Stories indexed with the term ‘paratransit’

Column: More Taxes for Transit? Yes, Please

On Tuesday, May 6, voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township will cast ballots on a 0.7 mill tax that could be levied by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

(AAATA is not the name of an actual prescription drug.)

(AAATA is not the name of an actual prescription drug.)

The transit taxes currently collected in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are levied by the cities, and passed through to the AAATA.

This would be the first tax ever levied by the AAATA itself. The additional revenue is supposed to pay for a range of service improvements, including extended hours of operation on weekdays, additional service on weekends, and greater frequency of operation.

My guess is most people by now have made up their minds about the May 6 ballot referendum.

My purpose here is not to review the arguments pro and con and to weigh that balance in some sort of calculus that points to an unavoidable conclusion that the only possible rational vote is yes.

If you’re on the fence, though, this column is meant to give you a reason to vote yes. Any number of reasons might be given to vote yes, and surely there are also credible reasons for voting no.

But I am going to vote yes. And I’m going to tell you one of many reasons why.

If you don’t have the patience to wade through a bunch of words to find out that reason, here’s a one-sentence summary: I have noticed that my once-reliable body is getting old and creaky. [Full Story]

AAATA OKs Capital Program, Paratransit Deal

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (Dec. 19, 2013): The last meeting of the year was attended by just five of the nine board members who are appointed and serving – and one needed to depart early. So to maintain a quorum, the meeting went by brisker than most. Even with a staff presentation on the capital and categorical grant program, the meeting concluded after about 45 minutes.

From left: Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority's newest board member, pending confirmation by the Ypsilanti Township board of trustees, and Eric Mahler, AAATA board member.

From left: Larry Krieg, Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s newest board member, pending confirmation by the Ypsilanti Township board of trustees, and Eric Mahler, AAATA board member. (Photos by the writer.)

That capital and categorical grant program got a unanimous vote of approval at the Dec. 19 meeting. It’s a plan for spending about $45 million in federal funds over the next five years. According to the AAATA, this year’s plan does not include additional capital needs that would be associated with a five-year service improvement plan in the urban core, or any funding associated with rail initiatives. Having in place such a capital and categorical grant program – a set of allocations for specific categories of capital expenditures – is a requirement to be eligible for federal funding. [.pdf of 2014-2018 grant program]

The five-year service improvement plan could be implemented by the AAATA with funding that will likely be sought through an additional millage sometime in 2014. That would require approval of a majority of voters in the three jurisdictions making up the AAATA – the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. The township became a member as a result of an Ann Arbor city council vote taken on Nov. 18, 2013.

The expected appointee to the AAATA board from Ypsilanti Township, Larry Krieg, attended the Dec. 19 meeting and sat at the table, although his appointment has not yet been confirmed by the township board of trustees. His confirmation did not appear on the township board’s Dec. 9, 2013 agenda. The next township board meeting is set for Jan. 21, 2014, which comes the week after the AAATA’s next regular meeting, on Jan. 16.

So Krieg did not participate in any of the votes taken on Dec. 19.

A significant vote taken by the board was to approve a nine-month extension of a contract with SelectRide through April 30, 2015, to provide paratransit service. The value of the contract for the extension period is $2.263 million. That’s essentially a pro-rated amount of SelectRide’s current contract, which ran through July 31, 2014.

The AAATA is currently preparing a request for proposals (RFP) with an eye to overhaul the concept of its paratransit service – which comes in the context of the possible five-year service improvement plan. Without a contract extension, that RFP would need to be ready for issuance in time to complete selection of a vendor by the time SelectRide’s current contract expires in July 2014. To avoid the possibility of an interruption in service, the AAATA board approved the SelectRide contract extension.

Other business items handled by the board included contracts for snow removal and janitorial services. [Full Story]

AAATA Extends SelectRide Paratransit Contract

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority contract for paratransit services with SelectRide has been extended nine months, through April 30, 2015. The value of the contract for the extension period is $2,263,000. That’s essentially a pro-rated amount of SelectRide’s current contract, which ran through July 31, 2014. AAATA board action came at its Dec. 19, 2013 meeting.

Just six months ago, the board had authorized the final year of a three-year contract with SelectRide – at its July 23, 2013 meeting. Board deliberations at that meeting indicated that negotiations on that $3,016,871 contract with SelectRide had been difficult, and had been completed under time pressure with no feasible alternative to SelectRide.

The contract extension comes in the context of the need to issue … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Transit Board Weighs Funding

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority special board meeting (July 23, 2013): No regular board meeting was scheduled for July, but the AAATA board called a special meeting toward the end of the month, to handle some unfinished business. That included: (1) authorization of a contract extension with Select Ride to provide required paratransit service under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and (2) authorization of a contract to move a fire hydrant at the AAATA’s headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway.

Fire hydrant at the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway, which to be moved as a result of a garage expansion project.

Fire hydrant at the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway, which needs to be moved as a result of a garage expansion project. (Photos by the writer.)

The possibility of the special meeting was indicated at the AAATA’s June 20, 2013 board meeting, when CEO Michael Ford mentioned that a special session might be called to handle some routine matters – as well as issues related to the addition of the city of Ypsilanti as a member of the AAATA.

Those related issues could have included a vote to place a question on the November 2013 ballot, asking voters in the cities of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor to approve a transit millage to be levied by the AAATA. However, at the July 23 special meeting, Ford pointed toward a May election as more likely: “Obviously we’re going to be looking for a millage at some point in the near future. November was one opportunity, but I don’t think that’s probably going to happen,” Ford told the board. “I think we’re probably looking at May, to be realistic. We’re gearing up for some potential there.”

The two cities currently levy millages that are dedicated to transit, which are then passed through to the AAATA. The ability for the renamed AAATA to levy such a millage with voter approval was a power also enjoyed by the AATA, but was never exercised. The request for additional funding – through a levy by the AAATA – is based on an AAATA plan to increase and expand service in the two cities and through establishing longer-term purchase-of-service agreements with some adjoining townships.

The authorization of a $109,000 contract with Blaze Contracting to relocate the fire hydrant was the second time the board has authorized such a contract. Last year, the board approved a deal with RBV Contracting for the work. However, the contract was not awarded, because the necessary agreements with the University of Michigan, which owns adjoining land involved in the hydrant relocation, were not in place.

The board’s action to approve the Select Ride contract – which is valued at $3,016,871 for the coming year – came under time pressure to ensure that the AAATA could continue its paratransit service. The provision of complementary paratransit service for people with disabilities – as an alternative to the fixed-route service – is a requirement of the Federal Transit Administration under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the negotiated terms, the third year of Select Ride’s contract includes a one-time “stabilization payment” to Select Ride of $100,000 to be paid by July 31, 2013. The contract also includes a 5% ($150,000) increase for this final year of the contract. The staff memo in the board’s information packet attributed the increases to the rising consumer price index (CPI) and to fuel costs.

The state’s local bus operating (LBO) assistance – money from Act 51 that’s allocated to transportation agencies statewide using a complex formula – was a topic that arose during the July 23 special meeting in two ways. As a result of state legislative action, the AAATA now expects $800,000 of previous decreased funding from the state’s LBO to be restored. When the Michigan Dept. of Transportation applied the distribution formula last year, it resulted in about $800,000 less funding to the AAATA – and that had an impact on the AAATA’s FY 2013 budget. The agency is currently operating on slightly less than the 3-month cash reserve required under board policy. At the July 23 meeting, it was reported that a bank transfer of $500,000 had taken place, with the remaining amount expected later.

The LBO is also a source of funding that the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA) would like to use to cover administrative expenses. The RTA was created in late 2012 through a lame-duck legislative action. The RTA is supposed to coordinate transit in a four-county region (Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland) that includes the city of Detroit. AAATA board members expressed some disappointment during their July 23 meeting that Gov. Rick Snyder and the state legislature had created the RTA without providing for adequate initial funding. The RTA could eventual obtain voter-approved funding through a millage or a vehicle registration fee.

AAATA board members objected to the fact that LBO money was being used for the administrative overhead of the newly created RTA, instead of being used to provide transportation “on the street” by the transit agencies in the four-county region. Those include DDOT (Detroit Dept. of Transportation) and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART). The negative impact on the AAATA for the next year of funding for the RTA – using the state’s LBO assistance – is estimated at about $68,000. [Full Story]

Select Ride Contract OK’d by AAATA

The terms of the third and final year of Select Ride‘s contract to provide complementary paratransit service for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has been given approval by the AAATA board. The board’s action to approve the contract – which is valued at $3,016,871 for the coming year – came at a special meeting held on July 23, 2013. Select Ride is a private taxicab company.

The negotiations for terms of an extension to a third year of Select Ride’s contract also included a one-time “stabilization payment” to Select Ride of $100,000 to be paid by July 31, 2013. The contract also includes a 5% ($150,000) increase for this final year of the contract. The staff memo in the board’s information … [Full Story]

AATA OKs AirRide; Survey Results Positive

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Feb. 16, 2012): The board’s monthly meeting began with a presentation from Hugh Clark of CJI Research Corp., which conducted a survey of Washtenaw County voters in late 2011 to measure their attitudes toward paying an additional 1 mill tax for countywide transit.

Transit Tax Graph

Survey results on the question of supporting a 1 mill tax for transit. (Image links to .pdf with higher resolution image.)

The results were generally consistent with those of a survey conducted two years ago by the same company. Asked toward the start of the interview if they would support a 1 mill tax for countywide transit, 54% of respondents said they definitely or probably would. Asked the same question toward the end of the interview, after receiving additional information, that figure nudged upward to 59%. That compares with “before” and “after” percentages of 51% and 58% two years ago. The geographic differences fell along predictable lines, with support strongest in Ann Arbor and weaker in the outlying townships.

Clark told the board that the four take-aways from the survey results are: (1) the AATA is highly regarded; (2) the public remains supportive of transit, even at a rate of a 1 mill tax; (3) the most compelling reason people give for supporting a tax for countywide service is to provide door-to-door service for seniors and people with disabilities; and (4) the most compelling reason people give for not supporting a tax for countywide service is a concern about taxes – not the efficiency of the AATA in its use of tax money. The board also heard caution during public commentary about the interpretation of survey results – they hadn’t yet seen the impact of negative advertising on any ballot proposal.

The survey comes in the context of an effort to establish an expanded countywide governance structure for the AATA, which might include asking voters to approve additional transit funding.

In its main business of the meeting, the board passed two resolutions that establish service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport. It’s expected to begin in April. One resolution set the fares for the service – basic one-way fare is $15 – while the other approved the contract with Indian Trails (Michigan Flyer) to provide the service based on a per-service-mile dollar cost. The service will be branded as “AirRide.” At the board table, David Nacht recalled how he’s wished for the moment when the AATA could offer such a service between Ann Arbor and the airport since the time he’d been appointed to the board – nine years ago.

The airport service is part of the AATA’s effort to expand services, as well as its governance and funding base, to a geographic area beyond the city of Ann Arbor. Of the $1 million the AATA has budgeted to spend from its reserves for the fiscal year 2012 budget, around $300,000 will go to support the airport service – though board members discussed the possibility that up to half of that could be recouped after-the-fact from federal or state grants.

In the context of the AATA’s effort to expand to countywide governance, the board passed a resolution at its Feb. 16 meeting expressing a basic policy position that a possible new regional transit authority – encompassing Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties – should not be allowed to have a negative impact on the AATA’s own provision of local transit services. The new RTA is described in a set of bills currently being considered by the Michigan state legislature. The boards’ resolution also explicitly states that any new RTA needs to have a funding strategy that is above and beyond current levels of funding for transportation.

Two days earlier, according to a report from the Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS), Washtenaw County commissioner Conan Smith testified before the senate’s transportation committee that he’d be open to giving up one of Washtenaw County’s two seats on a 10-member RTA board, in order to get the legislation passed.

In other business at the meeting, the AATA board also approved a $95,500 increase to the budget for its consultant on the countywide expansion effort. And the board authorized its annual application to the state for operating assistance – including a budget for expanded services.

Also discussed at the board meeting, though no formal vote was taken, was the AATA’s policy on the number of bags that passengers are allowed to carry on when using the A-Ride – the AATA’s paratransit service. Previously there was a two-bag limit. The policy has been revised so that the limit is not expressed in terms of a number, but rather in a way essentially stipulating that a passenger’s bags should not impinge on other passengers’ space – it’s a shared ride service. The change in policy was prompted by public commentary delivered at AATA’s November 2011 board meeting from a visually-impaired passenger who’d been denied a ride by the AATA’s contractor for the service, because he’d had too many grocery bags. [Full Story]

“Smart Growth” to Fuel Countywide Transit

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (March 17, 2011): At its regular monthly meeting, the AATA board voted unanimously to adopt a “Smart Growth” scenario as the basis for a countywide transit master plan (TMP). The transit authority has been developing the TMP over the course of a planning and public engagement process that began in the summer of 2010.

Jesse Bernstein

AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein's green button was not selected in honor of St. Patrick's Day. It reads: I <3 Transit, (Photo by the writer.)

The final phase of that process included 20 public meetings in February, where three different scenarios were presented: Lifeline Plus, Accessible County, and Smart Growth. The three scenarios were nested subsets, starting with Lifeline Plus as a base, which would simply have expanded on existing services and focused on expanding services for seniors and disabled people throughout the county. Accessible County would have added fixed-route bus service to connect all the county’s urban centers. Smart Growth included all the features of Accessible County, as well as high-capacity transit along local corridors, plus regional commuter rail.

At Thursday’s meeting, board chair Jesse Bernstein characterized the TMP as a reflection of where the community wants to be 30 years from now. The entity that would be implementing the TMP, he stressed, would likely be organized under a different legal framework than the current AATA, which is an Act 55 transit authority, with a tax levied just in the city of Ann Arbor. The AATA board has actively discussed for at least the last two and a half years the idea of transforming the transit authority to a countywide funding source, possibly using Act 196.

The meeting included three other pieces of business: (1) approval of a contract for the AATA’s paratransit services; (2) acceptance of an auditor’s report on the AATA’s books from the previous fiscal year; and (3) approval of a contract for media services.

Also discussed, but not acted on, was a memorandum of understanding with the city of Ann Arbor for construction of a bus pull‐out on eastbound Washtenaw Avenue east of Pittsfield Boulevard. The bus pull-out is part of a larger project – a transfer center on the south side of Washtenaw Avenue at Pittsfield Boulevard, opposite Arborland mall – which will include a “super shelter.” The project is being funded with federal stimulus money granted to the AATA. The board was in favor of the agreement with the city, but was reluctant to vote on the memorandum absent a copy of the text of the memorandum itself. [Full Story]

AATA Approves Paratransit Contract

At its March 17, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board voted unanimously to award its contract for A-Ride and paratransit services to Select Ride Inc. Select Ride is the current provider of these services. The contract value is $2,793,481. The contract term is for one year from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012, with two one‐year additional renewal options.

A-Ride is a transportation service for people who are prevented from using AATA fixed-route bus service due to a disability. It’s provided with taxis, small buses or lift-vans.

The new contract differs from the old one by reducing the advance reservation booking window from two weeks to one week. The amount of time drivers are expected to wait (vehicle dwell time) was increased from two minutes to five minutes. Pricing of trips changed from an hourly rate to a flat per‐trip rate.

AATA has experienced reduced use of its A-Ride and paratransit services since implementing fare increases for that service in May 2009 (from $2 to $2.50) and May 2010 (from $2.50 to $3). AATA also attributes part of the decrease in use to the fact that the fare increases for A-Ride were coupled with elimination of fares to A‐Ride‐eligible passengers who chose to use the fixed‐route regular bus service.

This brief was filed from the Ann Arbor District Library boardroom, where the AATA board holds its monthly meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]