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Posted on Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 6 a.m.

AATA approves plan to create long-term strategy for mass transit

By Art Aisner

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority took a big step Wednesday night toward becoming the engine that drives the future of public transit in Washtenaw County.

And officials learned the organization will have to work harder to reach its goal with more public tax dollars.

The AATA Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution advancing a plan to shape the future of public transportation countywide by the end of this year. 

The measure is the AATA’s first attempt to create a comprehensive, long-term strategy for mass transit that incorporates several plans proposed by various agencies that now provide transit infrastructure within the county.


Bob Dykes (left) of Triad Research explains survey results to members of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority Board of Directors Wednesday. Dykes and Hugh Clark (right) of CJI Research designed a recent poll of 1,100 county residents about the likelihood of supporting a public transportation millage.

Art Aisner | For

The resolution came after a 40-minute presentation by consultants who concluded from a recent phone survey that despite broad support from AATA riders and non-riders alike, there is not strong enough community support to pass a 1-mill county transportation levy.

The survey, which polled 1,100 registered voters countywide between Oct. 5 and Oct. 15, found that nearly 72 percent of respondents believe public transit services are either extremely or very important in Washtenaw County, while 26 percent do not.

“This is a really critical number because we’ve done surveys around the country and you don’t find this,” said Hugh Clark, a representative from the Ohio-based CJI Research, which conducted the study. “The voting public here has an affinity for providing public transit service.”

But when initially asked about a future transportation millage, barely 51 percent of voters said they would probably or definitely support it, while 41 percent said they’d reject it. Officials estimated the owner of a $200,000 home would pay about $8 more a month in taxes if such a millage passed.

After hearing that figure and other arguments for and against a millage, support swelled to 58 percent, while opposition fell to 37 percent.

The strongest reasons for opposing a millage were inability to pay more taxes (51 percent) and overall economic uncertainty (47 percent), Clark said.

The survey was designed in conjunction with Triad Research, another Ohio-based firm that studies transit issues nationally, and has a margin of error of 3 percent.

Triad spokesman Bob Dykes said the survey showed many residents have positive attitudes toward the AATA, but not enough people know the scope of work it does.

Emphasizing the services provided to seniors and those in the community with disabilities should be key components of any public campaign, he said.

“Currently, if the board felt really adventurous, it would not have enough of a base of support to pass a budget issue,” Dykes said. “You’ll need to go beyond service enhancements to make the case. It’s not just what you’ll do, but why what you’re looking to do is important.”

The survey also showed:

  • 83 percent gave the AATA a positive job rating, compared to just 1 percent who said it was doing poorly.
  • Barely 40 percent of respondents said a household member rode the buses in the past year.
  • 16 percent of respondents were consistently negative about the AATA.

AATA Board Member Jesse Bernstein said the data reinforced the importance of educating the public and stakeholders through the initial phase of their future plan.

The initiative has three phases - operating under what he coined a “ready, aim, fire!” approach - that will provide a blueprint for the next 25 to 30 years.

Over the next six months, the organization will be meeting with and educating government officials and community groups about the AATA’s service delivery. Staff will also be tasked with gathering information about transit system options and how the options would each impact the community.

By summer, a preliminary service plan is expected to be drafted for feedback from stakeholders - including governments, universities and large employers.

But the paramount issues of governance and funding still must be determined.

Bernstein said by this time next year, a formal governing body and structure should be in place. He envisioned those decision-makers developing multiple three- to five-year strategic plans, all leading to the ultimate goal of being the lead provider of transit services countywide.

“We have to take a long-term vision so that we can say to the government entities, ‘What are your plans? What are you thinking? Where are you now and where do want to be? And what can we implement as a transit service?'” he said.

• Read the executive summary of the survey results (pdf file)

Art Aisner is a freelance writer for Reach the news desk at or 734-623-2530.



Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 1:39 p.m.

I live in Ypsi I've never used the bus, a county wide milliage won't pass.So from all the non AA people who use the bus to the AA tax payers, thanks


Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 12:17 p.m.

The creation of a county bus system will be a great thing for sprawlers, making it more convenient to live in the country, served by the city's bus lines and shielded from city taxes. It will also be great for the AATA bureacracy which will grow by leaps and bounds. AATA will proclaim that since the whole county pays the bus tax the whole county is entitled to service. It will be superb for those who build and sell houses in rural areas. Ann Arborites will get a little tax break at the beginning, but how long will it last? At present we control AATA. Shouldn't we keep it that way?

Woman in Ypsilanti

Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 10:47 a.m.

I ride the buses a few times a week. I ride during standard rush hour times. Sometimes the bus is so full that the bus driver has to direct people to cram together more in the back of the bus just so people at the stops can get on. A typical 45 min trip to Ypsilanti can take over an hour because of all of the additional stopping and starting. There clearly is a demand for public transportation.


Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 10:40 a.m.

Individual reasons for not supporting this plan may be myriad, but I imagine they boil down to "keep your hands out of my wallet." It's just so classic. "No, I don't actually use this service, but, hey, I think we should tax everybody so that a few people can benefit." AATA has convicingly not shown, over many years, any ability to improve the number of riders. Now they want to expand their inability over the rest of the County. It's very easy to say that you support something over the phone. It's much harder to get your feet on a bus on a consistent basis. If folks are so fired up enthusiastic about this, then why aren't they warming the buses with their own bodies?


Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 8:29 a.m.

Everyone remembers $4 per gallon gas right? Goldman Sachs says it's coming back next year (2011). I know a lot of people think it's the oil companies, but the real reasons are China, where auto sales are higher now than in the US and demand is rising at about 1 million barrels per day each year, and very little additional oil supply. $4 a gallon may be coming to a pump near you in a year and a half. And that's with the US economy barely out of recession and Michigan still in a depression. We really need to create a Washtenaw transit system just to allow people to afford to get around. It's not too surprising that only 40% have taken AATA over the past year, since AATA can't afford to run buses in most of the county right now. It's just too bad that there's no way for people having trouble with bills to get their taxes forgiven. There is a one-year financial hardship exemption the county offers. But if you have a $150k house, you'd pay $6/month in added taxes for the transit millage, but you could save a lot more than that in gas cost and auto repair bills.


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Steve Hendel

Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 8:11 a.m.

The devil's in the details-let's see how we're going to pay for all this. Will AA taxpayers have to pay any new millage over and above their existing transportation levy? I can't see ANY reason to support a new millage on top of the existing one.