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Posted on Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 5:15 p.m.

AATA conducting survey to gauge interest in expanding transit service in Washtenaw County with new tax

By Ryan J. Stanton

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority officials today announced plans to conduct a community survey to gauge interest in expanding transit services throughout Washtenaw County - possibly with a new countywide millage to go before voters.

Local transportation officials have been discussing the option of layering a countywide 1-mill property tax on top of the current 2-mill tax residents in Ann Arbor pay for AATA services. Other areas of the county, such as Ypsilanti, currently contract for AATA services through purchase agreements that are starting to become a burden on their budgets.


An AATA bus pulls off after a stop on Washtenaw Avenue near Arborland Mall. AATA officials are talking about expanding transit services countywide. Melanie Maxwell |

"We need to move in a direction where we can have expanded transit that reduces the burden on the local governments and provides a regional growth engine for jobs," said David Nacht, chairman of AATA's governing board. "And I am optimistic that as people view transit through the lens of economic opportunity, in their own self-interest, they will have a positive outlook toward the growth of transit."

AATA is turning to the team of CJI Research and Triad Research Group, which specializes in transit and tax surveys, to conduct a telephone survey of 1,100 registered voters in Washtenaw County. The results will be available Nov. 5.

The survey will provide AATA with feedback from residents countywide, as well a breakdown of input from specific geographic areas. There have been talks of going to voters with a millage proposal next year, but no decisions have been made yet.

"There really is no proposal at this time," said AATA spokeswoman Mary Stasiak. "We've been asked to expand countywide by many community leaders, and right now our board is just trying to look at evaluating the attitudes of the community."

Stasiak said a 1-mill tax would raise about $15.5 million a year in Washtenaw County, which would significantly expand transit services. She said it's premature to discuss details, though.

Stasiak said a $40,000 federal grant is paying for the costs of conducting the survey. She said Livingston County is doing a similar survey as well.

Nacht acknowledged it's a lousy time to ask anyone to reach into their pocketbook, but the current economic conditions are a good reason to talk about transit.

"What we have to do as a community is say, 'What is the best way to make sure that the broader Ann Arbor economic area is going to attract and retain employers and keep the value of our homes up and provide jobs?'" Nacht said. "We know that Google came to Ann Arbor citing the AATA's service as a reason. I firmly believe that the future economic health of our community depends upon expanding transit throughout the county."

Today, AATA also announced a $55,825 marketing campaign aimed at boosting the agency's image and conveying the benefit of its services to the community. Officials said a survey done by the agency in 2006 indicated a need for such a marketing campaign regardless of whether AATA goes for a millage.

The marketing campaign is being geared to convey the message that public transit is a valuable community asset, and that the community needs to invest in transit to preserve quality of life in Washtenaw County. The target audience of the campaign will be adults age 45 and older.

AATA is hiring the OrangeEgg agency to run the campaign and using Myra Klarman as a photographer. Advertising will be done through print, online, radio, and television media sources, with social media components.

Ryan Stanton covers government for Reach him at 734-623-2529.



Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 10:24 a.m.

Oink, I agree have truckers and other heavy vehicles pay for the damage to the roads or the use of roads. Too long have consumers subsidized large vehicle damage to the roads. I will ignore your socialist rhetoric, since that reasoning has failed around the world.

ann arbor girl

Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 8:25 a.m.

I don't have kids but I vote to support millages for schools because I benefit from the kind of community that supports education. I don't canoe or play golf but I vote to support millages that fund our parks because I benefit from a community where quality of life is a bedrock value. And I don't live in Ypsilanti or Dexter, but lots of Ann Arbor area jobs are filled by people who do live there, and I benefit from these people being customers at Ann Arbor shops/restaurants and their employers paying taxes to the City so that my taxpayer cost for snow removal and fire protection is reduced. So sustaining existing transit service and expanding it into the rest of the county benefits me whether or not I ride the bus every day or just some of the time. We are all interconnected and the economic base of our region is supported by a strong and growing transit system. It would be short sighted and incorrect to suggest that this millage doesn't benefit ALL of us, even those of us wed to our cars.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 4:24 p.m.

I think the AATA board must be smoking some of the same hallucinogens used by the mayor and some council members. They share the same vision of taxpayers as bottomless piggy-banks for dubious projects to satisfy some perceived "need". One man's "need" is another man's tax. I suspect this will not pass muster with voters, even in tax-happy Ann Arbor, let alone the more conservative out-county areas. Many moved outside the city to escape Ann Arbor's overtaxation in the first place!


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 3:36 p.m.

braggslaw: I'm sorry, but that's almost laughable. Do you have any idea what it would cost if you had to pay 'fees that accurately represent the cost of the system' for your usage of the state/federal highway system? If the subsidies which fund that system were removed, you and i would probably not be able to use those roads very often. That's the whole point of taxation: despite what many Michiganders think, there are some goods and services that can't be equitably distributed by the 'free market'. We make decisions as a society to pool our collective resources and provide those services which aren't efficiently distributed by the market - that's one of the primary tenants of government. Maybe you have the money to build roads and hire private drivers to take you where you need to go, but i'm betting that most of us don't.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 2:44 p.m.

I don't use it and I don't want to pay for it. Riders should pay the fees that accurately represent the cost of the system.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 2:32 p.m.

Here's a link to a recent story we wrote about there being $1.6 billion in unfunded transportation needs in Washtenaw County. Of course, transit is a piece of that pie.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 10:16 a.m.

How about, no more tax increases!! Everyone has had to cut back, now it's the city/counties turn. I propose a tax reduction this year. If you look at the AA budget, it's ridiculous high. I am currently doing a study of cities with similar populations and preliminary findings are; we are being robbed. Enough already!

Chuck Warpehoski

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 9:41 a.m.

I think the current service in Ann Arbor is a good start, but even within the city it could be much better. How about having the buses run later on weekends so that people can get home from the bars without getting behind the wheel? How about express service on key routes Washtenaw so it doesn't take to @#^* long to get to Ypsi or to Meijer? There are plenty of real improvements that could happen in Ann Arbor for an extra mill.

Michael Glover

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 9:39 a.m.

I live just outside the city limits on Wagner Road and I think it would awesome if I didn't have to drive everywhere all the time!


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 9:10 a.m.

There are complaints in these comments from people in AA about their areas being 'underserved' by bus service. The point of the county-wide millage is to reevaluate and add service in Ann Arbor and add different types of service (like dial-a-ride) to areas outside of Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti. If you strip away any part of the millage in Ann Arbor (the full 2 mills are not being collected, by the way), increased/enhanced bus service in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti and rail service will not be possible. It would be more useful if people waited to see the actual proposal (which hasn't been fully released yet) before cursing it.

local guy

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 9:01 a.m.

I'm not a regular bus rider, but this seems like a concept worth considering. I know it's odd that AA taxpayers would pay more, but a) the additional burden on everyone is only one mil, and b) the economic benefit to AA would be greater than that for the other communities. AA benefits from folks coming into town, working, spending money, going to school, etc. There's no doubt that AA is the economic core of the county and so AA has a lot to gain by the tax. The other communities gain by having greater accessibility to public transit which is truly essential for the economy. Transit increases the attractiveness and value of the community for all. A small tax will help raise us to a new, higher level of a place live, work, etc. No region has a snowball's chance to be great and grow without a strong transit system, and public transit is the foundation for such a system. It's crazy to think that Ann Arbor can do well if it's hard for employees to get to work from other communities. And remember, it's in AA's interest for people to come here via bus and not force us to become a town full of huge and expensive parking structures. We should be open to this idea and willing to invest in the positive outcomes we'll receive (good access, less congestion, fewer parking structures, cleaner air, etc.), and see what a county-wide transit system would look like before jumping to any conclusions. Based on what I know about the concept and how great it has been to live in communities with good transit systems (even when I did not personally use them), and that it is clear that we have a good system now but that it is unduly restricted by its current borders, we should be open-minded and recognize that this concept has some merit. We should be able to take a bus to St. Joe's, WCC, Depot Town, the Purple Rose, the train, the "Game", etc., if we need to -- no matter where we live in the county.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 12:31 a.m.

"reduces the burden on local governments?" How about reducing the burden on local tax payers! If it costs three dollars per rider to operate the bus, then charge that! I am tired of bank rolling these initiatives! Our taxes are outrageous as it is!


Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 8:02 p.m.

how about dropping the 2mil for a2 and just having a 1mil county wide. or county does the 1mil and a2 stays at 2mil. really, it doesn't make sense unless there will be people riding it and the bus brings them into town at a good point. I imagine chealea and dexter people work at the U, but even to get the special from canton is $120/month pass, $60 if you work for the U that will pay for half of it or just $5 a ride each way. You can get more drives in a tank for what that is worth, bad planning.


Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 6:32 p.m.

3 mills!?? Please people - vote no to more taxes. I'm out of money and I can't take it any more!!


Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 5:04 p.m.

AATA wants a total of 3 mills from Ann Arbor residents? No way! On the other hand, if the AATA millage remains a total of 2 mills in the and 1 mill outside the city then intercity public transportation can be provided. We need more info on the plan. By the way, AATA has been pretty successful in getting federal dollars into the county. Let's stay open minded.