Stories indexed with the term ‘transit’

Column: Pass Go, Collect Bus Pass – And More?

In my wallet I have a transit pass. By sliding this pass through the farebox card reader aboard any Ann Arbor Transportation Authority bus, I get access to a public transportation system that served our community with 6.3 million rides this past fiscal year.


This go!pass, subsidized by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, lets its holder ride AATA buses an unlimited number of times.

If I rode the AATA buses to and from work every day and paid the full $1.50 fare each way, the cash value of that card would be about $750 per year. Of course if I were actually riding the bus that frequently, I’d be somewhat better off purchasing a 30-day pass for $58 a month, which would come out to just a bit under $700 annually.

What I actually paid for that card this year was $10 – just a bit over 1% of its potential cash value.

So what sort of dark magic subsidizes my potential rides on AATA buses? And why do I have access to this magical go!pass card, when you, dear Chronicle reader, likely do not?

Along the road to answering these questions, I’d also like to make a proposal. It’s a vision for broadening the program, getting more transit passes into the hands of Ann Arbor residents, and expanding the possible uses for the go!pass – including (shudder) the ability to use a transit pass to pay for parking. [Full Story]

Milestone: Getting on the Media Bus

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

In this month’s Chronicle milestone column, I’d like to talk about options, and how some recent experiences with transit caused me to reflect on the current somewhat chaotic media landscape.

This is called an odometer.

This Ruckus scooter is only slightly older than The Chronicle, and over the last four years it has logged over 3,700 miles around Ann Arbor.

In my household, a few years ago we made a decision to get rid of our one car. So when I need to go somewhere, a car parked in my driveway is not the go-to option. Instead, I choose to walk, ride my Ruckus, take the bus, use a Zipcar, or on rare occasions, bum a ride from a friend or call a cab.

Generally, I don’t miss having a car. But so far this year, I’ve had occasion to get smacked by our decision not to use our community’s mainstream mode of transportation. At times like those, I fantasize what it would be like if car ownership weren’t the norm in most of America, including Ann Arbor. Surely the options we have would become more second nature to everyone, and there would be sufficient demand to support better service and access. Everyone would develop different expectations, and habits.

By way of analogy to media, the decision about a mainstream mode has already been made for us here in Ann Arbor. The media “car” – the one daily newspaper that most people received because there were no other options – has been pulled off the road. But for some of us, our expectations and habits haven’t fully adapted, and the alternatives can seem confusing, disjointed and unreliable.

I (still) regularly hear complaints that Ann Arbor lacks a “real” newspaper, and I react in two ways. First, I do feel nostalgia for the Ann Arbor News – I spent a good chunk of my life there, after all. I miss a daily local newspaper, too. But what I really miss is the ideal of a daily local newspaper – and that’s something I’m not sure The News, at least in its final years, actually delivered.

In its place is a collection of options for news and information, some better than others. I would expect to see even more in the coming years. The Chronicle is certainly one of those options, but will not satisfy the full range of our community’s information needs. Still, I’d argue that The Chronicle’s focus on local government provides Ann Arbor residents with far better coverage of local government than it’s enjoyed in the nearly two decades I’ve lived in Ann Arbor.

I’d like to circle back to the topic of media options later in the column.

But first, my transit tales. [Full Story]

UM, Ann Arbor Halt Fuller Road Project

According to a statement released on Feb. 10, 2012, the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor have halted plans for the proposed Fuller Road Station as it’s currently conceived – a city/UM parking structure, bus depot and possible train station located at the city’s Fuller Park near the UM medical complex.

Fuller Road Elevation Drawing

An architectural drawing of the proposed Fuller Road Station. (Image links to city of Ann Arbor webpage on the Fuller Road Station)

The press release includes a statement from mayor John Hieftje, which reads in part: “After months of fruitful discussions, we received new information from the Federal Rail Administration regarding the eligibility of monies for the local match. This information altered project timing such that we could no longer finalize a proposal under the current Memorandum of Understanding.”

On the university’s side, Jim Kosteva – director of community relations – is quoted in the press release as follows: “We are optimistic the city’s drive to win additional federal and state dollars for Fuller Road Station will be successful …When the time comes, we stand ready to reengage.” [.pdf of press release]

The press release also includes the news that the university will build the parking deck it had planned for the Fuller Road Station site at a different location: “… it is acknowledged that the University will need to move forward with building a parking structure, in a yet to be determined location, near the Medical Campus to address the expected demand as employment and patient activity continues to grow.”

The university was primarily interested in the initial phase of the project, a large parking structure with more than 1,000 spaces planned.

The city of Ann Arbor’s main interest was in the second phase of the project – a multimodal transit center that city officials hope would include a new Amtrak station, bus depot and sufficient parking for those needs. That component of the project appears to be very much still in play, contingent on identifying funding.

The Chronicle has compiled a timeline overview of Fuller Road Station with links to previous coverage. After the jump, we look at: (1) the train/bus station component of the project; (2) what led UM to initially participate in the project; (3) what happened since a memorandum of understanding between the city and the university was ratified; and (4) the timing of the decision to halt the project. [Full Story]

Olson: Road, Transit Legislation Introduced

An emailed press release from state representative Rick Olson’s office on the morning of Jan 26, 2012 announced that legislation to improve road infrastructure throughout the state, as well as enable the creation of a regional transit authority for southeast Michigan, would be introduced in the state house and senate later in the day. Olson represents District 55.

From the press release: “The bipartisan, bicameral package aims to improve and maintain roads across the state, implement numerous reforms to the Department of Transportation and establish a funding source to be used only to directly improve roads, bridges and key infrastructure. The legislation also would create a regional transit authority in Southeast Michigan.” For background see “AATA in Transition: Briefed on … [Full Story]

Transit: Ridership Data Roundup

Editor’s note: The Ann Arbor city council is currently contemplating a major decision on adopting the legal framework by which its local transit authority could transition to a countywide system of governance – or at least one that is geographically bigger than the city of Ann Arbor. The decision on ratifying a four-party agreement – between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and Washtenaw County – was postponed for the second time at the council’s Monday, Jan. 23 meetingThe council meets next on Feb. 6. 

Amtrak train and AATA Bus

Amtrak train pulling away (despite appearances) from the Ann Arbor station on Jan. 25, 2012. Later that same day, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority buses converging on downtown Ann Arbor's Blake Transit Center. (Photos by the writer.)

The Chronicle is taking the pause between council meetings as an opportunity to offer readers a look at Ann Arbor’s current bus system ridership numbers over the last several years.

Part of a 30-year transit vision developed by the AATA includes the relocation of the Amtrak station – from Depot Street to a spot in the city’s Fuller Park. The proposed city/University of Michigan collaboration on the Fuller Road Station includes a large parking structure for the UM medical complex as its first phase. So we’re also taking a look at current ridership data on the Amtrak line through Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor’s regular fixed route bus system provided 5.95 million rides for fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30, 2011. That’s slightly better than the previous year, but was slightly off the record high year of 6.02 million rides delivered in FY 2009. The first three months of the 2012 fiscal year – October, November and December 2011 – show slight increases over the monthly numbers for FY 2011.

Of those 5.95 million rides provided by AATA in FY 2011, 2.43 million of them (41%) were provided through the University of Michigan MRide program – which allows faculty, students and staff of the university to board AATA buses without paying a fare. The cost for the service is paid by UM to the AATA. It was a record-setting year for the MRide program.

Also making up a portion of those 5.95 million rides were trips taken by holders of the getDowntown go!pass program, which allows downtown Ann Arbor employers to provide free bus passes for their employees for a nominal cost – the cost of the rides is funded through a grant from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

In FY 2011, 634,000 rides were provided under the go!pass program – a 23% increase over FY 2010, adding to the trend of monotonically increasing numbers of go!pass rides over the last decade. The first three months of FY 2012 don’t show the same kind of double-digit increases for go!pass use as FY 2011 – they’re tracking roughly the same as last year.

The number of riders getting on and off the Amtrak trains that passed through Ann Arbor during the 2011 calendar year was 141,522. That figure tracked close to the same level of activity the station has seen since 2006 – from 140,000 to 145,000 riders. Through May 2011, Amtrak was on pace to eclipse the record number of riders in 2010 (145,040). But starting in July 2011, ridership was lower in every month (compared to 2010) through the end of the year.

Charts and graphs by The Chronicle – as well as more detailed breakdowns – are provided after the break. [Full Story]

Column: Chevy Volt – Private Transit Choices

Last week The Chronicle received a cold-call from Suburban Chevrolet out at Wagner and Jackson roads with an offer to test-drive a Chevy Volt.

Chevy Volt

Even if you don't know me, this photo is a dead give-away that I am not a car guy. I deliberately shot that photo from an angle that would include Suburban Chevrolet's sign in the background, And I thought I'd nailed it – because the sign said "Suburban." (Photos by the writer.)

The sales consultant was keen to point out that Suburban Chevrolet was the first area dealership to have a vehicle available for test drives. But test-driving a car is pretty remote from The Chronicle’s mission, and even more remote from my personal transportation choice.

I share a membership in Zipcar with my wife, but don’t even remember the last time I’ve sat behind the wheel of a car myself. Zipcar, a car-sharing service, is like an insurance policy – a backup plan I never use. I get around by bicycle.

Still, in the Chevy Volt, I spotted a chance to write about a major public works construction project in downtown Ann Arbor – the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure, which will feature around 640 parking spaces on a lot that previously offered 192 spots.

Twenty-two of those new spots will be equipped with electric car charging stations. Dave Konkle, former energy coordinator for the city of Ann Arbor who now consults for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on its energy projects, identified the federal grant that’s helping to pay for the stations. The grant is worth $264,100 and will also pay for photovoltaic panels that will provide the energy for two of the spots – it was obtained through the Clean Energy Coalition’s Clean Cities Program.

That public project is closely tied to the assumption that visitors to downtown Ann Arbor will continue to make a personal choice for private transportation in the form of an automobile, and that some of those people will choose electric cars like the Volt.

The idea I want to think about in this column is that public choices depend on the sum of many private, independent choices made by actual people. It’s an idea that was driven home to me at a public transportation forum hosted earlier this week by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority at SPARK East in Ypsilanti.

At that forum, Bob Van Bemmelen – recent Republican candidate for the Washtenaw County board of commissioners – had this advice for the AATA as it pitches to the public the idea of countywide public transit: You have to make it personal, he said.

So I’ll begin by telling you a little bit more about the Suburban Chevrolet sales guy who gave me a ride in the Chevy Volt – who is as much a car guy as I am a bicycle guy: Nic Allebrodt. [Full Story]

Know Your AATA Board: Roger Kerson

“I grew up in New York City, Queens, where the world was very different and mass transit was a daily part of everybody’s daily life,” says Roger Kerson. But Kerson opted for personal transit when he biked to the Sweetwaters café on West Washington to discuss with The Chronicle his recent appointment to the board of the  Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA).

Roger Kerson at the AATA board retreat on Aug. 10. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

The AATA, branded on the sides of buses as “The Ride,” aims to be the public transportation provider for Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, as well as all of Washtenaw County. Kerson is one of seven members on the AATA board.

While he may be the newest board member, Kerson does not lack for eagerness in promoting the AATA’s current initiative to develop a countywide transportation plan. “We’re engaged in a planning process,” he says, “for developing mass transportation and we encourage people to go to … We need to engage in a lot of conversation.” The Moving You Forward website seeks community feedback on every aspect of public transportation.

“Where do you live? Where do you work? Where do you shop? Where do you go to the movies? Are there ways in which you could reduce your carbon footprint by using transit, using the bike?” Kerson asks, adding that the AATA welcome views from all Ann Arborites and county residents, whether they use transit or not.

Encouraging that kind of communication is familiar ground to Kerson. He is currently a media consultant at RK Communications, his consulting firm. Kerson’s roots in Ann Arbor stretch from his time at the University of Michigan, where he graduated with distinction in 1980. “I think Woodrow Wilson was president then,” he quipped. Kerson stayed in Ann Arbor after college, soon becoming interested in journalism.

He began writing for a publication called The Alchemist, which he describes as “The Ann Arbor Chronicle in its day, before the Internet.” [Full Story]

AATA Sets Meeting on Regional Authority

man giving plaque to woman

New AATA board chair Paul Ajegba presents a plaque of appreciation to Dawn Gabay, deputy CEO, who served for two years as interim director of the authority until Michael Ford was hired as CEO this past summer. In the background at left is board member Jesse Bernstein. To the right, opening a box containing his ceremonial gavel, is outgoing board chair, David Nacht. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Oct 21, 2009): Some news of significance announced at the AATA‘s board meeting last Wednesday received relatively brief mention and discussion: There will be a special meeting of the AATA board at Weber’s Inn, on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 at 5 p.m. in the Varsity Room.

The topic of the meeting will be the possibility of reorganizing as a regional authority under Act 196. That meeting will be a precursor for the conversation about countywide service – and a countywide millage.

As far as the board’s business as reflected on Wednesday’s agenda, the item receiving by far the most discussion was one authorizing a contract for $171,704 for facility camera upgrades. Board member Rich Robben got an animated conversation rolling when he pointedly asked, “Was the bid spec written around a product line??” The board wound up authorizing the contract, with dissent from Robben and fellow board member David Nacht.

Putting a punctuation mark on the past year’s activity was the board’s new chair, Paul Ajegba, who presented the former chair, David Nacht, with a ceremonial gavel in appreciation of his service. Ajegba also presented deputy CEO Dawn Gabay with a plaque in appreciation for her service as interim director of the agency. [Full Story]

Buses for Ypsi and a Budget for AATA

WALLY poster on the wall of the AATA board room (Photo by the writer.)

WALLY poster on the wall of the AATA board room. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Sept. 23, 2009): At its Wednesday afternoon meeting, the AATA board approved a recommendation from its planning and development committee to use $220,000 in  federal stimulus funds to maintain bus service to the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. It’s a temporary measure, with the expectation that by fall 2010, a longer-term funding mechanism will be found for Ypsi buses.

The board also approved a roughly $25 million budget for its 2010 fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 20, 2010. It was about $1 million more than board member Ted Annis wanted to see – he dissented both from the planning and development committee’s budget recommendation as well as from the board’s vote to adopt it.

The longer-term solution to funding Ypsi buses, as well as Annis’ dissent on the budget, were partly reflected in the physical surroundings of the AATA board room. Sometime in the last month, two framed posters have been hung on the wall there – one shows the proposed WALLY north-south rail route that extends through northern Washtenaw County into Livingston County, and the other is a map of Washtenaw County. Both show regions broader than the current AATA millage area.

It’s a voter-approved countywide millage that offers one possibility of funding Ypsilanti buses. And Annis contended at the board’s meeting that in order to sell voters on such a millage, the agency’s operating costs needed to be reduced from the $102 per service hour that the adopted budget reflects. [Full Story]

First Public Meeting on Bus Fare Proposal

AATA's manager of community relations, Mary Stasiak, talks with a frequent passenger on route No. 2.

AATA's manager of community relations, Mary Stasiak, talks with a frequent passenger on route No. 2.

On Tuesday afternoon, representatives of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority were on hand at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library to meet with members of the public to talk about a proposed fare increase. The AATA board will likely consider the proposal at its March 18 meeting. If passed by the AATA board, the first phase of the two-phase plan would take effect in May 2009, raising the basic fare from $1 to $1.25.  In May 2010, it would climb another 25 cents to $1.50 [details on the proposed fare increases].

The lower level multipurpose room at the library can accommodate more than a hundred people, but in the course of the two-hour meeting, only around ten members of the public stopped by – some arriving well after the meeting started, and some leaving somewhere in the middle. In that regard, the meeting was like a public bus: it left the station at its scheduled time with some passengers, took additional riders on board along the way, and let some of them off before the route was finished. But one could ask the same question about the meeting that is frequently asked about the bus system: Why does the AATA run some buses that appear to be mostly empty? [Full Story]

MM Does The Link

Farewell, 408 -- The Link diesels on down Church Street.

Farewell, 408 – The Link diesels on down Church Street.

I’ll admit – I’m not a regular rider of those purple buses that circle downtown Ann Arbor. In fact, this summer when I thought, “Hey – I’ll ride The Link!” I was revealed to be an idiot, unaware that the fleet went on haitus as soon as UM students dispersed. (Even though AATA posted signs to that effect at each stop. When you aren’t looking, you don’t see.)

Now, like the students, The Link is back. So when I set off for a chat with Ken Nisbet of UM’s Office of Technology Transfer, which sits above the Starbucks on South University, I decided to grab a free ride. [Full Story]

Meeting Watch: DDA in Detail (3 Sept 2008)

“On the low end, mid 60s, to low 70s on the high end,” said Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library, in her remarks to the DDA board. And she wasn’t talking about the weather forecast. Or an age bracket of heavy library users. She was talking about dollar amounts. Millions of dollars. But before diving into money talk, it’s worth noting that some things are free.

For example, one detail not often reported about the noontime meetings of the Downtown Development Authority board is that lunch is provided – to anyone who shows up and would like to partake. Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, explained that they started providing … [Full Story]