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Posted on Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Downtown employees say better AATA services would encourage them to commute by bus more often

By Ryan J. Stanton

More than 70 percent of downtown Ann Arbor employers say having transportation options is important to attracting customers and a talented workforce, according to a new study.

The study, released by the getDowntown Program, was jointly funded by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. It surveyed more than 250 employers and 275 employees located in the downtown.

Compared to a 2009 survey, more downtown employees are using public transit and biking to get to work. Public transit use increased 3 percent while biking increased 4 percent.

When asked what would encourage them to use transit more often, downtown employees cited the need for more express and direct service as well as service later into the evening.

"It's encouraging to see more people looking to public transit for their daily commute," AATA CEO Michael Ford said in a statement. "We hope public transportation use continues to increase among Washtenaw County residents in the coming months and years as we work to improve the customer experience by making public transit more efficient, reliable and convenient."

About 40 percent of those surveyed indicated they at least occasionally commuted by bus in the past year, while 22 percent indicated they bike to work at least occasionally.

Further breaking down those numbers, 78 percent said they never commute by bike, 6 percent said they do regularly, and 16 percent said they do occasionally.

As for bus commuting, 59 percent said they never commute by AATA, 11 percent said they regularly commute by AATA and 29 percent said they do occasionally.

Data from the getDowntown Commuter Challenge shows the typical one-way commuting distance by bus for downtown employees is 2.5 miles.

According to the new survey, downtown employees who live four miles or less from work are much more likely to bike, walk or take a bus instead of driving alone to work.

At 2 miles to less than 4 miles from work, only 32 percent of employees surveyed said they drive alone, while 33 percent of employees take the bus.

A top reason many employees say they're using the bus or shifting away from driving is the go!pass, an unlimited-use transit pass downtown employers can purchase for employees.

The DDA provides a grant to getDowntown that allows the program to offer the go!pass to employers at a reduced rate.

In the survey, 63 percent of employees cited the go!pass as an important benefit to their job. Go!pass ridership for 2010 was 15 percent higher than in 2009.

Nearly a third of employees surveyed said express bus service, more direct bus service and bus service closer to home would make it more realistic to commute using AATA, while about 23 percent cited service later in the evening, and 22 percent cited more frequent service on weekends. About a third said none of the listed choices would convince them to take a bus.

GetDowntown, a program of the AATA, is operated in partnership with the city of Ann Arbor and the DDA.

The AATA is seeking approval from the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to morph into a countywide transit authority this year to expand services.

Related story: Q&A: Young downtown workers, businesses drive increased interest in getDowntown bus passes

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.



Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 8:17 p.m.

Buses are a great idea in theory! The last time I took a bus there was a bunch of broke wanna be thug's, and made it an unpleasant run for most of the others and I. No Thanks! to the mas-transit for me, but thanks for the offer though.


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 6:16 p.m.

I am glad that the AATA is trying to be more Customer Friendly but the AATA is really an expensive "Progressive Fantasy" that makes you feel like your "Saving the Planet" but it doesn't!


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 8:01 p.m.

Given that there's nothing fantastical about the need for urban transportation and that fact is recognized worldwide: how is it that you come to a politicized conclusion about this? Politicized thinking is what fantasy IS.

5c0++ H4d13y

Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 4:13 p.m.

They could run earlier and later. Sometimes I need to be at work by 6am and the last bus stops running before 10pm.


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

I normally commute by bicycle (about 90% of the year). Yesterday, it was too cold (I have COPD) so I took a taxi to work and planned to return home by bus (because I have a Senior Pass and live not far from Blake Transit Center). Only - the bus arrived ~ 12 minutes late. I and other riders had to stand in the cold for at least 15 minutes. The cause was obvious: an obstreperous (would be) male passenger was standing at the door, berating and insulting the driver because he could not get a "cash refund" instead of a printed credit slip. Also obvious: he didn't have the full fare to begin with - and had simply decided he'd remain on the bus to berate & insult the driver. And in the process: ignore other passengers and we frozen ones who were trying to board the bus. This guy actually stayed a few minutes longer, preventing the driver from continuing the trip of a jam-packed bus to it's destination. For a brief time, it looked like some of the younger male passengers were about to take matters into their own hands. I wish they had. The bus was running about 16 minutes late by the time this fool finally got off the bus. Now, I can't complain because my trip was free - but this was a bus fully occupied so other paying passengers were inconvenienced too and were subjected to loud vulgar language and probably some anxiety. AATA can count on the rarity of such instances well enough, but I felt "damned" because I had chosen the ONE "wrong time" to board one of their buses. Maybe they should hire "bus cops" like the "cops" railroad companies once employed. "Illegal riders" could then be dealt with decisively and that would save bus drivers and their passengers a lot of time and aggravation in the long run.


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

. It surveyed more than 250 employers and 275 employees located in the downtown. Compared to a 2009 survey, more DOWNTOWN EMPLOYEES are using public transit and biking to get to work. Public transit use increased 3 percent while biking increased 4 percent. So I only used the employee number of 275 and 3 percent of that is ? I should have used 4 percent for the bikers. Read "I never was any good at math." But you get my drift. A very small number when you look at it. And it does not warrant a huge expenditure in this economy.


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

The actual service is fine in my book. I'd be more likely to take the bus if I could wait for the damn thing without getting asked for a cigarette or the use of my cell phone.


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

This is a great deal for downtown companies and their employees. I'm not so sure it's such a great deal for those of us who don't work downtown, and yet still pay for the getDowntown passes. Ask them to pay the real cost of those bus passes, and I suspect you'd see fewer people who are enthusiastic about taking the bus.


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

If my math is correct that means 8.1 more people are using public transit and biking to get to work. Lets say it's 4.50 people for each. That's 1.50 more people a year are using public transit and biking to get to work! WOW! Lets propose a special millage to pay for this astronomical trend!


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

murph Thanks for the clarification. I see where I went wrong. It is good to know my math is not that bad just my cognitive skills! I still do not think we need to improve service at this time. The ones that do ride won't stop if it is not"improved". And we would need new jobs to expect a major increase in the number of people working downtown.


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 5:04 p.m.

Your math is fine, it's your statistics that are off. The study stated that, within the sample size of 279 downtown employees, public transit use increased 3% from 2009-2011. If there were only 279 people working in all of downtown Ann Arbor, then your math would be just fine. However, there are 7,100 employees *just* at downtown businesses participating in the go!pass program, according to get!downtown data. Let's conservatively estimate that only these employees changed behavior over those two years -- employees at non-participating businesses continued their past behavior. By that conservative method, we can estimate that 213 downtown employees started using transit as their primary commute between 2009 and 2011. If we look back to the change in transit use for downtown commutes from 2000 to 2011, from 8% to 18%, this conservative method gets us 710 commuters now using transit primarily who didn't before. (This doesn't include commuters who use transit sometimes, but walk or bike or drive the rest of the time.) By contrast, what if those commuters were all driving downtown instead of using transit? Well, the new underground structure at the library lot will have 600 parking spaces in it. If all these NEW transit riders were driving, instead, we'd apparently have to build another underground parking structure the size of the library structure...and then some. And remember, we're not even including employees at businesses that don't participate in the goPass program in this estimate.


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 3:47 p.m.

Your right, you are not good at math.


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 2:22 p.m.

Where do your numbers come from?


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

I never was any good at math. SHOULD have read Lets say it's 4..05 people for each. That's 1.35 more people a year that are using public transit and biking to get to work! Now I have to rethink my statement about another millage.