Express bus services on Packard Road to shave 8 minutes off peak trips between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti
The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority is gearing up to launch increased bus services along Packard Road between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor starting Jan. 27.
The AATA's governing board finalized plans Thursday for a weekday service expansion that increases the number of buses from five to seven on Route 5 during morning and afternoon peak hours.
The changes also include a more direct express route from Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor in the morning and from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti in the afternoon.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
"They won't do the route deviation that goes down Platt to Ellsworth and then back up on Stone School, so it takes about eight minutes off the trip."
The agency already disseminated information to riders and the public about the proposed service changes and received positive feedback.
AATA officials note Route 5 serves higher-than-average minority and low-income populations on more than three-quarters of the 12.6-mile route.
White said the changes will have a significant positive effect on those populations, including improved access to employment centers in downtown Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan.
"I'm thrilled that we're able to offer expanded service there because we clearly had some overcrowding issues," said Board Chairman Charles Griffith. "We also had some less-than-ideal efficiencies where the route was not as direct, so we're adding essentially express bus service on the No. 5 that will get us from Ypsi to Ann Arbor quicker. We're really glad we can do that."
AATA officials said riders can expect better on-time performance, less crowded trips, more direct and faster trips, and an increase from four to six trips per hour for the portion of the route between downtown Ann Arbor and Packard/Stone School Road.
Courtesy of AATA
Service currently alternates between the two branches with service on each branch every 30 minutes, and service every 15 minutes along the trunk route shared by the two branches. The proposed expansion increases the number of trips from four to six per hour on the trunk route.
On the branch from downtown Ypsilanti, the number of trips will continue to be two per hour, but the trip time will be reduced by 18 percent by providing a more direct route along Packard. On the other branch, the number of trips will increase from two to four per hour.
"We're adding service on the portion of the route that goes just between Ann Arbor and Meijer, so there are going to be two additional buses operating that service," White said. "It means more buses and more capacity. It doesn't change the travel time for those areas."
The extra costs for the service were not included the AATA's adopted budget, but White said they will be offset by lower-than-expected costs for the agency's new AirRide airport shuttle service, which is seeing higher ridership than anticipated. Statistics released in September showed the shuttles between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport were averaging more than 1,000 rides a week.
The total additional cost of the Route 5 service upgrade for the final eight months of the fiscal year is $156,700. The additional local share required after accounting for extra fares and the state's share of costs is $90,700. For a full year, White said, an additional $139,300 in local funds will be required.
The AATA's decision to go ahead with the Route 5 upgrades comes just after the Ann Arbor City Council effectively killed the AATA's plans to create a new countywide transit authority.
The City Council voted 10-0 on Nov. 8 to opt out of the Washtenaw Ride, which would have replaced the AATA, following the lead of most of the municipalities in the county. The council directed the AATA instead to focus on improving services in the county's urban core.
The enhanced service along Packard Road is the second major transit improvement between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, following upgrades earlier this year along Washtenaw Avenue.
In early November, White cautioned the added cost of the Packard Road service increase was a serious concern at a time when the agency's budget is very tight. At the time, he recommended deferring a decision on implementation and including the service change in an evaluation that was beginning to determine sustainable services after the demise of the countywide transit authority.
The AATA has been ramping up services over the past year in anticipation of forming a countywide authority. Without additional funding for countywide transit, AATA officials have acknowledged the current service plan isn't a long-term sustainable approach.
The agency's budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 included taking another $300,000 from its cash reserves to make it through another year with expanded services.
That includes a continuation of the enhanced services on Washtenaw Avenue, as well as expansion of the NightRide late-night, shared-taxi service and AirRide.
Asked whether the city of Ypsilanti might be asked to pay into the expanded Route 5 service at any point, Griffith said it will come up for discussion the next time the AATA renegotiates its purchase-of-service agreement with Ypsilanti, which contracts with the AATA for transit services.
"At this point, that agreement is not up for discussion, so we made the decision without that being considered," Griffith said. "That'll come up soon enough."
Ridership on Route 5 is the fourth highest among all of the AATA's routes, with 621,269 riders in the fiscal year that just ended Sept. 30. AATA officials acknowledged that was a 3.7 percent decline from the previous year, after ridership had grown 35 percent in the previous eight years.
White said the agency identified problems with crowded buses this past year, and on-time performance was suffering as a result. Performance declined with 89 percent of trips completed on time in the morning peak period and 63 percent in the afternoon peak period.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.