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Posted on Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

AATA garners national attention for ridership gains with more than 6.6 million rides in 2012

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has set a new record with a more than 6.6 million rides clocked in calendar year 2012.

According to new report by the American Public Transportation Association, that's an increase of 6.6 percent over 2011 and part of more than 10.5 billion total rides provided throughout the U.S. last year — the nation's second-highest annual ridership figure since 1957.


Riders who helped contribute to the AATA's record ridership in 2012 board a bus at the downtown Blake Transit Center in October. The AATA is in the process of building a new downtown Ann Arbor transit center on the same site to accommodate growing ridership.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"The increase in transit ridership was driven by high and volatile gas prices, changing demographics, and a recovering economy with more people returning to work," APTA President Michael Melaniphy said in a statement.

Melaniphy said the 2012 numbers (154.4 million rides higher than 2011) show growing demand for public transit in all areas of the country — in small, medium and large communities.

"Public transportation saves people money, and people save even more when gas prices spike," he said. "Also, since nearly 60 percent of trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, it makes sense that ridership increases in areas where the economy has improved and new jobs have been created."

The AATA's record ridership includes both fixed-route bus service and demand response service, and garnered national attention in a recent CNN news report. The report highlighted big increases in Ann Arbor, Nashville, Los Angeles, Boston and New York.

Al McWilliams, president of Quack!Media in downtown Ann Arbor, employs a team of young professionals, several of whom regularly use the AATA for travel within Ann Arbor. One of his employees commutes solely via bus from Ypsilanti.

"Our parents moved to the 'burbs where we grew up riding around in cars. My generation is going the other way. It may be as simple as that," McWilliams told CNN.

“I feel more free when I take the bus. I don't have to worry about a car, where it's parked, gas or maintenance. A bus is going to come by and take me where I want to go."

AATA officials believe easy accessibility to local fixed-route bus service has contributed to the numbers, with 91 percent of Ann Arbor residents living within a quarter mile of a bus route based on 2010 census data. Other factors cited include AATA's overall on-time performance improvement (92 percent of trips were completed on time) and high interior/exterior cleanliness standards (96 percent of AATA's fleet met or exceeded customer satisfaction standards in surveys).

Beyond that, AATA officials pointed to a growing economy and a trend that more and more young people are giving up owning vehicles. According to a 2011 University of Michigan study, more than half of all licensed drivers in the U.S. were under age 40 in 1983. That number has fallen to less than 40 percent, with only about 22 percent comprised of drivers under 30.

APTA's Melaniphy said there is "a sea change going on" in the way people look at transportation, and Americans want choices.

"They want to be able to choose the best travel option for their lifestyle," he said. "This is an exciting time for the public transportation industry as more and more Americans support it and want it."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Roger Kuhlman

Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 8:36 p.m.

Does anyone know why the writer of this article was so hyperexcited about the 2012 AATA ridership numbers? Even if these numbers are real and not full of spin (which I doubt), they do not show Ann Arbor's bus system is a success. On the contrary it is a scandalous failure since less than 25% of the system's costs are covered by ridership revenues. The rest of the cost is picked up by taxpayers at various levels local, state, and federal. That is absurd and a waste of money. It is like saying we could have a huge increase in sales of automobiles by having owners only having to pay 25% of cost with the rest supplied by taxpayers. Would we ever consider doing something so stupid?

Steve Bean

Thu, Apr 4, 2013 : 2:13 a.m.

That's a weak analogy, Roger. Transportation is a much more complex matter than cars vs. buses and out-of-pocket costs vs. taxes. Infrastructure, congestion, parking, social equity, and many more factors apply. Also, subsidies for personal vehicles, fossil fuels, and parking counter the subsidies for the bus system. When you can put all the numbers in one place and say with confidence that a scandalous failure is evident, you'll have done us all a service.

Joel A. Levitt

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 2:52 a.m.

Wat was the bottom line? Profit or loss, and how much? What is the projected profit or loss for next year and why?

Roger Kuhlman

Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 8:39 p.m.

Joel there has never been a profit for AATA and never likely to be a profit for them in the usual sense of profit and loss. Taxation not ridership keeps the operation afloat.

Vivienne Armentrout

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 1:13 p.m.

The AATA adopted a deficit budget in September for the second year in a row. They have also dipped below their policy limit of 3 months' operating reserves. In their year-end audit, they showed a 53% decrease in cash balance from the previous year. They don't have "profit" because they are a government agency. In their year-end audit.

Vivienne Armentrout

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 11:56 p.m.

The total annual cost of the two Express Ride services in the FY 2013 budget is $320,860. Cost per passenger boarding is $8.21. Percentage of cost paid by fares: 35%. (I have noted that "local taxes" are no longer shown as a funding source in financial reports; rather, they are shifting costs to discretionary funds from the state or Federal governments, that could be used for other programs.) PMER says that the average number of weekday passengers (both destinations) is 141. That means that the total cost per passenger is $1,481 per year (after subtracting fares). The total discretionary cost (that could be used for other purposes) is $112,217. (The difference is that they are using some state funds related to ridership.) So we are losing $796 per passenger from our local transit funds (funds that could be used for other purposes, including the bus to Ypsilanti). So is that a reasonable tradeoff for parking structure spaces? Show me the math.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 11:01 p.m.

Vivienne, I must raise an eyebrow with these figures! Myself and several others have been specifically looking at both Chelsea and Canton buses for some time now; I just do not see the 141 per day! The math just does not come close. I also am very skeptical of the AIR RIDE numbers that AATA claims

Vivienne Armentrout

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

Yes, I ride my local bus. The 141 figure is from an AATA monthly report that was in the AATA board packet. It is theaverage number of weekday passengers on the two Express buses to Chelsea and Canton (combines both routes and all times on each route). This post was confusing because it was supposed to be under replies to a different post. Previous posts in that thread explained things better.

Amber Coleman

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 1:44 a.m.

Where are you getting 141 from have you been on a bus here? Ever?


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 9:52 p.m.

Why not making AATA run later? Ridership would increase if we could get home from downtown after 8pm.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 8:51 p.m.

If it's such a great deal then we can remove all the subsidies. Bus riders should be happy to pay the full cost of riding the bus. Yeah, right.

A Voice of Reason

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 6:41 p.m.

Think out of town people should pay $5 per ride and AATA tax payers should ride for free.

Chase Ingersoll

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:50 p.m.

How much of the increased ridership is as a result of Michigan being a very expensive state in which to own and operate a motor vehicle (insurance, gas prices, repairs). The cost for someone to own an operate a car is probably what?: $100 insurance ($200.00 per month in payment or repairs) $200 per month in fuel = $6000.00 per year.....+ parking if they work downtown A $600.00 per year subsidy is a huge savings especially when considering the cost of tickets, law enforcement administration, medical costs, lost work due to injuries sustained in accidents. Look at the disaster Detroit is, where they don't have reliable public transport and people can't make it to work or school. Where you have employers/institutions that require unskilled labor, you need to subsidize a reliable public transport system for those class of workers. If you do it right the system also benefits those who can afford private transport.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:44 p.m.

I would also like to know how the rider population is counted. I fully realize that my own observations are anecdotal and non-scientific, but I do make it a point to look inside buses (when the darkly tinted windows allow) and they always seem to be close to empty. Please tell us how the counts are made and how bus size is determined. Forgive my scepticism, but I would not be surprised if we ultimately found that the ridership books are being cooked.

Vivienne Armentrout

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 10:39 p.m.

I have to say that I have complete faith in the numbers. AATA has a professional staff and a monthly reporting system whereby the PMER committee checks it out. There is a whole story and explanation of why people see buses that are not full. Too lengthy for a comment. Two points: Buses may be returning on the loop. Also it is necessary to run buses on off-peak hours so that people will ride them regularly.

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:30 p.m.

How do the metrics for the system's major spending categories compare to other cities? Admin costs per ride, vehicle acquisition cost per ride, maint costs, marketing, etc? And we can't forget the spending on attempting to expand service outside our city.

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:28 p.m.

How many unique riders is that? The budget for 2012 was about $32 million. So at 6.6 million rides that is a cost of $4.95 per ride, for which passengers pay only a max of $1.50 (and many pay much less). How do those expenses compare with other city bus systems?


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 4:15 p.m.

It has been my observation that few people who ride the AATA actually pay cash for their ride. It seems that most flash their UM ID or GoPass and ride for free. Maybe the fact that many people can ride for free accounts for a good part of the increased ridership.

Roger Kuhlman

Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 8:45 p.m.

What about these assertions of Yohan? Are they true? What about other possible special riders such as AAPS children riders? Do parents pay for costs out of pocket or does AAPS pay for the rides?


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 3:45 p.m.

These figures would be much higher if they would just extend the weekend hours a little, I am sure.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 10:20 p.m.

That's the main reason I don't take the bus. If I go out at night on the weekends, there is no way to get home after the last bus leaves at 6:18.

Vivienne Armentrout

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 2:09 p.m.

Without looking more closely at ridership figures, I'm guessing that much of this boost was from implementing the increased service to Ypsilanti via Route #4. This was part of the "advance implementation" of the countywide plan (which failed). There is actually no funding for this additional service to Ypsilanti, meaning that AATA is running it out of reserves. They are also now essentially running on fumes. Their cash balance as shown in the recent audit has declined by over 50%. I have great admiration for the service provided by AATA, and I am committed to both the concept and the practice of public transit. But I've been very concerned about the direction the leadership of AATA has taken in recent years, in that I fear that our successful local transit agency will be severely crippled. I recently published a series of overviews of the recent history: The additional service to Ypsilanti makes a lot of sense from economic and social justice viewpoints. But we have to figure out how to pay for it.

Roger Kuhlman

Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 8:50 p.m.

Is each ride being paid of the person's wallet or are a lot of rides being paid by solely or in part by other governmental funding. If 6.6 million is not coming out of the person's wallet at full cost, these numbers are misleading and deceptive

Vivienne Armentrout

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 12:11 a.m.

I also forgot to mention that AATA also coordinates vanpool services that could be used for commuting from Chelsea. There is also a WAVE service that bring commuters to a dropoff point on Jackson Road just outside of the western border. So commuters have other options. In addition, any workers parking for 8 hours or more in an Ann Arbor parking structure would pay quite a bit of money over a year, unless they had permits, which are limited. They would be more likely to use the Park and Ride system.

Vivienne Armentrout

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 11:58 p.m.

Sorry, I put all my calculations into a comment instead of into this reply chain. See below.

Vivienne Armentrout

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 11:42 p.m.

Ryan, these types of arguments are often made, but I characterize these as what we call in the scientific community "hand-waving" arguments. That is where you wave your hands in the air and say "you know...". What I like to see is what I call a "granular" approach. That is where you get down to the actual figures and do an apples-to-apples comparison. First of all, comparing parking structure costs to transportation costs have a lot of "depends on" points. They come from completely different funding schemes and costs are not easily comparable. Also, they make assumptions. Just a couple: most if not all of the passengers on these two services are working at the UM, so you could argue that this is a UM problem. Also, many of the workers might otherwise park on city streets (not good either). Some of them might carpool, reducing the numbers of cars. But let's also look at the actual costs of these commuters from Canton and Chelsea. I have a couple of sources: the PMER report from March 2013 and a discussion of costs and cost shifting at an AATA PDC meeting in December 2012 (after the countywide effort collapsed).

Leslie Morris

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 8:41 p.m.

Ryan, the drivers from Canton and Chelsea could be served by park-and-ride lots, with shuttle buses for the short distance into downtown Ann Arbor. This would be more practical than running empty express buses out to Canton and Chelsea, or of providing more expensive parking downtown or on University property.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 7:41 p.m.

The argument I always hear in favor of partially subsidizing alternative commutes into our downtown is we can either do that or pay to build more parking structures, because these people are coming here one way or another. I know that's oversimplifying it a little, but do you think there's some truth to that? If we stopped subsidizing these bus trips or shuttling people in from Chelsea and Canton, would we have a parking problem on our hands? Or would the situation work itself out somehow?

Vivienne Armentrout

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 6:17 p.m.

Ryan, my use of "severely crippled" was perhaps a bit hyperbolic but reflects my concern about the depletion of AATA's resources to support the overreach they have already done. (AATA spent $0.5 million of our Ann Arbor taxes on the countywide campaign, by their own very restricted accounting.) They are running a deficit and should already have cut back on some services, but as far as I know they are, for example, still running the Express buses to Canton (not even in the county) and Chelsea. Those two communities are not contributing to the cost of this service at all. I don't want to see Ann Arbor bus service cut to support a regional effort. And AATA could potentially make further commitments that would damage their ability to maintain the current level of service.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:43 p.m.

I believe you're automatically counted when you get on the bus and either swipe your card or drop change into the fare box. That's a ride.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 4:23 p.m.

Yeah, Ryan, and they can ask for more for the millage too, whether it makes sense or not. All the tax money is perpetual and can be relied upon, which is part of why there is little focus on making sure it's worth it or whether it can be done better or is necessary. Can you tell us how these rides are counted?

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

I'm curious why you use the words "severely crippled"? If it turns out additional funding can't be identified to sustain some of the added service we've seen in the last year or two, can't they just scale back some of the added services? We still have a perpetual millage as a funding source, right?


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.

How are the AATA rides counted? Is this a count of tickets purchased, go!Passes scanned (not sold, but USED), or some kind of scanner on the bus? A combination? I just want to make sure the rides are counted by tickets purchased, or passes shown, etc., and not a survey or some weird algorithm like "30% of people polled said they use the bus at least once a year." Plus, I agree with Brad; with that kind of best-in-country boost, you would think that the increase in rides and its insignificant affect on operating costs (10 peole probably don't cause much more wear and tear than 1 person, right? The bus is still running whether it's one or 10) abd its corresponding increase in money coming in would mean they need les from taxes. Right?


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 1:33 p.m.

6.6 million rides at the AATA budget of 33 million dollars per year menas that each ride costs $5. At a fare of $1.50, the subsidy per ride is about $3.50 (if everyone paid to ride). There are about 55,000 households in AA and Ypsilanti, so AATA costs $600 per household per year. Providing cost-effective public transportation for small communities like Ann Arbor seems very challenging.

Stan Hyne

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

Maybe providing free taxi rides for anyone in the city who wanted a ride would save the city (taxpayers) money


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 1:14 p.m.

Great. Sounds like any time now they won't need that huge subsidy.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 11:52 a.m.

I wish wish wish I could use the bus. But the 13 comes SO infrequently (every 30-60 minutes), that it makes it impractical.


Wed, Apr 3, 2013 : 1:02 p.m.

I wish I could. But with two kids and a very busy schedule, it just doesn't work for my family unless it comes every 15 - 20 minutes.


Wed, Apr 3, 2013 : 3:02 a.m.

I've never done anything but take the bus for the past eight years. My bus only comes every 30-60 minutes. You adjust if it's what you have to do. Or if it's what you want.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

"AATA officials believe easy accessibility to local fixed-route bus service has contributed to the numbers, with 91 percent of Ann Arbor residents living within a quarter mile of a bus route based on 2010 census data. " which is why buses have it over trains. Buses can go anywhere there is a road. Trains can go anywhere there is a train track. As i type this I'm 50 feet from a road. Probably most folks who read this will be less than 200 feet from a road.