a core function. He called Preston’s previous experience very impressive.

Bernard said he was thrilled to hear that a new web developer had been hired. It remains continually important for the website to be accessible. He said that strides have been made, but the website was not yet completely accessible. He hoped that the web developer would be provided any support that he needed to make the AAATA website as accessible as it can be. Bernard asked if the new web developer had any experience in accessible websites. Ford was not sure, but said the AAATA was focused on that issue.

New Buses

The board considered a change to its capital and categorical grant program – in order to acquire new buses needed to implement expanded services. The services will be funded by the new millage that voters approved earlier this year on May 6, 2014. The expanded services are scheduled to begin on Aug 24.

The plan is add a total of 20 new buses over the next three years to the AAATA’s existing fleet of 80 buses. Total cost for the vehicles is $9 million.

The initial service expansion will not require many additional buses – as expanded services focus on extended hours of operation. But over the five-year service expansion, new route configurations and higher frequency services will require the additional vehicles. By year, here’s how the bus acquisition breaks down:

  • 2014: 2 buses for service expansion. Federal grant and state matching funds ($1,016,250). [Tentative: clean diesel.]
  • 2015: 11 buses for service expansion. Local funds from new millage ($4,903,300). [Tentative: clean diesel.]
  • 2016: 7 buses for service expansion. Local funds from new millage ($3,187,100). [Tentative: clean diesel.]

A tentative decision appears to have been made to specify the drive train on the new buses as conventional clean diesel, as opposed to the hybrid electric technology used by 52 of the current 80-bus fleet. However, no final decision has been made on the technology choice. The incremental cost per bus for the hybrid technology is nearly $200,000.

Minutes from the board’s July 8, 2014 planning and development committee show that AAATA maintenance manager Terry Black has indicated a final decision on the type of power unit for the buses needs to be made by November or December of 2014 – and certainly no later than February of 2015. The battery packs for many of the existing hybrid buses are reaching the end of their projected life, and the AAATA is also weighing the hybrid-versus-conventional diesel decision for replacement of those buses.

Among the issues to be weighed for the hybrid-versus-conventional diesel decision are fuel savings and noise reduction associated with hybrids. At the AAATA’s June 10 meeting, Black reported that for the newer clean diesel models, there is not a significant difference in the fuel economy. Some of the AAATA’s existing hybrid buses have had some transmission problems, which have resulted in a cost of $50,000 per bus. Even though that cost has been covered under warranty, the manufacturer is looking toward reducing the warranty coverage.

The board’s planning and development committee is supposed to receive a report on the hybrid-versus-diesel issue at its August meeting.

Outcome: When the board reached the voting item on its agenda, there was no additional discussion. The board unanimously approved the amendment to the capital and categorical grant program.

New Buses: Federal Grant Application

While most of the new buses needed for the expansion of service will be purchased with new millage funds, at least two buses will be purchased with federal grant money. A public hearing was held on the federal grant applications, which essentially mirrored the capital and categorical grant program already approved by the board last year, with the exception of some “livability” funds that the AAATA had been awarded a few months ago.

Chris White, AAATA manager of service development, explained that the public hearing was about the FY 2014 program of projects. The program of projects and the public hearing notice had been published in the Ann Arbor News twice. And it had been posted on the AAATA website for the last 30 days. No written comments had been received either by mail or by email at that point, White said. He then reviewed the entire program.

The projects in this program come directly from the capital and categorical grant program that was adopted by the board in December 2013 – with one exception, White said. When the AAATA was developing the capital and categorical grant program, a process was used that was open to the public. That included three meetings of the planning and development committee, and the board meeting at which the program was actually adopted. Any additional comments received that night would be included in the record for the Federal Transit Administration to review, White said.

White explained that the amounts in the program – Section 5307 ($6,457,306), and Section 5339 ($752,049) funds – are formula funds that are allocated to the Ann Arbor urbanized area. The southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA) is now the designated recipient for those funds, but the RTA has given the AAATA the authority to program that money and to make applications directly to the Federal Transit Administration for those funds. Livability Section 5309 ($813,000) funds are discretionary, White said.

There was also an amount for 5307 carryover ($622,969), White said. Those are funds from last year that the AAATA did not program. The funds are available to the AAATA for the two years following their appropriation. So the AAATA always uses up the money, but not always in the year that the funds are appropriated.

The total program is for the use of a total of $7,521,000 in federal funds. The total amount available is $8,645,324, so about $1.1 million will be carried over into FY 2015, White said.

White then reviewed the items in the program – nine small “expansion buses.” These are buses that AAATA will purchase that the paratransit contractor now provides for A-Ride service, White explained. So these buses are not to expand A-Ride service, so much as for the AAATA to provide that service directly, he clarified.

The second item on the list of projects is three large buses for expanded service. Those buses will use the federal Livability Section funds – the discretionary funds that the AAATA received. The AAATA had been informed that it had received approval for funds during the year – just a couple of months ago. And they were not included in the capital and categorical grant program, because the AAATA didn’t think it had the funds for the buses at that time.

White noted that this item was labeled as “up to three large buses.” He explained the $813,000 was actually not enough for three full buses – it’s enough for two buses and a fraction of a bus. The AAATA must record “up to three” in order to spend the entire amount, White said. Those are buses for the AAATA’s expansion for the five-year transit improvement program. The millage funds that were approved by the voters were programmed to buy expansion buses. Most of those buses will still be purchased from the local funds, White said. The livability funds would help the AAATA purchase two and a fraction of those buses.

All the other items on the program of projects are being paid for with the Section 5307 formula funds – computer-aided reservations dispatch for A-Ride, computer hardware and software, bus components (for hybrid buses), bus stop improvements (a Super Stop on Washtenaw Avenue), capital costs of subcontracted service, preventive maintenance and operating assistance.

New Buses: Federal Grant Application – Public Hearing

Jim Mogensen told the board that he thought it would be helpful in the future to have an issue paper that explains how the formula funds work. Is it because of the amount of service that we have? It seems that what is happening, Mogensen said, is you find out how much the funds are and then you figure out how to allocate the money in these various categories. But for someone who doesn’t have that information, it’s a little unclear how that would work. The other thing that would be helpful to know is what happens if for some reason federal money doesn’t come through. How would that impact how the funds are sorted out?

Tom Partridge questioned whether the existing formulas are sufficient to serve the most vulnerable paratransit riders. He said he heard no significant amounts being dedicated to extending and expanding the service that is available to handicapped riders or senior riders and other people who are disadvantaged in the community. He called on the AAATA to take steps before sending this on to the federal government. He called on the Federal Transit Administration to give priority for expansion of transit services for senior and handicapped riders.

FY 2014 Budget Adjustments

The AAATA fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept 30. At its July 24 meeting, the board considered an amendment to the budget for FY 2014 fiscal year to increase total expenses by $41,597 – from $34,073,795 to $34,115,392.

The proposed change also reflects adjustments to incorporate proceeds from the new millage, approved by voters on May 6, 2014. Of that additional $4,543,695 in local millage revenues, $3,850,000 is being put toward next year’s FY 2015 budget. Although that net amount of the expense adjustment is small, the infusion of new millage funds was offset by several hundred thousand dollars that were not spent this fiscal year for north-south commuter rail study.

It’s not uncommon for public bodies to make adjustments to the budget toward the end of the fiscal year.

The AAATA’s proposed amended budget reflected a number of changes related to the new millage and the service expansion that it will pay for. Among those changes are the hiring and training of 11 new bus drivers, bringing the total to 138 drivers. An operations supervisor, two new vehicle mechanics, an additional service crew member, and a human resources administrative assistant will also be added. [.pdf of detail on FY 2014 budget amendment]

The fares collected under the AAATA’s agreement with the University of Michigan are under budget for the year, because the proportion of the $1-per-ride fare booked as cash has decreased. A federal grant – which is recorded as federal operating assistance – has increased.

In the report to the board treasurer, AAATA controller Phil Webb reported an $81,254 surplus. But the report also noted an unrestricted net asset reserve amount of 2.64 months. The board’s reserve policy is to maintain at least the equivalent of a 3-month operating reserve.

FY 2014 Budget Adjustment: Public Commentary

Jim Mogensen addressed the board during the board’s first opportunity for public commentary at the start of the meeting. He said he’d always been very impressed with how detailed the information is about the operating budget. The AAATA presented both the standard operating budget and the extended notes. Because people are trying to understand how this all works, he suggested that materials also include a discussion of how the money is flowing in. For example, in the category of “special fares” – which related to the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, Washtenaw Community College and Eastern Michigan University – it would be helpful to have that broken out so that people could see how the total number is determined. He suggested that the board figure out a way to include that kind of information in the extended notes on the budget.

FY 2104 Budget Adjustment: Board Discussion

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson noted that the proposed budget revision includes the new millage funds and the expansion of service. The total amount of the adjustment is small because the AAATA spent less in a different area – namely, the north-south rail study. There were a few hundred thousand dollars not spent on that project in this fiscal year. So even though there is more than $42,000 going to new activities, the net effect is the increase that is included in the budget. The committee had discussed with staff the fact that the board wants to track as carefully as the AAATA can exactly how the new millage funds are used for the new service – so that the AAATA can report to voters on that in an ongoing way, he said.

The committee had reviewed financial reports. Budget-wise, the organization is under budget on both revenues and expenses, so that matches up fairly well, Kerson said. The news on performance reports is that over the year, ridership is down overall as a result of the severe winter weather. People stay home and work at home or make other arrangements so that they don’t have to travel, and that impacts the quantity of service that gets delivered, he said.

AAATA board member Eli Cooper.

AAATA board member Eli Cooper.

When the board came to the voting item on its agenda, Eli Cooper stressed that the amendment of the budget is a positive aspect of the effort, which is a culmination of the efforts that led to the successful millage. The budget amendment is needed, to incorporate resources to sustain the new services that are being offered. The AAATA needs to be able to account for the resources that have been bestowed on the organization, and they need to be vigilant to ensure that the pledges made with respect to the five-year service plan are kept. Those pledges should be kept in a way that is consistent with the mission statement – in a cost-effective manner.

The budget is a planning instrument expressing the AAATA’s plan as it moves forward, Cooper said. It’s not merely an item where the board says: Yep, the numbers all add up and we’re going to approve that. So Cooper asked that the board take a moment to reflect on the value and the meaning of the budget – as a device that reflects all the hard work and that prepares a platform for the services to be delivered in a manner that is fiscally responsible. That’s one of the challenges the AAATA as an authority does well with, Cooper said, and it needs to continue to do well with that. So Cooper was pleased to speak in support of this amendment to the operating budget – because of the work done in the last six months, the last year, and even before that.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the budget adjustments.

North-South Rail Study (WALLY)

The board considered an $800,000 contract with SmithGroupJJR for additional study of north-south commuter rail project. [.pdf memo for July 24, 2014 WALLY resolution]

Planning and work for north-south commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Howell in Livingston County has been going on for several years in a project that has been called WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway). The AAATA appears to be transitioning to a project label that incorporates “N-S Rail” as part of the description.

About two years ago, at its Aug. 16, 2012 meeting, the AAATA board approved the award of a $105,200 contract to SmithGroupJJR for “station location and design services” in connection with the WALLY project. The board’s authorization at that time included an option to increase the contract scope at a later date. That’s what the board’s July 24 item was proposed to do – increasing the total amount of the contract from $105,200 to $800,000.

Of that $800,000, a significant portion will be covered with a federal grant received by the AAATA in 2012 under the federal Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP) program. The federal grant award of $640,000 requires a $160,000 local match, which will be made by the Howell Downtown Development Authority, the Ann Arbor DDA and Washtenaw County – equaling a total of $143,000, with the remaining $17,000 to come from the AAATA.

The initial $105,200 contract with SmithGroupJJR was focused on a station location study and is now largely complete. The conclusion of that station location study was to identify a segment of the Ann Arbor Railroad right-of-way, between Liberty and Washington streets, as a preferred location for a downtown station.

The scope of the additional work under the contract considered by the AAATA board on July 24, 2014 will:

  • Thoroughly examine alternatives/supplements to N-S Rail service such as express bus, bus-on-shoulder and HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) options.
  • Complete the evaluation of boarding areas (stations) in terms of locations, costs and required features.
  • Estimate operating and capital costs at a much finer level of detail, taking into account new service concepts, rail right-of-way work, ownership changes, and railcar acquisition that has taken place since 2008.
  • Undertake a more rigorous approach to demand estimates in full compliance with FTA New Starts / Small Starts requirements.
  • Incorporate “green” concepts and operating principles.
  • Be accompanied by a robust public involvement effort aimed at informing stakeholders and testing public support for the service, governance and funding elements of the plan as they evolve.

The timeframe for the second phase of the study is about 18 months.

North-South Rail Study (WALLY): Board Discussion

In his report out from the planning and development committee, Larry Krieg noted that there was a federal grant of $640,000 to undertake the study. He noted that the city study would include not just the possibility of a rail corridor, but also the use of express buses, and high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on US-23. The study would take about 18 months, he said, and the federal portion covers 80% of the cost. Several organizations – including Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor, the Howell Downtown Development Authority – had contributed to the local match for that. Krieg concluded that the study had received a lot of support from around the region.

In his report out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson also commented on the north-south rail feasibility study. He felt that including express buses in the scope of the study is a very good idea – so that the AAATA would have a good sense of what the cost and time alternatives are.

Kerson said he was personally a big fan of trains and noted that the reason the board had a quorum for the meeting was because of the efficiency of DC Metro – which had gotten him from his meeting in Washington, D.C., that morning to Union Station, and then to another train to get to his plane. But that system had cost taxpayers billions and billions of dollars. And WALLY would cost millions and millions. “We can have a bus for thousands of thousands of dollars,” Kerson said, and probably have it in a matter of months, instead of years.

The AAATA had hit a home run with its service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport, he said, so the AAATA now knows how to provide that kind of service. AirRide is receiving very high marks for convenience and rider experience. So that’s in the AAATA’s inventory now of services it can deploy. Kerson wanted to see side-by-side from the feasibility report what it will take moneywise and timewise. He also wanted the study to find out people’s opinion about the different kinds of service. He felt that if people are exposed to that type of express bus service, they would really really like it, and it could be done in a cost-effective manner.

Outcome: When the board came to this item on the agenda, there was no additional discussion. The board voted unanimously to approve it.

Environmental Cleanup Work

The board considered a $234,360 contract with GZA GeoEnvironmental for environmental remediation work at the 2700 S. Industrial Highway headquarters of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

The need for the work dates back four years to 2010, when an in-ground gasoline leak was discovered during an upgrade to the fuel tank monitoring system.

The $25,000 insurance deductible through Chartis, the AAATA’s insurance company, has already been paid through previous work associated with this contamination. The current work – up to the $234,360 amount of the contract – will be reimbursed by Chartis for the total project price.

The work includes the following:

  1. Installation of new monitoring wells.
  2. Perform baseline groundwater sampling.
  3. Chemical analysis of groundwater samples.
  4. Anaerobic biodegradation bench scale study.
  5. Soil and dewatering excavation.
  6. Collection of excavation verification of soil remediation sampling.
  7. Introduction of selected bioremediation enhancement materials.
  8. Backfill restoration and concrete replacement.
  9. Groundwater sampling (will occur a year after remediation activities has been completed).
  10. Completed summary report that will be filed with MDEQ for satisfactory closure of incident.

Environmental Cleanup Work: Board Discussion

During his report out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson noted there are procedures and equipment in place to prevent that kind of leak from happening again.

AAATA controller Phil Webb

AAATA controller Phil Webb

Larry Krieg asked for clarification of the word “gas” in the report. Was it natural gas, diesel fuel, or gasoline? AAATA maintenance manager Terry Black explained that it was gasoline. There had been a connection on a tank that had probably been seeping for several years, he said. And it had previously been undetected.

Eric Mahler asked about the contingency costs. If the additional work is not necessary, he wondered if the money would be returned to the AAATA. AAATA controller Phil Webb explained that the AAATA would pay only for the work that was done. If additional work is needed, then there would be an additional negotiation about how that would be paid for. Webb also pointed out that it’s part of the insurance coverage the AAATA has. So the AAATA had worked with the insurance company on this project – which has been approved by the insurance company. The AAATA would be reimbursed through the insurance claim.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the contract for the environmental work.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its July 24 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: Title VI Compliance

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford noted that the planning and development committee had heard from members of the public during public commentary at its meeting on the issue of Title VI compliance. The AAATA is close to completing the new requirements under Title VI, Ford reported. The full board had approve the Title VI policy earlier in the year, he noted, and the five-year transit improvement program will provide consistent service in the member jurisdictions, starting with the service improvements in August.

The performance monitoring and external relations committee was also working on revisions to service standards that would need to be approved by September, Ford noted. With those elements in place, Ford continued, the AAATA would be submitting all of its materials in October to the Federal Transit Administration about how the AAATA is meeting Title VI standards. The performance monitoring and external relations committee would be working throughout fiscal year 2015 on service standards, which are not required, but would be updates to Title VI material.

Jim Mogensen said that the previous week he’d attended two public meetings. The first was a University of Michigan’s regents meeting. His topic was public transit and the university. It was a topic that he talked to the regents about a couple of years ago, he said. At that time, he had said: Look, I’m probably gonna file a Title VI complaint against the AAATA – because there are structural issues the university needs to pay attention to when they merge their own transit plans with the AAATA’s. He’d suggested that because outside people would be looking in [to review Title VI compliance], one of the things the university should consider is providing transit out to its East Ann Arbor medical center. What he had not told the regents is that he had decided not to speak to the regents again until he actually filed the complaint. So he had not spoken to the regents for a couple of years.

He told the AAATA board to remain calm – because he had not actually filed a Title VI complaint yet. But he felt it was time to revisit the situation. The M-Ride agreement – between the University of Michigan and the AAATA – is being re-authorized next year and there was a year to figure it all out. So he suggested to the regents that this continues to be an issue – even with the new transit millage, because it is based on property taxes. And if you evaluate service based on municipal capacity, that will always be a challenge.

He suggested that the M-Ride agreement should be linked to the full actual fair, which is $1.50 – whereas the agreement now is for UM to pay $1 per ride. His suggested approach would recognize that what is happening was: People affiliated with the university have their fares paid by the university. The idea would be to tie it to the full fare. So, over the longer term, if fares for the general ridership went up, they would also go up for university affiliates, and would be linked to the university’s use of the transit system.

The second meeting that Mogensen had attended the previous Thursday was the WeROC (Washtenaw Regional Organizing Coalition) meeting. He brought up the Title VI issue up with WeROC – which had worked in support of the public transit millage. So Mogensen wanted to convey to the board that this was something he was working on, and that he was not working on it just by himself. He asked the board to please not short-circuit the idea before it’s given the opportunity to happen. Because sometimes, when you put ideas forth, things actually happen, Mogensen said.

Comm/Comm: Construction Detours; On-Time Performance

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford noted that there have been some challenges with construction and detours throughout the city. He ventured that everyone had felt the pinch of that. Some of the routes of been impacted by traffic backups, he reported, which affected the AAATA’s customer satisfaction and on-time performance. They’re doing everything they can to mitigate those issues, but it’s a difficult slog, he said.

AAATA board member Roger Kerson.

AAATA board member Roger Kerson.

Traveling right now in Ann Arbor is a pain in the neck because of all the construction, Roger Kerson noted during his report out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee. That’s true whether you’re walking, riding a bus, or in a car. And that is impacting the AAATA’s ability to meet on-time standards. They’re doing the best they can, but when virtually every major artery and every major entrance and exit to town has construction, and the buses just can’t move.

Kerson was surprised to hear about the situation on Pontiac Trail, where the AAATA literally cannot run the buses down the street and has to stop and turn around and have a detour. Obviously that is going to impact people there quite a bit, he said, but added: “We are at the mercy of the construction project.”

During question time, Larry Krieg asked about the difficulty in achieving on-time performance. He asked if any of the methods the AAATA was using to do the best it could, were impacting budget. Ford replied that they were actually suffering in that area. They are adding buses, and according to AAATA manager of transportation Ron Copeland, the estimate of the additional cost is $4,000-$5,000 a week. There is not a lot of bandwidth available to the AAATA, Ford said, and so they’re trying to do the best they can – trying to communicate as best they can with customers, and to get them where they need to go, as efficiently as they possibly can. He allowed it is costing the organization money to do that.

Comm/Comm: Public Comment – Compliments

Ed Vielmetti addressed the board during the first opportunity for public comment. He introduced himself as an Ann Arbor resident. He told the board that he rides the bus from time to time. As he’d look through the board packet before coming to the meeting, he noticed some of the statistics that were gathered and reported with respect to complaints about drivers and service – as well as compliments about drivers and service. He was surprised to see that the number of compliments was just 41. When he rides the buses, people are generally friendly with the bus driver and say hello and they seem to be cheerful about the whole process – especially in the summertime. Since he had never registered a formal compliment, Vielmetti wasn’t sure what the process was for doing that. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to send an email or fill out a form at the transit center. He had no clue about how he would add one to the number of compliments. He asked the staff to figure out what needed to be added to signage or to the RideGuide to let people know how they can report on how the ride went, and to encourage people to give positive comments.

Comm/Comm: BTC Public Art

During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford noted that the planning and development committee had requested a summary of the evolution of the Blake Transit Center art project and the details on the warranty of the artist’s work. Issues of durability and the warranty had been discussed with the artist as a result of the PDC request, Ford said, and that agreement would be committed in writing. The AAATA is also documenting the award of the art project to this particular artist.

During his report out from the planning and development committee, Larry Krieg noted the committee had received an update on the artwork that was funded as a part of the new Blake Transit Center. The artist, Roberto Delgado, made a visit to Ann Arbor and had made photographs of the distinctive parts of the region so that those images can be incorporated into the artwork. The final artwork would be made of tile and would be vandal-resistant, Krieg said. Sue Gott had urged the AAATA to set aside funds for the maintenance of the art, saying that any outdoor artwork would require maintenance.

Comm/Comm: Art Fair Ridership

During his report to the board, Michael Ford noted that the Ann Arbor art fairs had taken place the previous week. Ridership for the AAATA’s art fair shuttle from Briarwood to downtown was up over 30% compared to last year, he reported. There were about 79 riders per service hour and the weather was great. He thanked everyone who was involved in the process.

Present: Eric Mahler, Eli Cooper, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale, Jack Bernard, Larry Krieg.

Absent: Susan Baskett, Sue Gott, Charles Griffith, Gillian Ream Gainsley.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [confirm date]

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One Comment

  1. August 3, 2014 at 3:26 pm | permalink

    Another $800K for additional rail “study”, bring the sole-vendor payout to almost $1 million. And they are still planning on slapping more decoration on BTC in the form of public art – -glad to see our millage money is not being wasted on things outside of their core service mission, to wit:

    It is the Mission of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority to provide accessible, reliable, safe, environmentally responsible, and cost-effective public transportation options for the benefit of the Ann Arbor Area Community.

    Hmm – I don’t see anything in there that would support public art, or expensive train studies. I see “cost-effective” though. Let’s focus on that part for a while, shall we?