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Posted on Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

Ypsilanti City Council moves cautiously on countywide bus transportation plan

By Tom Perkins

The Ypsilanti City Council is continuing its cautious approach to a proposed countywide transportation plan.

For a second time, the Council removed from its agenda a resolution that would advance their involvement in the process for creating a countywide transportation authority. Council voted to do so at their Dec. 20 meeting and will revisit the issue at their regular Jan. 10 meeting.

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authroity is in the planning stages for a nearly $600 million expansion over 30 years. Officials say the plan will provide significant service improvements and help spur economic growth throughout the county. It would also bump the AATA’s annual operating costs from $25.1 million to $85.8 million by 2040.

Officials from the AATA are asking Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to join a four-party agreement that lays the framework for establishing a countywide authority.

Council removed from the agenda a resolution to join the four-party agreement at their Oct. 4 meeting, which Council member Pete Murdock said was because no other parties had approved the agreement and its final draft wasn’t available.

No final draft was presented Tuesday and Ann Arbor and the county have yet to approve the agreement.

Several council members also expressed concerns over how much taxpayers could be asked to contribute.

Michael Ford, AATA’s CEO, said a financial task force is still exploring options for financing the plan, but the most widely discussed option so far is a 1-mill countywide tax that will eventually grow to 1.5 mills. Ypsilanti currently has .987-mill that will generate $292,000 this year and would eventually be transferred to the new county authority.

But Council Member Mike Bodary pointed out that language in the city’s charter amendment that dedicates funding to transportation says City Council can reduce or eliminate the millage if a countywide millage is passed.


Council Member Mike Bodary

Tom Perkins | For

Ford clarified the agency is expecting the city would transfer that millage to the new countywide authority and pay the additional 1-mill levy. AATA officials said council isn’t required to eliminate or reduce that millage, but Bodary said he understood that.

“We also have responsibility to voters to uphold what we propose,” he said.

Mayor Paul Schreiber, who is the city’s representative on the unincorporated board, said he also had concerns about a 1-mill tax and suggested the AATA stagger smaller millages.

“I’ve been pushing the board to consider something less than a mill,” Schreiber said. “That would be a better sell not only in Ypsilanti, but countywide. One mill is a pretty big bite to take in the first year.”

Ann Arbor currently has a 2-mill transportation tax that it would also transfer to the new authority, and the AATA would transfer its assets to the authority once a funding source is determined.

After incorporation, the authority would be able to ask voters once a year through 2014 to approve a new millage before the authority dissolves.

Whether or not the plan is successful, current service levels will not change, with the exception of an already planned increase to the route four trip frequency and extension of the Night Ride service.

One of the AATA’s first steps in its plan was creating an unincorporated countywide board. Officials representing districts throughout the county sit on the unincorporated board, which has met several times.

The board’s first objective is to craft a five-year transit improvement plan that it will present to municipalities before incorporating. That plan is a short-term program that will help the countywide authority quickly expand service in the region while the 30-year plan is revised.

The board will subsequently incorporate, making the countywide board official. No timetable is set, but Ford said incorporation is expected sometime in 2012.

Municipalities can opt out of the plan, and four have already done so. One of the concerns is over taxpayers in outlying townships paying a full mill for less direct service than those in the larger, core municipalities.

But officials are touting the plan as one that will generate economic activity throughout the county and improve quality of life

Schreiber said he is concerned about how high of a millage the AATA is considering asking voters to approve, but said he thinks a countywide authority would be advantageous to Ypsilanti because it would provide more stability.

“A county authority would lock us in and give us better service,” he said. “Residents of the city said 3 to 1 ‘We value transportation,’ so to me it’s more than just the millage. I think we ought to give residents the opportunity to say it’s worth more than just nine-tenths of a mill.”

“I think we need to take it slowly, but I think we need to take it deliberately,” Schreiber added.


sad day

Tue, Dec 27, 2011 : 3:13 p.m.

BE very careful!!!!!! Did you pay attention when the schools consolidated bus services through WISD?


Tue, Dec 27, 2011 : 9:18 p.m.

And they are going to consolidate even more by June. We need the buses so our child can get to school every single day. What I would love to see is a shuttle to the Whittaker Road library and that shopping mall some time soon. That area is really building up.

Ron Granger

Tue, Dec 27, 2011 : 3:11 a.m.

I support AATA's service in the city of Ann arbor, but not generally outside it. Can we exclude high crime areas from the routes? I'd really rather not PAY to transport crime from high crime areas into my neighborhood.

Pixie Belle

Tue, Dec 27, 2011 : 4:23 p.m.

The people from those areas probably serve you your coffee and you lunch when you go out.


Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 11:05 p.m.

I remember a report maybe a year ago that indicated about 5000 people per day, 365 days a year ride the bus in Ypsilanti. I don't have anything but anecdotal evidence but that number seems grossly overstated. I have no idea how they collected that data but I'm sure those are fudged numbers. We have all seems these buses driving around mostly empty, most of the time. I have no problem with public transportation. You couldn't get around some cities without it. But spending $25 million in tax payers dollars seems unjustifiable let alone increasing that budget by some 210% over the next 28 years. What is wrong with private industry filling the void? Small vans running routes or even providing more of a targeted service? Remember all the money the county wanted for wireless? Ypsilanti did it for $60 per business instead of the 10s of thousands the county wanted. Ypsilanti city counsel did something wise here by delaying. Now delay permanently.

Lisa Bashert

Tue, Dec 27, 2011 : 6:47 p.m.

You regularly hear stuff like this from people who don't ride the bus. I ride the bus from Ypsi to Ann Arbor and the routes I ride are FULL FULL FULL at almost every hour of the day and night. "Small vans running routes or even providing more of a targeted service"? We have had that -- Night Ride is one example that stands out in my mind. In that case, you ask the poor to ride around for an hour or more while 2 or 3 or 10 others are picked up before you eventually get delivered home. I've been on Night Rides where I could have walked home faster -- and sometimes I DID walk. Once again, it is asking for more from the already very marginal. I was paying childcare expenses while driving around like that for extra hours on the "targeted service." Because you might not need public transportation now is not a reason to deny it to others -- and with the economy as it is, and aging, and the state of health care, you may very well need public transportation desperately before your life is over.

Anthony Clark

Tue, Dec 27, 2011 : 3:59 a.m.

I don't have anything but anecdotal evidence, either. If anything, 5000 people per day seems understated. Some of the routes operate nearly empty buses, but many of them are filled to capacity (#4, 5, 6, 7). Lots of people wouldn't be able to get to work without the bus. Private industry filling the void is called "taxi cabs". Not a viable option for daily transportation to and from work. Way too expensive for a part time employee in a low wage job. Call it socialism if you want, but there are certain services that benefit the public good that only government has the capacity to provide.


Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 8:18 p.m.

This article states; "It would also bump the AATA's annual operating costs from $25.1 million to $85.8 million by 2040." Can someone explain to me how AATA can justify an annual operating cost of $25.1 million and going up, with ridership being what it is?

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Dec 27, 2011 : 2:55 a.m.

The reason is that a highly capital-intensive and high operating cost system (sometimes called the Connector Study, also a Washtenaw Ave. route) that would use light rail or other special technology would be added to our regular bus system and to the demand/accessibility system that we currently have. Please see my earlier comment.

Basic Bob

Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 11:17 p.m.

How can they justify it? They don't have to, they just need to convince the county board it is a great idea. There are a number of reasons to think that ridership might increase in the future. They all hinge on the idea that more people from outside the center of Ann Arbor will have jobs in the city, and do not have cars, either by choice or necessity. This is a plausible argument as the city population is rapidly shifting to the extremes. In a few years we will see an increased number of retirees who have the means to stay in their city homes and choose to stay. Then there will be everyone else, with lower wages and more highly taxed than we are today to cover the cost of the retired population. Do you think everyone will still be able to buy their kids a car to get to work? Maybe not. Will they be able to buy a house on the current bus line? Doubtful. I'm not sure that AATA has the right answers, but if our economy does not fully recover (how can it?) or private cars become too costly, then we need to look at options to get people to their jobs. One answer is for people to live closer to work, the other answer is public transportation between city and suburb. I agree with the concept of expanding AATA, at least as far as my house ;), But the mayor and his buddies only seem interested in generating glamorous system maps and federal handouts.

David Cahill

Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 7 p.m.

What Vivienne Armentrout said.


Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 2:26 p.m.

Let's HOPE they remember debacles. I hope A2 residents will remember that AATA operates at a loss and has NO EVIDENCE that an expansion would operate at less of a loss, promote ANY economic growth, or that there is an existing need for this. What is the evidence that there is a need that will be addressed by this? What is the evidence that this will spur economic growth? Without any of that evidence, this is people in charge taking advantage of your trust, apathy, or ignorance. You keep paying property taxes, they keep raising them, and nothing's going to stop it except the residents on the losing side.


Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 1:58 p.m.

Good thing they decided to hold off. This Council needs to working on things they actually understand and comprehend. This project is far to complex for their novice participation. The tax payers in the City of Ypsilanti still rememberthe Water Street debacle, and will for years to come. the dog


Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 3:18 p.m.

So what you are saying is the Council should be sitting at home twittling their thumbs, lol. I truely believe that they do NOT understand ANYTHING that they are doing or need to do and havent for decades, lest we be in this situation. City Council has no business considering anything that does not directly and profoundly effect a move towards solvency and future financial wellbeing of the city. Nothing I have seen regarding AATA has ever pointed towards that end.

Vivienne Armentrout

Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

Thank you for this report. Actually, it is not accurate to say that the u196 board is crafting a 5-year plan. That work is nearly complete, at least conceptually. Many details are available at <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> (this link is given in the article also). Meetings of the u196 board (which does not reconvene until February) have so far been mostly informational. I think it wise for the Ypsilanti City Council to delay approval of the 4-party agreement and I hope that the Ann Arbor City Council will also take a deep breath or two before approving it. It is currently on our CC agenda for January 9 and that would be a premature decision. Why? Because the financial plan is not at all complete and there are many very big questions to be answered. The Financial Task Force does not meet again until January 27 and they have been given a lot of recommendations by a task force that will take real work to resolve. I have been following this issue closely and in my recent blog post <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> I point out that really it is two plans. It is the urban network bus system plan and also a very expensive, capital-intensive high-capacity system whose major effect is to deliver employees to the UM. Commuter rail is also included. I've teased out the relative costs of each. Only 52% of operating money by the end of the 30 years goes to our urban network.


Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 11:54 a.m.

Can someone explain or provide some evidence on just how this is going to &quot;help spur economic growth&quot; in the area? Aside from hiring more drivers and beaurocrats I am skeptical. Those of us who live in the townships drive cars and pick-ups and plan to keep doing so.


Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 5:30 p.m.

That's why you're and others like you are, part of the problem which this is trying to fix. Although I never expect a positive response to anything smacking of public transportation in Michigan!


Mon, Dec 26, 2011 : 12:09 p.m.

And horses. Don't forget horses.