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Posted on Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 1:20 p.m.

Ann Arbor City Council to consider resolution to opt out of countywide transit authority

By Ryan J. Stanton

A resolution on Thursday night's Ann Arbor City Council agenda could effectively end current talks of expanding transit services throughout Washtenaw County.

At the same time, it could be the start of new talks and a new plan, taking the current discussion around countywide transit in a new direction.

Mayor John Hieftje and four council members — Sabra Briere, Christopher Taylor, Marcia Higgins and Stephen Kunselman — are sponsoring the resolution to withdraw from the Washtenaw Ride, the countywide transit authority created to replace the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.


AATA riders board and de-board buses at the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor.

Ryan J. Stanton |

It's not an outcome Hieftje and others wanted, but it has become increasingly clear in recent weeks that the AATA's current plan doesn't have much support outside the county's urban core.

Given that several outlying townships have opted out of the countywide authority, Hieftje said this week he's in favor of taking a step back and reassessing.

"I appreciate the fact that AATA has gotten the question out there and gotten that conversation going," he said. "This particular version of it doesn't look like it's going to work, but that's fine. Maybe we need to look more at the core — the cities and townships closest to Ann Arbor."

The resolution terminates the four-party transportation agreement the city entered into earlier this year with the AATA, Washtenaw County and Ypsilanti. That agreement laid the framework for morphing the AATA into a new countywide transit authority, a plan that's now on life support.

Hieftje said it might make more sense to start a new discussion about expanding transit services in the county's urban core. The resolution council will consider encourages the AATA to continue discussions with Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Ann Arbor Township and Pittsfield Township, with hopes of finding a better way of improving local transit options.

"This resolution steps back from a countywide approach and encourages AATA to increase service through cooperation among urban core communities," Taylor said. "Expanded mass transit will grow Ann Arbor's economy and reduce traffic congestion. I am confident that AATA can get it done."

AATA spokeswoman Mary Stasiak said it will be disappointing if Ann Arbor decides to opt out since the Washtenaw Ride depends on Ann Arbor being at the table.

Either way, she said, the AATA will continue conversations with core urban communities that have indicated a desire to partner on expanding public transportation services. In addition to the communities named in the council's resolution, she mentioned Scio and Superior townships.

Both of those townships actually opted out of the Washtenaw Ride, but Stasiak said many of the municipalities opting out still are interested in expanding transit options somehow.

"I think people have expressed a pretty strong interest in being a part of our regional transit network, so our job is to continue conversations to figure out how to get it implemented," she said. "There is overwhelming support for expanded public transit in Washtenaw County. It's just a matter of how we get there and I think this allows us to go back to the table."

So far the only communities that have not opted out of the Washtenaw Ride are Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Saline, Ypsilanti Township and the village of Dexter.

The council's resolution notes the funding mechanism and other details of the proposed plan for the Washtenaw Ride remained uncertain when the articles of incorporation were filed. And those were reasons some municipalities cited when opting out of the new authority.

"While there was conceptual support from township and municipality leaders for an expanded transit system, many elected leaders concluded that the prudent act was to opt out of the new public transportation authority," the resolution states.

The resolution further states: "The opportunity to improve transportation in the region continues to be of interest to the City Council, although the mechanism to achieve this goal is less clear."

Ann Arbor officials said it seemed from outreach efforts over the last few years that many residents support the concept of increased mass transit options — options that would be available to all residents from the four corners of the county and every city, village and township in between.

"But there were always barriers," reads a memo accompanying the resolution on Thursday's council agenda. "How much would this plan cost, who would pay for it, how would it be paid for and — most important in many minds — who would decide."

Stasiak said however the vote goes Thursday night, AATA officials are encouraged by all of the participation they received through the countywide planning effort.

"It is a really important issue for our continued economic vitality in this region," she said. "I also think, as far as trying to move forward a regional initiative, we recognize it's a marathon, it's not a sprint."

Stasiak added, "It's important that Ann Arbor is at the table."

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.



Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 4:55 a.m.

We don't need an expansion of public transit, and we sure don't need to subsidize the surrounding area's. Stop wasting money on pipe dreams and pet projects and provide basic services first! More police, more firefighters, better roads, large garbage pick-up!

Basic Bob

Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 4:36 a.m.

Ann Arbor doesn't need to cooperate with the neighboring communities. No need for Ann Arbor residents to travel outside the city limits for shopping at Walmart, Meijer, Home Depot, Costco, or Dick's, eating at chain restaurants beyond the freeway ring, or trips to EMU or WCC. Also no need to encourage township residents to seek employment in the city, or employees to seek housing in the townships. Everything we need is right here, right now. Building the moat, toll booths, and checkpoints should commence immediately.

Joe Baublis

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 11:47 p.m.

When the AATA says that "Ann Arbor" is at the table, they are referring to the government - not the people. I'm skeptical of council-member Taylor claims that the "economy" will be grown, on grounds raised by Bean's comment. The expansion will cost real money, and we have no idea whether the cost will be justified by enhanced revenues. In addition, an inflated economy is just another public sector fraud.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 11:37 p.m.

Most of the comments stem from the idyllic era that was supposed to change. Gov. Snyder's (aka Mackinac Center's) corporate master plan was to diffuse local voter power by "integrating" county communities into one larger more distant tax/spend block. Think of any city service and then slap the name Washtenaw on it. Your vote soon becomes lost among the doubling and redoubling countywide population. Local issues become profit-efficiency matter discussions from afar.. Energy prices will rise and eventually force marginal workers to stop commuting. Housing prices will evict any opportunity for lower and lower wage earners. to live here UM and local business will suffer. So a solution - hurray - people movers. Like shuttling so many cattle to their feed lots around the green belt and then back home out of fun-town sight. Adding population density instead of dealing with the world's single biggest problem - overpopulation - is easier for thinktankers and more profitable for them too. So next election, just repeat after your leaders, its "Drill baby drill", "Build baby build", and "Bus baby bus". Oh, and "toot toot baby toot".

Steve Bean

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 10:42 p.m.

"Expanded mass transit will grow Ann Arbor's economy and reduce traffic congestion." Rather than characterize this assertion by councilmember Taylor, I'll just note that Ann Arbor's economy is far more influenced by the national economy today and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, even more than it has been for the past several years. In this credit-bubble climate government-funded expansion of any sort is risky like it's never been before.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 11:28 p.m.

Flint is a perfect example of how traffic congestion is reduced.

Steve Bean

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 11:18 p.m.

Agreed, Tom. In part, the existence (or expansion) of roads induces driving. I was speaking only to the "economy" portion of Chris's statement. On traffic congestion I'll add this: rapidly declining fossil fuel availability and net energy of what IS available, on the heels of this deepening deflationary depression, will have the effect of reducing traffic congestion like we've never seen. Set aside some (physical) cash to buy a bike (or trike) in the next few years, folks, if efficient personal mobility is important to you.

Tom Whitaker

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 11:05 p.m.

Reductions in traffic congestion due to transit are a myth perpetuated by theoretical urban planning textbooks. Look at any city with a transit system that is heavily used and you will still see massive traffic congestion, especially when there is a growing economy and in turn, a growing population. Nope, the only thing that reduces traffic congestion is negative population growth.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 10:38 p.m.

Like Alan Goldsmith, I would also like VERY much to see the total dollars spent on this poorly-planned, completely unjustified project, including any salaries paid to new commission members, incorporation fees, etc. This would be a WONDERFULLY informative piece of information to get from proactive reporters looking to serve their community and readers. Like Stepehen Landes, I also would like to know any possible procedural loopholes or political roundabouts and chicanery inherent in bringing this resolution; the fact that the mayor and other (if memory serves) vehement proponents of this expansion are the sponsors make it impossible for me to NOT suspect some gamesmanship here, as opposed to people actually coming to their senses. Like the Fuller station project, this went way, WAY too far; common sense or a true dedication to serving the residents of Ann Arbor would have put a stop to this LONG before it got to this point. I'm glad it's all falling through, but I sure wish those in charge could stop spending so much time and money with their eyes closed, their fingers in their ears, and shouting "myah myah myah, I can't hear you, myah myah myah" while they push money into the fire with their feet.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 10:12 p.m.

should have a transit deal with Toledo that makes more sense.

Ron Granger

Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 1:06 a.m.

Flint? Aren't those people from FLINT?


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 10:54 p.m.

I'm flying out of Bishop Airport in Flint next month. How about a bus ride there?

Ron Granger

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 10:31 p.m.

Toledo? Aren't those people from OHIO?

Roger Kuhlman

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:59 p.m.

AATA needs to think about lowering the property tax millage that Ann Arbor Taxpayers have to pay and requiring users of their service to pick up more of the costs themselves.It is ridiculous the bus riders have to pay such a low percentage of the cost of their transportation. That is not fair to people who do not use the bus

Ron Granger

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:58 p.m.

There can be little question Ann Arbor voters would have defeated this - if they had been given the chance! They weren't. What's wrong with that picture, and city council? This plan was too ambitious, and it was putting too much on the backs of Ann Arbor taxpayers. In addition to getting nothing for contributing many millions in buses, they were expected to pay a disproportionate share. ALL transportation is subsidized by taxpayers, and I support the bus system. But there is no reason A2 taxpayers should be subsidizing surrounding communities.


Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 4:16 a.m.

Again, Ypsilanti Township pays for contracted police services with the WSCO. Last time I checked, Ann Arbor has its own police force. Also what does this have to do with Public Transit and Ypsilanti Township, for which we pay our fair share to the AATA?

Steve Hendel

Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 3:30 a.m.

It's not that you pay nothing YpsiGirl, it's just that your bus ride is heavily subsidized by A2 taxpayers; but then, there is precedent for Ypsi Twp residents expecting other communities to pay for THEIR services-like for instance police protection at a subsidized rate from the County Sheriff.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 11:42 p.m.

Ypsilanti Township pays our fair share and have the second per capita ridership outside of Ann Arbor itself. The data proves this. So frankly I'm a bit tired of A2 tired excuse that THEY pay for everything and other communities pay nothing.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:43 p.m.

An expanded system of public transportation is very much needed by our county. It will add many times its cost to the economy. PLEASE, Ann Arbor, do not cut off the surrounding communities like Saline, Dexter, Milan, etc. We want and need this service. The carefully and thoughtfully planned Washtenaw Ride will provide service that does not yet exist and is very much needed. Services for our aging population, support for commuters who cannot otherwise reach jobs, support for commuters who choose public transit over a personal car, local community circulator busses that provide safe and reliable transit within these communities for these same populations and for teenagers, so that we do not have to risk the lives of our children in crowded family cars are all vital and important functions of a public transportation system. Ann Arbor, we need you to lead and not cower in the face of the very reasonable tax cost for this system. PLEASE keep this project moving forward!!!


Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 6:02 a.m.

I totally agree. AATA may have been hasty with putting this plan forward but many of the surrounding areas were just as hasty in opting out. Then again the counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties have tried to consolidate transit services for decades, with the same futility. This auto happy state takes a dim view of public transportation and is paying dearly for such a mentality.

Steve Hendel

Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 3:21 a.m.

No, Angry Moderate, I don't think he is being sarcastic. It sounds as if he expects the A2 (and other urban) taxpayers to pick up the tab for public transit servicing the surrounding area (and then some, since he includes Milan), once again subsidizing what the Realtor ads call "low township taxes."

Angry Moderate

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:47 p.m.

This is A+ trolling, I didn't even realize you were being sarcastic until "crowded family cars."


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:41 p.m.

Nothing wrong here that can't be cured by one or two more election cycles - just keep voting Putzer and his pals out of city hall, and individuals less prone to having grandiose "visions" into city hall. They are a lot like cockroaches, I must admit.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:38 p.m.

Not mentioned in the story is the fact that the members of the AATA board were all appointed by Mayor Hieftje, who bears the ultimate responsibility for the failure of this overly grandiose plan and the taxpayer money consequently lost. I and I believe many Ann Arbor taxpayers really do want to know the answer that @Alan Goldsmith asked above, "How much money was spent by AATA, the City of Ann Arbor, and Washtenaw County on setting up this merger fiasco?"

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:33 p.m.

I highly recommend reading @Vivienne Armentrout's blog post The comment on that blog post that Ed Vielmetti left gives I think the proper suggestion for the way forward: "With Saline expressing an interest in adding transit services, and Pittsfield looking for more information about purchase-of-service options, it's not out of the question that the existing AATA couldn't expand beyond its existing boundaries and very selectively add routes based on service purchases...". I would add Ypsilanti township to the mix also.

Tom Whitaker

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:29 p.m.

A very cynical move by the Mayor and Christopher Taylor to preempt a resolution already put in motion by other council members and trying to make it look like their own idea--even pushing one of the original sponsor's names off the resolution. I suppose it's only a matter of time before the Mayor will be sponsoring resolutions to dismantle Percent for Art and to pull the funding for the Fuller Park train station.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:15 p.m.

Stasiak added, "It's important that Ann Arbor is at the table." Which raises an interesting question: Whose table is it anyhow? Someone seems to have forgotten that AATA is just an agency of the city, funded by the city. To imply that AATA can possibly go ahead with its grandiose schemes without the participation of the city is simply arrogant nonsense.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:49 p.m.

Arrogant nonsense is the AATA board saying that NO only means MAYBE!! I am sure we have not heard the last of this. Now wait and see what the final bill is going to be for this failed attempt!


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

Council - while you're meeting we'd love to hear the plan for repealing the "1% for art" ordinance. The voters have told you what they want, so let's get on with it before any more mistakes are made.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

Be interesting to see how the bubble trust ( OZ ) votes..the rest of the county with 2 exceptions has told AATA to keep their hands out of their pockets...stupid idea ...but then OZ is the home of stupid ideas...we'll see....


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 9:01 p.m.

Why are they onlyh talking to Pittsfield Township? Why not Scio? There's a Meier's down there that tons of people would like to travel to on bus, as well as the Quality 16 and many other shops.

Tom Whitaker

Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 1:57 a.m.

So did Pittsfield.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 10:19 p.m.

The Scio Township Board voted to opt out.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 8:53 p.m.

We as a city need to "opt out" on this one.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 8:29 p.m.

Can't the difference be made up in higher fares? If folks outside or the city want to use AATA, they can afford to pay more for the ride. Just like a VAT tax, tax the source of the expense. In NYC it is $2.25 per ride.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 11:36 p.m.

No, increasing fares ad-hoc is not an opinion. Public Transportation is larger than taxing the death riders with higher fees they can't afford to pay. At this point, I say make a smaller system and keep planned expansions for communities that Opted-In, like Ypsilanti Township.

Stephen Landes

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 8:17 p.m.

Ryan, I would like to unreservedly welcome this resolution, but while I don't smell a rat I fear one. By proposing this resolution, do the sponsors in any way have a procedural advantage in re-visiting this issue? In some parliamentary procedures the only way to be able to bring something back for consideration is to have voted against it. I have such a low trust factor in the mayor and his associates that I really need this question answered.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 10:13 p.m.

I agree. Are we going to wind up with another one of those non-choice choices like with the public art funding?

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 8:08 p.m.

I just finished a post about the failures of governance in putting this venture together. Contains maps! Also an analysis of the Partners for Transit arguments.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 7:56 p.m.

Under normal circumstances I would say the mayor and his jokers finally came to their senses. But this just underscores how inept this city gov is!


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

Kind of sounds like "It means we didn't make our case to the voters, but it doesn't mean there is not a case to be made". Now where have I heard that before?


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 7:16 p.m.

"We recognize it's a marathon, it's not a sprint. . ." Oh. . . That's certainly a major change in thinking, or at least in window dressing. It is far from the countywide failure plan whereby city a2 and AATA transferred city of a2 resident assets (for free) to an entity that had no plan and few participants. What a joke/tragedy that is/was. Unfortunately for city a2 and AATA, maybe it doesn't matter if it is a sprint or a marathon, because they appear to be chasing their tails, running frothy circles; with absolutely zero direction, and going nowhere really fast. Sad stuff for everyone involved. . .

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 7:15 p.m.

Next year, they're going to ask the taxpayers for a new city hall. I hear the artwork is becoming a little too old for their liking.

Top Cat

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

"At the same time, it could be the start of new talks and a new plan, taking the current discussion around countywide transit in a new direction." Advocates of ever expanding government never take NO for an answer. They have the tenacity of cockroaches.

Angry Moderate

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 7:02 p.m.

They seem to be suffering from the same delusion as the folks who want to demolish a perfectly good library.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 6:43 p.m.

What a ridiculous waste of time this whole countywide transit idea has been.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 6:39 p.m.

How much money was spent by AATA, the City of Ann Arbor, and Washtenaw County on setting up this merger fiasco? Money that is going down the drain because of unrealistic expectations, poor planning and clear lack of a communication process with out County townships during the planning phase.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 7:53 p.m.

Alan Well said! I think that is the sentiment of all clear thinking individuals in Ann Arbor.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 6:45 p.m.

Two words: sunk cost So let's keep it that way by not spending another dime on it.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 6:27 p.m.

Additional thoughts on this topic from Expanded Transit Would Reach Most County Residents Expanded Transit: What's in it for Ann Arbor?