The Transit Changeover: What Does It Do for Ann Arbor?

I’ve been following the changes in our city transit system, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, since 2008.  Much of that time I’ve been blogging about it, too.  For a listing of posts, see the Transportation Page in Local In Ann Arbor.

Surely, everyone has heard that AATA is in the midst of attempting a makeover from a city transit system based on Act 55 (but with service contracts outside the city) to a “countywide” (really regional) transit authority based on Act 196.  Everyone has also heard that this would entail a new countywide millage, currently estimated at 0.5 mills.  In a recent post I estimated, based on what I consider to be fairly reasonable assumptions, that this would mean Ann Arbor taxpayers would pay up to 75% of the taxes to support the new system.  (We already pay about 2 mills for support of the AATA and we’d add the new tax to that.)

So, aside from issues of fairness and possible benefits to Ann Arbor as an employment center (there are many such arguments to be made in favor of the new system), what benefits do we, as Ann Arbor residents, expect to get from the changeover?

This is getting to be a serious question because we are evidently coming in to crunch time.  Last night I attended the “District Advisory Committee” meeting for Ann Arbor.  I was appointed to this body a few weeks ago and our job is supposed to be to represent the interests of our district.  (I’ll leave the detailed explanation of why the DAC is completely ineffective till another day.)  We were tasked to read the entire 5-year transit service plan (big file).

So – I wrote a memo.  Here are the concerns I listed:

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.

I’ve been fretting and worrying over what I identify as financial risks and magic thinking in this matter for a couple of years.  But put those aside.  How about that level of service?

The “urban network” in the 5-year service plan, including Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Pittsfield and Superior Townships. Click for larger to see bus routes.

What is proposed is improvements in the “urban network” of fixed-route buses.

Here are the benefits specifically proposed for Ann Arbor:

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But on closer examination, most of these enhancements appear to be directed at the goal of getting commuters from outside Ann Arbor in and to the central area as efficiently as possible.  Here’s what I said about that:

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.

There is more detail in the plan, but I’ll skip that for now except to note that most of the service improvements in western Ann Arbor are in new routes 8,9,10,11,12, 15 and 18.  Most of the bus stop enhancements are along Washtenaw, specifically tagged as part of the Reimagine Washtenaw initiative.   “Bus priority measures” refers to designated lanes for buses and so-called “queue-jumping” – as in rapid bus transit.  These will require reconfiguring some of our streets.  The main point is to make commuter routes more efficient.

So what do you think?  Aside from the wider community connectivity, etc. what benefits would we like to see for our own local bus system if we make the “transit transition”?

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