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Posted on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

AATA lays out aggressive agenda for next 12 months, including launch of airport shuttle service

By Ryan J. Stanton

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority officials say they're planning to tackle an aggressive list of public transit projects in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

That includes launching a new shuttle service to Detroit Metro Airport, expanding vanpool services countywide, improving service along Washtenaw Avenue between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and a new website with improved trip-planning and real-time applications.

The AATA's governing board approved a $30.4 million operating budget for the new fiscal year at its meeting Thursday night. With revenues at $29.4 million, the agency is dipping nearly $1 million into its reserves to fund the many projects outlined in its 2012 work plan.

AATA officials said the approved budget allows the agency to maintain and improve its core services, properly fund the 2012 work plan, and move the agency toward implementing its countywide transit master plan, which was approved by the board earlier this year.


Construction of new siding and storage track takes place in Northfield Township as part of the WALLY project. The AATA has $197,000 identified in its 2012 work plan to continue planning and implementation efforts for the north-south commuter rail service between Howell and Ann Arbor.

Courtesy of AATA

"We recognize it is not a sustainable budget, but rather a transitional budget that will catapult us hopefully into the countywide service," said board member Rich Robben.

"It wasn't lightly taken, the fact that we were going to be operating at a deficit and have to commit some of our reserves," he added. "At the same time, it's not necessarily the AATA's responsibility to build bank accounts, either."

The budget, which includes many one-time expenses associated with the transit master plan, was approved 4-0 by Robben and fellow board members Jesse Bernstein, Anya Dale and Roger Kerson. Charles Griffith, David Nacht and Sue McCormick were absent.

It's the board's policy to maintain unrestricted reserve funds equal to at least three months of operating expenses. AATA’s reserves are projected to reach 3.65 months worth of operating expenses on Sept. 30 — about $1.2 million above the required level.

The 2012 work plan approved by the board outlines several programs and projects that are now incorporated into the agency's operating budget. (Download the plan).

  • $5.5 million to rebuild the Blake Transit Center starting in spring 2012 and finishing by spring 2013
  • $3.6 million to expand and improve AATA headquarters, including completion of bus garage storage expansion, replacement of bus hoists, installation of a filling station for new buses and design upgrade of training and video rooms
  • $61,000 to expand Night Ride service to Ypsilanti
  • $448,000 to increase frequency of service on Route 4 along Washtenaw Avenue
  • $20,000 to implement Park & Ride agreements for four to six shared-use lots along Washtenaw Avenue
  • $197,000 to continue planning and implementation efforts for the north-south WALLY commuter rail service between Howell and Ann Arbor
  • $22,000 to develop a new service delivery model for A-Ride service for people with disabilities
  • $200,000 to continue development and implementation of a new website
  • $250,000 to oversee development of the AATA Organizational Strategic Plan
  • $75,000 to develop a five-year Information Technology Strategic Plan
  • $50,000 to enhance customer information via electronic communication tools and real-time information
  • $177,000 to convene and support a countywide Funding Advisory Task Force and submit a local funding initiative proposal to the board, as well as refine service plans and assemble them into a fundable "5-Year Countywide Transit Program"
  • $80,000 to explore options for governance, complete filing documents for a countywide authority governing board and incorporate "Washtenaw Transit"
  • $75,000 to plan and install a point-of-sale system at 2700 S. Industrial Highway and Blake Transit Center for sale of fare media

The board approved another resolution on Thursday clarifying that funds designated for the Washtenaw and Livingston Railway, also known as WALLY, will not be expended without the future consent of the board and not without first hearing from other stakeholders.

The WALLY project is included in the agency's transit master plan as a possible long-term transportation improvement to help meet the needs of the region’s commuters. All future spending by AATA on the rail line’s development will be contingent upon there being "viable, realistic and sustainable public support for the project," according to Thursday's resolution.

AATA's project managers plan to seek renewed commitments for WALLY from the state of Michigan, Livingston County, Howell, the Ann Arbor Railroad and others before drafting an updated WALLY position statement to be taken up by the AATA board.

Michael Benham, AATA's special assistant for strategic planning, offered a progress report on WALLY during Thursday's meeting. Since early 2010, he said, MDOT has completed more than $16 million in improvements on the 26-mile stretch of track from Howell to Ann Arbor.

"They've done a lot of track work, grade crossing work, they've leased and rehabbed 24 commuter rail cars, and they've also leased a locomotive for that service," he said.

Benham said the total capital costs for WALLY are estimated at $41 million. Minus the $16 million already spent, he said that leaves $25 million left to fully fund the project — and only $19 million of that is actually required, while $6 million is optional.

Annual operating costs for the service are estimated to be $5.4 million. About $2.1 million is expected to be covered by passenger fares, $1.4 million is expected to be covered by the state and $1.9 million is expected to come from local sources yet to be determined.

Benham said about $327,000 in staffing and planning costs have been incurred to date for WALLY. About $102,000 of that came directly from AATA, while the rest came from other contributors, including entities in both Washtenaw and Livingston counties.

"Most of that money went for the R.L. Banks study," Benham said, referring to a report on WALLY that was produced in 2007. "The rest of it went for public education and staff time."

AATA board members made known Thursday night they still have concerns about the viability of WALLY and plan to approach the project with healthy skepticism.

Mike Cicchella, former Northfield Township supervisor and WALLY organizer, has been appointed to AATA's Financial Task Force, which is working on funding options for implementation of the agency's countywide transit master plan.

WALLY-related tasks outlined in the 2012 work plan approved Thursday night include development of station designs, working with MDOT to complete draft management plans, resolving issues related to use of railroad property, revising capital cost estimates, reviewing operating cost estimates and applying for grants as funding opportunities arise.

Another goal listed on the last page of the work plan is to provide continued support to an unnamed east-west rail project, assumably the Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail line. Though no financial support is pledged, the plan identifies dedication of AATA staff time to support SEMCOG by planning needed connecting services.

CEO Michael Ford offered a report to the board Thursday night in which he said much progress has been made on efforts to move forward with a new airport shuttle service that will transport people between Ann Arbor and the Detroit Metro Airport. He said AATA hopes to select a vendor soon and have the service up and running by November.


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 e-mail newsletters.



Sat, Sep 17, 2011 : 2:48 p.m.

The mayor appointed this board which seems to share his priorities of build and spend haphazardly. Everyone seems so concerned about art spending and the DDA's audacity to make a profit when this board is way off in never never land.

Basic Bob

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 9:24 p.m.

AATA should consider looking at the areas where high school bus service is most heavily used for expansion. High school students with after school activities need a way home, too, and these households are more likely to ride the bus other places for the same reasons (parents working, too young to drive, no extra cars in the driveway). These areas are located in the densely populated areas of Ypsilanti, Pittsfield, and Ann Arbor townships. Perhaps a higher fare could be charged for pickups in these areas. This should be considered before more rural areas where bus users are stigmatized.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 9:23 p.m.

What about the Michigan Flyer, that comfortable big bus shuttle service to Metro at a reasonable price, which is always improving and adding to its schedule? It takes only thirty minutes from the Sheraton to the airport and is very reliable. Why don't we work with that service instead of reinventing the wheel at great taxpayer expense and possibly putting the Michigan Flyer out of business?

Blanch DuBois

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 9:21 p.m.

This is after all the "Motor City" and mass transit is a particularly hard sell in these parts. P.S. Yes Ann Arbor, like it or not, the rest of the country and the world lump you in with Detroit.

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 8:59 p.m.

What makes the commuter train argument even more egregious is that there isn't a more destructive mode of transportation in terms of environmental cost than a small commuter train system. And the ones AATA proposes are as small as any system in the country, if not smaller. It will cost at least twice as many BTU per passenger mile to run Wally as to run individual passenger cars for every rider. And that's only if it meets the projected ridership. That projected ridership is quite unlikely. So Wally is not only wasteful, expensive, and designed only to serve a tiny, tiny percentage of the population, it's also environmentally reckless.

Phillip Farber

Sun, Sep 18, 2011 : 8:20 p.m.

Source for these efficiency numbers?


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 7:23 p.m.

in regards to an airport shuttle service, AATA CEO Michael Ford was quoted in a June 17, 2011 article that: &quot;Right now the proposal is 16 trips a day,&quot; Ford said. &quot;Basically the concept is leaving from Blake Transit Center, probably no more than two stops from there, and being able to complete that service within 40 to 45 minutes. I'm trying to work on something that will allow parking at a minimal cost at Fourth and William or even potentially free. I'm also talking to other private and public sector folks to see what other funding we can come up with.&quot; <a href=""></a> As was noted in comments attached to that article, six or seven private van services are locally available to transport people to and from the Detroit International Airport. The service that I use regularly will pick me up at my home at the time that I determine even with short notice. For $45 each way, my wife and I have been driven to the airport and then our return flight is met at the time of scheduled arrival so that we are promptly and comfortably returned to home. The proposed AATA shuttle service imposes the inconvenience of having to travel and park at the Blake Transit Center and then one of 16 departure times must be selected. The frequency of shuttles returning travelers from the airport is not mentioned nor is the fee for service which I doubt can be competitive. As mentioned in the article, the AATA shuttle service will likely not be financially self-sufficient and therefore taxpayer subsidies must be provided.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 7:43 p.m.

You'll be one of the people who continues to use private shuttle service. For me, he AATA plan would be helpful.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 6:59 p.m.

If I read the article correctly the following scheduled expenditures will fund studies that will total $1,001,000: $197,000 to continue planning and implementation efforts for the north-south WALLY commuter rail service between Howell and Ann Arbor $22,000 to develop a new service delivery model for A-Ride service for people with disabilities $200,000 to continue development and implementation of a new website $250,000 to oversee development of the AATA Organizational Strategic Plan $75,000 to develop a five-year Information Technology Strategic Plan $177,000 to convene and support a countywide Funding Advisory Task Force and submit a local funding initiative proposal to the board, as well as refine service plans and assemble them into a fundable &quot;5-Year Countywide Transit Program $80,000 to explore options for governance, complete filing documents for a countywide authority governing board and incorporate &quot;Washtenaw Transit&quot; The money will create &quot;idea tanks&quot; whose results will depend on who is selected (hopefully by competitive RFPs) to gather info and to analyze it. Those hired can be expected to bring a positive bias to their work and the results can be expected to present glowing prospects. The reports submitted will encourage high budget projects with idealistic expectations that most certainly will not be borne out with execution. If the AATA is serious about obtaining an unbiased and professional evaluation of development programs then I suggest that they look for objective professional services that can be provided through the U-M's School for Urban Development. (Disclaimer: I have no connection with and am not personally associated with any faculty members of the School for Urban Development.)

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 6:52 p.m.

It's hard to believe they're still wasting money on the Wally boondoggle. Even the Orwellian &quot;independent&quot; report they commissioned indicated the revenue projections were a giant lie. And even with the lies, they still ask for millions in public support annually. We complain about money wasted on public art and other pet projects for council members. AATA is at the front and center when it comes to fleecing taxpayers on a giant scale. Time to shut down this government bureaucracy and replace it with someone who knows how to run the buses and doesn't dream of taking over the world.

Vivienne Armentrout

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 6:24 p.m.

Sorry, it looks as though the link I gave above is broken. All about WALLY: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Vivienne Armentrout

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 5:28 p.m.

I am gravely concerned about the AATA board's decision to run on a deficit. I attended the Planning and Development Committee meeting at which this was discussed and it was indicated that they are risking this course with the expectation of having a county-wide millage passed in 2012. They even discussed that if such a millage does pass in a Nov. 2012 election, no revenue will come in before July 2013, and they do not have enough reserves (if I heard right) to easily carry them that far. I am also concerned that this budget was passed by a bare quorum of the AATA board. The three members of the board who were absent may or may not have voted to support the budget, and it may have passed without their votes, but surely they could have contributed in a useful way to the discussion and perhaps a more careful consideration. As for WALLY, these last-ditch efforts to save the program have the air of desperation. As I outlined in detail in a recent blog post, <a href="," rel='nofollow'>,</a> WALLY simply is not sustainable and the measures indicated will not solve its long-term (or short-term!) infeasibility. To put all this in a larger context, SAFETEA-LU, the Federal omnibus transportation bill which supplies most of the grant funds under which AATA operates, has not been reauthorized by Congress though it has only 15 days of life left (till October 1). The House voted for a six-month extension but it is held up in the Senate.

Vivienne Armentrout

Sat, Sep 17, 2011 : 1:22 a.m.

Wow, you would kill all federal transportation programs in the entire country? This pays for roads, bridges, and mass transit and enables the use of the Federal gas tax for maintaining our local roadways.

Stephen Landes

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 7:10 p.m.

I hope the Federal program will die at the end of September and not be replaced. I will vote against the milage proposal and will encourage others to do so, too.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:38 p.m.

I am pleased that AATA will be making these expansions. Mass transit not only is a service to individuals, it also helps the environment as buses and trains use far less fuel per rider than individual transit and pollute less. There are few car factory jobs left in Michigan. This could provide some jobs by the need for construction and maintenance of the trains and buses. Drivers and other workers would also be needed. Sometimes, subsidies are necessary to start up a program. Amtrak has been subsidized in Michigan. It has made large gains in ridership and will likely continue to grow. I, personally, would benefit from several of the services to be implemented: Night Ride in Ypsi, the commuter rail to Howell, A-Ride and the rides to the airport. Right now, I do own a car, but being older, my night vision is poor and I cannot drive after dark. I would love to be able to go out in the evening and would spend more money at local businesses if I could do so. With gas prices rising, I also use public transportation more in the daytime.

Peter Eckstein

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:19 p.m.

AATA board members are expressing &quot;healthy skepticism&quot; about WALLY. How about a little skepticism toward van service to the airport, which private vendors are already supplying, &quot;design upgrade of video and training rooms,&quot; a full $5 million to rebuild the Blake centerand the whole &quot;smart&quot; idea of providing heavily-subsidized bus service between places like Ann Arbor and Manchester. I'd even appreciate a little unhealthy skepticism.

Rob T

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:10 p.m.

I'm excited to see the AATA pursue expansion in the next year. I have the sense that building ridership is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem: increased service encourages ridership and grows fares, but the status quo doesn't provide enough fares to fund expansion. I ride route 4 occasionally and it's very often full--I think that this is a great big bet to start the slow process of growing service and expanding ridership.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:48 p.m.

Hear hear! My ride home on the #4 last night--at 7:30pm, well away from rush hour--was standing room only for most of the trip. The planned service increase on the 4 should lead to ridership increases: reduced crowding, increased frequency, and shortened travel times will allow new riders to make the switch, as well as support ridership on connecting routes by making the spine of the system function better.

Top Cat

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

This agency is out of control and needs a severe haircut.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

Get ready for yet another millage increase proposal. AATA wants more and more subsidies from the tax payers. Simply vote no when the millage proposal comes around. Let people pay the fair value of the bus service instead of being massively subsidized!


Sat, Sep 17, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

Rob T - Private Interurban bus service is the fastest growing segment of transportation today. It has added more seat miles per year in the last 5 than any other form of transportation. Right now they offer approximately 4 billion seat-miles per year (Cato). This is dwarfed by the 1 trillion seat miles on airlines over the last 12 months (, and the 12 billion Amtrak seat miles. But, while Amtrak is growing at 1 to 3 percent per year, intercity buses are growing at 12 to 14 percent per year.

Rob T

Sat, Sep 17, 2011 : 3:41 a.m.

I would categorize Cato as being anti-transit, so perhaps the two sources are well-matched (though I'll concede that Cato is the more prestigious of the two). First, I'd argue that bus service should not be evaluated in terms of subsidy per passenger mile. Rather, it's a question of benefits and cost. Many of these benefits are intangible--for me a key benefit is the civic practice of guaranteeing mobility to those unable to drive. On an personal level, I find that the bus improves my productivity since I'm able to do work while riding that would be impossible to do behind the wheel of a car. Diving into the figures, I question the subsidy figures provided in Mr. O'Toole's report, it seems that his $0.005 subsidy per auto passenger mile is derived only from spending on highways--I can't find another way to derive this number from FHA and BTS reports. When 2007 total expenditures on roads are divided by automobile passenger miles, I see a subsidy closer to $0.04, about eight times higher than what he reports. (<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Mr. O'Toole's figure on transit subsidies per passenger mile does appear correct, at $0.64 per passenger mile per <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>. However, the figures are still apples-to-oranges. The automobile figures include a great deal of interurban traffic, whereas interurban bus service is almost nonexistent in the United States. For a wide variety of reasons (better fuel economy, increased occupancy, more miles travelled, reduced signage and signal needs), interurban costs per passenger mile will be lower than urban passenger miles. A more accurate accounting would compare the cost of urban bus service to the cost of urban automobiles.

L. C. Burgundy

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 7:56 p.m.

Oh, and that pedestrian observations, pro-transit blog complains that cars/highways only achieve 62% cost recovery with his (imho, not accurate) numbers. AATA's cost recovery remains and has been about 15-17% for years (5.4 million/30.4 million this year). So even if you don't correct at all for actual passenger-mile use of a highway or transit source (and you get a lot more passenger-miles out of a dollar spent on roads than a dollar spent on transit), transit still performs many times worse financially.

L. C. Burgundy

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 7:26 p.m.

Andy, the original source for both authors is <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> I calculate a net highway subsidy of closer to the Cato paper. I'm not sure where the Pedestrian Observations is getting $197 billion from as being capital road outlays, unless you count a lot of non-road/non-capital outlays. In any case, mass transit is massively subsidized (no less than 60 times as much even if you adopt his numbers pretty much wholesale) compared to driving, especially when you compare it with the passenger-miles served by each mode, which interestingly enough the Passenger Observations doesn't attempt to do at all.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 6:50 p.m.

Gramma - Gas taxes pay the majority of road construction and repair costs for US and I pre-fix roads at the federal level (just like taxes on tickets and fuel pay for most of the airports). At the state level in many cases taxes on fuel and license fees for drivers, and cars provide not only most or all of the road repair and building money but general fund money too. Most of the AATA subsidy actually comes from taxes paid for fuel and licenses.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 6:42 p.m.

L.C.: An alternate calculation finds &quot;as of 2008, all gas tax and toll receipts are $122 billion, including the portion diverted to non-highway purposes, whereas total receipts to be spent on gas tax-eligible highways are $197 billion, including $4.3 billion spent on collection expenses. That's 62% cost recovery.&quot; (source: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> ) So there is plenty to dispute in Randal O'Toole's figures.

L. C. Burgundy

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 6:27 p.m.

Rob - bus transit is subsidized to the tune of about 120 times the amount that automobile use is subsidized. &quot;Per passenger mile...subsidies to urban transit are 120 times greater, than subsidies to driving.&quot; <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> You'll get no beef from me though that cash for clunkers was a terrible subsidy program - unnecessary welfare for the rich and the manufacturers, and punishment for the poor.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:25 p.m.

Not only are the car owners subsidized, but so are the car manufacturers.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:22 p.m.

Those who have their own cars are massively subsidized by the construction and maintenance provided for highways and roads. Maybe only car owners should pay taxes to maintain the roads.

Rob T

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:15 p.m.

Automobile use is also massively subsidized. Consider the fact that most roads are tax-funded, or look at the cash for clunkers program. For my part, I don't own a car but still gladly pay taxes that fund highway improvements (roads do, after all, bring me food and goods; buses do, after all, transport employees who provide you goods and services). Don't take my bus subsidy away, it's my best chance to enjoy the roads that my taxes fund!

Joel A. Levitt

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

This posting may be obsolete, since I may have missed previous AATA communications. If not, I suggest that the AATA conduct public presentations on anticipated ridership, effect on the need for road maintenance and improvement, effect on downtown business district, coordination with Public Schools and Universities, effect on AA property values, etc. For myself, I am very pleased with the consideration of a Metro Airport shuttle service.

Rob T

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

Hi Joel, the AATA holds regular public forums; their most recent was yesterday--I believe right before the board meeting. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 12:55 p.m.

With Revenue from riders at $5.4 Mill and total cost at $29.4 Mill why do we still have a bus service? Is this the &quot;CORPORATE WELFARE&quot; that they are talking about? Do we have &quot;Gold Plated&quot; buses? (Maybe the biodiesel are?) Sounds like we could eliminate the buses and service and only a few people would be impacted. We could hire a Taxi service and pay the difference for those impacted people and save about $25 Mill.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 6:36 p.m.

The roads you drive on are corporate welfare too, then... somebody has to pay for them.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:43 p.m.

Corporate Welfare includes the bail outs of car manufacturers and banks, corporations not paying property taxes and subsidies being paid to companies to hire the currently unemployed.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 12:41 p.m.

The article is somewhat confusing in that one report lists $197k &quot;to continue planning and implementation efforts for the north-south WALLY commuter rail service between Howell and Ann Arbor&quot;, but the other report indicates that there are carryover funds from other organizations / communities from previous years of $205k, which will also contribute to the $197k. The AATA is only pledging $50k in FY2012, and that still requires further review by the board. The other key pieces of information not in the article, but from the second linked PDF: The proposed work is for the staff time needed to engage the AA Railroad (which the AATA has clearly identified as needed to make it viable) and to do the station environmental analysis needed to get funding from the federal New Starts program.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 12:33 p.m.

Lets see - Management wages are roughly half of driver wages. Like most government units OVERHEAD is a problem. Then we have fares that are less than 20 percent of total revenue, the rest are &quot;subsidies&quot;. Now they want to take jobs away from local firms that offer airport shuttle service and in doing so, use the subsidies to make their price less, helping to accelerate the job losses locally. NO!


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 6:47 p.m.

Gramma - Most of the local van services are small businesses. I would be surprised if the owners made what one of the union bus drivers at AATA makes, let alone what they get in benefits.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:47 p.m.

Private corporations have huge overhead. CEO's of failing companies receive large bonuses. How much does the CEO of GM make and how many worker salaries would this cover?


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:19 p.m.

They will be adding new jobs to provide these services. Some of the people working at the shuttle services could get jobs there. There will also always be people who are willing to pay more to have the door to door ane any hour service provided for the shuttles.

Rob T

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:11 p.m.

I believe that the proposed airport shuttle service is a public-private venture with the existing Michigan Flyer. <a href=""></a>


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 12:07 p.m.

Let's not forget that prices for regular unleaded are $3.70 and up in SE Michigan, expected to drop a bit for the next month or so, and then head over $4 a gallon again next year - if nothing goes wrong. So, what, $4.50 in 2013, $5 in 2014, etc?


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:45 p.m.

Use mass transit.