Stories indexed with the term ‘Transportation Master Plan’

AATA Preps Stage for Future Transit Choice

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Dec. 15, 2011): At its last meeting of the year, the AATA board bid farewell to boardmember Sue McCormick, voted to give its CEO Michael Ford a 3% raise, and paused a proposed $247,000 contract with a pair of consultants, who’ve been selected to conduct an internal organizational review of the AATA.

Sue McCormick AATA board member

Outgoing AATA board member Sue McCormick receives the traditional token of appreciation from the AATA – a mailbox marked up to resemble an AATA bus. (Photos by the writer.)

Background for the meeting included a proposed four-party agreement between the AATA, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County that would set a stage to allow voters countywide to transition AATA into a countywide-funded transit authority. On Dec. 7, 2011, Ford presented the four-party agreement to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. The Ann Arbor city council also received a presentation on the proposed four-way agreement at a Dec. 12, 2011 working session.

The four-way agreement is in large part an if-then statement: If an adequate funding source can be identified for a countywide authority (likely through a voter-approved tax) then the assets of the AATA would be transfered to the new authority, along with the existing transit tax the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti currently levy. The county would file the articles of incorporation, but would not incur any liability.

Also in December, a subcommittee of the advisory group that is reviewing financial aspects of the countywide transit master plan (TMP) met to continue its work analyzing the proposed elements of expanded service. The intended early January finish date for the group’s white paper to be delivered to the AATA has slipped somewhat, because of legislation that may start moving through Michigan’s House of Representatives in January 2012.

Current AATA initiatives mentioned at the Dec. 15 board meeting include ongoing contract negotiations with Michigan Flyer to provide public transit service from Ann Arbor to Detroit Metro airport, the reconstruction of the downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center, and the development of a new website.

Other highlights from the board’s meeting included a discussion of the two-grocery-bag limit for AATA’s para-transit service, and public commentary on a pending lawsuit against the AATA over its decision to reject an advertisement for the sides of its buses that calls for a boycott of Israel. [Full Story]

AATA Taps Berriz, Guenzel to Review Plan

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Aug. 24, 2011): At a meeting held at a revised time and day to accomodate board members’ summer schedules, the AATA board approved a series of resolutions, two of which related in some direct way to the possible future of transit in the Ann Arbor area.

Roger Kerson

AATA board member Roger Kerson at the board's Aug. 24, 2011 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At the board meeting, CEO Michael Ford announced that McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and Bob Guenzel, retired Washtenaw County administrator, will be co-chairing a panel of financial and funding experts who will review various funding options for a possible expanded, countywide transportation system.

The board voted to release a funding report to the panel – the third volume of its transit master plan (TMP). [.pdf of Part 1 of Vol. 3 Transit Master Plan Funding Options] [.pdf of Part 2 of Vol. 3 Transit Master Plan Funding Options]. The first two volumes were released previously.

The report describes a range of funding options, which would likely be used in some combination of strategies: fare revenues, advertising, property taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, parking taxes, stakeholder contributions, fuel taxes and vehicle license fees.

In anticipation that the panel could recommend funding options that would require voter approval, the board also approved the selection of CJI Research Corp. as the vendor for survey work over the next three years. That survey work can include on-board surveys of bus riders as well as telephone surveys of Washtenaw County voters.

At the Aug. 24 meeting, the board also approved implementation of a new website, which will provide greater flexibility for AATA staff who aren’t computer programmers to push information to the public. The new site is also intended to make it easier for the public to track the real-time locations of their bus.

The board also changed its pricing policy for the go!pass, a bus pass offered to downtown Ann Arbor employees that allows them to board AATA buses on an unlimited basis without paying a fare. The cost of the fares has historically been paid by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority using public parking system revenues, plus a nominal fee per card paid by downtown employers. The revised policy breaks with AATA’s past practice of charging costs for go!pass rides based on its cheapest full-fare alternative. Those costs per ride will now be lower, based on the DDA’s ability to pay and the AATA’s estimate of what employers would be willing to pay.

In other business, the board approved a revision to its contract with the Select Ride company, which provides AATA’s on-demand paratransit service (A-Ride) for those who are not able to ride the fixed-route regularly-scheduled bus system. The upward adjustment was driven by a recent increase in maximum taxicab fares implemented by the city of Ann Arbor.

The board also approved a master agreement that will apply to all of its contracts with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, and adjusted its capital plan to accommodate changes in three projects: the Blake Transit Center, the bus storage facility, and the bus maintenance facility. [Full Story]

New UM Entrepreneurship Grad Degree OK’d

A new University of Michigan joint master’s degree in entrepreneurship – a partnership of the college of engineering and Ross business school – was approved by the UM board of regents at their July 21, 2011 meeting. The degree program has been in development for more than two years. According to a staff report on the proposal, the “primary objective of this program is to arm students with the critical multidisciplinary knowledge necessary to create new technology-focused ventures, either as stand-alone entities or within established innovative organizations. Students will learn to create and capture value from novel technologies within the context of entrepreneurship.” [.pdf of full report]

The program was developed in partnership with UM’s office of technology transfer.

This brief was filed from the regents meeting in the boardroom of the Fleming administration building on UM’s Ann Arbor campus. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

AATA Board: Additional Allocation for Planning

At a special session held in a meeting room at Weber’s Inn on June 3, 2011, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board heard extensive staff presentations on its budget and the future of the organization as it relates to a possible expansion of its service countywide. The board passed one resolution at its meeting, which decreased the budget for administrative salaries and benefits by a total of $200,000 and made a corresponding increase in line items supporting the effort of transportation master planning – for agency design fees, consulting fees, printing and production and media.

The board tabled a resolution that would have appointed three current AATA board members to an unincorporated board, which is expected to serve as an interim entity that could lead to the incorporation of a formal Act 196 organization. The rationale for appointing only three board members to the unincorporated board – called the U196, with the U standing for “unincorporated” – was based on the idea that appointing four members would constitute a quorum of the current AATA board any time the U196 met. The board decided to table the resolution until greater clarity could be achieved about what the role of the interim U196 would be in developing the eventual governance of a countywide transit authority.

Board chair Jesse Bernstein wrapped up the topic of a future governing body by saying he saw the issue of governance as very much still an open conversation.

This brief was filed shortly after the AATA board’s retreat, held at Weber’s Inn. A more complete report of the meeting will follow: [link] [Full Story]

AATA Disseminates Draft Transit Plan

At its April 21, 2011 meeting, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority approved a resolution to disseminate the draft of a countywide transportation master plan, which it has been developing over the last year. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "'Smart Growth' to Fuel Countywide Transit"]

At least five public meetings will be held in May to introduce the plan to the community. From the resolution, the AATA staff are directed “to schedule and publicize at least five public meetings during the review period at locations throughout the County, and to undertake additional discussions with citizens, officials and organizations as those opportunities arise and to take comments on the draft Plan documents.”

All  meetings are scheduled for 6-8 p.m: May 9 at the Chelsea Library, 221 S. Main St., Chelsea; May 10 at SPARK East, 215 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; May 11 at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor; May 16 at the Dexter Library, 3255 Alpine, Dexter; May 27 17 at Saline City Hall, 100 N. Harris St, Saline.

After a 60-day review period, the document will come back before the AATA board, at its June meeting, for final approval.

The draft plan is split into two parts – one outlining a vision and the other outlining how that vision is to be implemented.

[.pdf of draft "Volume 1: A Transit Vision for Washtenaw County"] [.pdf of draft "Volume 2: Transit Master Plan Implementation Strategy"]

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

Concerns Aired over Transit Governance

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (April 7, 2011): At their working session, county commissioners heard – most of them for the first time – a proposal on structuring the board for a possible new countywide transit authority. It was not universally well-received.

Michael Benham, Wes Prater

Washtenaw County commissioner Wes Prater, right, talks with Michael Benham of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority following the April 7, 2011 working session of the county board. During the meeting, Prater raised concerns over the proposal for governance of a countywide transit system. (Photos by the writer.)

The tentative proposal includes allocating Ann Arbor seven seats on a 15-member board. While most of the other seats are based on population, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti would be given special consideration because both cities have millages dedicated to pay for public transit. [Ypsilanti – with a population of 19,435 compared to Ann Arbor's 113,934 – would be allocated one seat.] The assumption of the proposal is that those millages would remain in place, on top of another transportation millage levied on all county taxpayers. A countywide millage would require voter approval.

Commissioner Kristin Judge, whose district covers Pittsfield Township, protested the way board seats were assigned, saying it gave an unfair advantage to Ann Arbor. Commissioner Wes Prater, who represents southeast portions of the county, said he was “flabbergasted” that the governance plan had been developed so fully without consulting the county board, which under the current proposal would be asked to ratify the new transit authority’s board members. However, some individual commissioners were previously aware of the proposal, including board chair Conan Smith and Yousef Rabhi, chair of the board’s working session. Both Smith and Rabhi represent Ann Arbor districts.

Ronnie Peterson – a commissioner representing Ypsilanti and parts of Ypsilanti Township – expressed strong support for a countywide system, saying details of the proposal could be worked out. It’s important to have a board that allows for all parts of the county to take part in policy-making decisions, he said, noting that’s not the case with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board. Both Judge and Prater said they supported public transit, but were concerned about how the system might be structured.

The proposal for governance has been developed separately from a 30-year transit master plan, which the AATA has been working on for more than a year – a process that has included dozens of public meetings to solicit feedback. If the current proposal stands, a countywide transit authority would be formed to operate a system that could expand bus service throughout the county, as well as bring commuter rail to the area. Capital costs for the system are an estimated $465 million over the 30-year period, with roughly $100 million in annual operating expenses. AATA would be dissolved, and its staff and assets would be transferred to the new entity.

Thursday’s working session was attended by six of the 11 commissioners. Three of the four commissioners representing Ann Arbor – Barbara Bergman, Leah Gunn and Conan Smith – were not present. [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: Transit Study, Planning Updates

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Jan. 20, 2011): The AATA’s first monthly board meeting of the year featured a presentation on a connector feasibility study on the Plymouth and State street corridors. The study is now nearing completion.

Jesse Bernstein

AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein points to a pie chart projected on the screen as part of the presentation the board heard about the Plymouth-State street corridor connector study. (Photo by the writer.)

In their one main business item, the board approved the capital and categorical grants program for 2011-15. The program will form the basis for upcoming state and federal grant applications.

Board member David Nacht prefaced the discussion of the connector feasibility study by encouraging his colleagues to share their thoughts on it – because the board had argued a long time about whether to help fund the $640,000 study, along with the other partners: the city of Ann Arbor; the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority; and the University of Michigan.

In the course of their discussion, the board touched on another major planning initiative: the countywide transportation master planning process.

Beginning Jan. 31, the AATA is launching the final round of public engagement meetings to develop a countywide plan for transit. Currently the AATA is funded by an Ann Arbor transit millage, plus purchase of service (POS) agreements with other municipalities. Voters in the city of Ypsilanti passed a millage in November 2010 that will cover most of the cost of Ypsilanti’s POS, for example.

Twenty additional meetings on the countywide planning effort are scheduled at locations throughout the county, to get feedback on three transit scenarios developed so far. Transit options in the three scenarios – which the AATA has labeled Lifeline Plus, Accessible County, and Smart Growth – are nested subsets, starting with Lifeline Plus as a base, which expands on existing services and focuses on services for seniors and disabled people.

According to representatives of the AATA and its consultant on the project, Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), the goal of the last phrase of public interactions is not for people to appear at the meetings and simply vote for their preferred option. They’re interested in hearing what options from the various scenarios might be combined to build a “preferred scenario.” [Full Story]

AATA Extends Countywide Planning Time

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Nov. 18, 2010): Starting things off on Thursday – an hour earlier than the board’s usual 6:30 p.m. start time – was an update from the consultant and AATA staff who are leading the community in developing a countywide transportation master plan (TMP).


Board members Jesse Bernstein and Sue McCormick confer before the start of the Nov. 18 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The steps outlined for developing the TMP include a chronology for identifying the following: a shared community vision; a transit needs assessment; transit options; a set of scenarios. The consulting team is in the midst of a phase that identifies a range of various options. The creation of various scenarios – combinations of different transit options – will constitute the final phase of work before production of the TMP in mid-April 2011.

That projected completion date reflects an extension of the original timeframe, which was originally set to conclude in late February. The extra time will allow for an additional step in the process – a step that will allow the consultant to present a set of scenarios without specifying any one of them as the recommended scenario.

To allow for the extra time, later in the evening the board approved a resolution increasing the $399,805 contract with Steer Davies Gleeve – the consultant AATA hired to help with the work – by an amount not to exceed $32,500.

In other business, the board discussed, but did not approve, a new janitorial contract for Blake Transit Center, which specified a different vendor from the current one. The new vendor’s bid came in at a cost a bit more than half of what had been budgeted for the year: $72,000 compared to the budgeted $126,069. Concerns by board members about how the cost savings were being achieved were serious enough that they chose, on a split vote, to table the issue.

In a move that did not authorize any current expenditure, the board adopted a compensation philosophy over which there was some brief but firm debate. Board member David Nacht weighed in against the idea of a public entity creating such a document – they’re only used to justify increases in payment but never decreases, he said. Expressing the view of the majority, however, was board member Sue McCormick, who stressed the importance of a public entity making a clear and transparent statement of how salaries are set.

The board entertained its usual range of committee reports and remarks from the public. [Full Story]

AATA Continues Push for Master Plan Input

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Oct. 21, 2010): The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has several major projects in the works, including remodeling the downtown transportation terminal – the Blake Transit Center – and developing a countywide master plan that calls for a series of community forums.

One of those community forums was held on Thursday, an hour prior to the AATA’s monthly board meeting. But no one from the public showed up to that particular event – several other meetings are scheduled. The board meeting that followed was over within an hour. In addition to the master plan, the board discussed the most recent quarter’s on-time trip performance, which board member David Nacht described as “abysmal.” [Full Story]

AATA Moves Engagement Process into Gear

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (June 23, 2010): The board’s regular monthly meeting in June was the last one to take place at the AATA headquarters, located on South Industrial Highway. In the future, regular meetings will take place at the Ann Arbor District Library – on Thursdays instead of Wednesdays.


At right: Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, shows the board a map depicting locations of meetings he's had and meetings that are scheduled in connection with development of the transportation master plan. (Photos by the writer.)

The AATA will be taking advantage of the videotaping facilities at the library. Moving the meeting location is part of an effort to make the board and the organization more accessible as the AATA begins engaging the community about developing a transportation master plan (TMP).

A presentation on the countywide TMP from the AATA’s consultant and its own staff who are working on the project was a highlight of the board meeting. Board members focused on the need to have a vision of what the community would like in 30 years, and to start taking the short-term steps to get there, instead of dismissing a 30-year vision as impossible because there is no funding available now. The completed TMP document is expected by early 2011.

One of those short-term steps – which won’t necessarily wait for the development of the completed TMP document – could be improved service between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. During a media roundtable held before the board meeting, Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, indicated that Ypsilanti will be part of the focus of a board retreat, which will take place on July 19 at Weber’s Inn. [July 6 update: The retreat has been canceled, possibly to be rescheduled in early August.]

Mary Stasiak, AATA’s manager of community relations, said at the roundtable the AATA supported the millage proposal that will be put before Ypsilanti voters in the fall. [The proposal will also appear on the primary ballot, but the state attorney general has ruled that a millage proposal must be authorized at a general election.]

The board marked a transition to its new composition by honoring Ted Annis and Paul Ajegba, who were recently replaced on the AATA board by Roger Kerson and Anya Dale. The board also elected new officers to replace Ajegba and Annis as chair and treasurer of the board, respectively. Sue McCormick was elected treasurer. The board will be led by its new chair, Jesse Bernstein. [Full Story]