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Advisory Board


To: Ann Arbor District Advisory Committee
From: Vivienne Armentrout
CC: Sally Elmiger, Michael Ford, Michael Benham
Date: May 14, 2012

Re: Response to the 5-year draft service plan

I have so many comments that I feel I must put them in writing to be coherent.

It is my understanding that the function of the DAC for Ann Arbor is to reflect needs of this community, and the comments are aimed at that purpose.

Briefly, I am generally in support of a county-wide transit plan, but this plan oversteps its boundaries (literally, if those are Washtenaw County). I am concerned on several grounds:

  1. Finances: Ann Arbor residents (depending on assumptions) may be paying for up to 80% of this system. This means that costs and assignment of expenditures are of great consequence to us.
  2. Level of service: Obviously, Ann Arbor residents would like to continue to receive transit service and there are a number of improvements that would be welcome.
  3. Likelihood of system success or failure: Since our citywide transit system is at risk, any overreaching and excessive risk has the potential to harm our community over the long term.

Finances:

It appears on a quick reading that the recommendations of the Financial Task Force have not been followed. (Although the “gap” identified does fit.)

For example, within a 5-year plan (a very short timeline), it is envisioned to spend $800,000 on express routes to Plymouth, Belleville, and Whitmore Lake, as well as $400,000 to Canton. But the FTF specifically pinpointed those out-of-county locations as needing further resolution in terms of cost-sharing. Also, while a slightly higher fare is suggested for express buses, it does not look adequate to pay for this type of investment.

The plan calls for funding to continue development of commuter rail and other high-capital items, while acknowledging that private investment may be sought for these. It is not clear how that fits into the budget that the FTF approved. It also calls for queue-jumping bus routes, which is not really funded within the plan.
The plan suggests that to pay for enhancements, fares should be raised in the current urban service area. Thus, Ann Arbor residents will not only pay more in taxes, but have higher fares as well. The plan even calls for increased fares for evening tickets.

Level of Service:

The routes (even those within Ann Arbor) have apparently been prioritized on the basis of a central employment center (downtown and the University of Michigan). This follows the traditional wheel-and-spoke configuration that AATA has long used. But in order to make Ann Arbor truly independent of automobile travel for its citizens, we need better routes that take us to locations not in the downtown. For example, if one wishes to travel from the West side to the St. Joseph-Washtenaw Community College area, the time involved is almost prohibitive, given that it requires routing through downtown.

The major improvements listed are more park-and-ride lots (commuters), faster main commuter routes, and improvements along the Washtenaw corridor (primarily serving commuters from the Ypsilanti area).
Routes other than the commuter routes are still given minimal service. For example, my own local bus route (13), though shown as having a modest level of transit dependence, has no evening or weekend service.

Likelihood of System Success or Failure:

This plan does not acknowledge the uncertainties in the present transportation environment, including pending state action, creation of a new Regional Transit Authority in the Detroit Metro area, proposed rapid transit bus lanes under the RTA (which would presumably affect the need for express buses to those areas), or federal funding lapses.

It is not to the benefit of Ann Arbor taxpayers to have our current transit system’s assets put at risk to expand capability without assurance that a careful assessment of these factors has been made. The Financial Task Force memo stated that these uncertainties should be accounted for before a firm financial plan could be put in place.

In addition, it is unclear what parts of the system would remain if a number of county communities opt out, or how the extended regional services would then be paid for.

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