â€“ The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (TheRide) Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution today adopting the Five-Year Transit Improvement Program, marking an important step in implementing the publicâ€™s vision for improved transit connectivity in Washtenaw Countyâ€™s Urban Core communities which include the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, as well as Ypsilanti Township.
â€œThe Boardâ€™s decision reflects strong leadership and unwavering commitment to providing quality public transportation and efficient fiscal stewardship of taxpayer resources,â€ said TheRide CEO Michael G. Ford. â€œThe Board understands that public transportation is essential to promoting vibrant communities that are attractive to employers and employees, places where connections can happen, where productivity and creativity increase, and where professional networks foster collaboration and innovation.â€
Since 2011, AAATA has worked diligently to develop the Five-Year Transit Improvement Program with riders, the public, community leaders and organizations, and elected officials; most recently during a 13-meeting series of public outreach sessions throughout Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township in October and November, 2013. The sessions provided multiple and diverse opportunities for people to understand the proposed improvements and provide input. TheRide analyzed specific suggestions and incorporated many suggestions from residents in the cities and townships it serves.
The Program includes an additional 90,000 service hours per year, which would represent a 44 percent annual increase over existing services. If additional local funding is secured, the program will enhance current operations and routes and increase transit access in underserved areas â€“ adding more destinations, more frequent service, more direct service, later weekday and weekend service, and redesigned routes over the next five years.
Tonightâ€™s Board adoption of the Five-Year Transit Improvement Program does not include a proposal for funding. That determination will be part of ongoing discussions between TheRide and local government officials who are continuing to work to identify the most effective way to fund the improvements that have been adopted by the Board.
AAATA officials say they are considering a recommendation that calls for the TheRide Board to approve placing a 0.7-mill, five-year property tax increase proposal on the 2014 ballot for residents in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. The date of a potential election is still to be determined pending the outcome of the AAATA Boardâ€™s decision.
Investing in mass transit is sound economic policy,â€ said local business leader Sean Duval. â€œThe total economic impact of expanded services will offer multiple returns on the funding raised through a new millage. I urge AAATAâ€™s Board members to let voters decide if they want to improve our communityâ€™s quality of life.â€
If approved by AAATAâ€™s Board and voters, the new Transit Improvement Millage Plan would generate a total of $4.3 million for new and expanded services annually through 2019. The owner of a home with a market value of $100,000 in the millage area of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township would pay $35 per year; the owner of a home with a market value of $200,000 would pay approximately $70 annually under the proposal, according to AAATA estimates.
The improved services proposed in the Plan would also be funded by a combination of state and federal matching funds. This means that every $1 spent by local taxpayers would generally be matched by $2 in return from state and federal funds. AAATA would also pay for the new and improved services through the collection of fares and purchase-of-service agreements (POSAs) with communities that are not in the Authority area.
â€œWhether you use public transportation or not, the services proposed in the Five-Year Transit Improvement Program will benefit the entire community,â€ said Carolyn Grawi, Director of Advocacy and Education at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living. â€œSeniors, youth, families, people with disabilities, and commuters will be able to more easily reach jobs, grocery stores, doctorsâ€™ offices and other vital destinations.â€
The new additional service hours generated within each jurisdiction would total about 57,000 for Ann Arbor, more than 8,500 hours of service for Ypsilanti, as well as at least 9,400 hours of new service for Ypsilanti Township citizens. The POSA partner communities of Saline, Pittsfield Township and Superior Township would see 15,000 hours of additional service.
AAATA projections show implementation of the millage will boost the greater Ann Arbor - Ypsilanti area economies by $5 million annually. The forecast is based on an economic impact model developed by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) using AAATA data. AAATA estimates also show the millageâ€™s economic impact from improved public transit in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Urban Core would total at least $96 million, create at least 250 additional jobs, ease traffic congestion and free up as many as 1,000 parking spaces daily in downtown Ann Arbor alone, which is the equivalent of building a new parking structure at a cost of $40 million.
Two of Washtenaw Countyâ€™s prominent community-based nonprofit advocacy organizations â€“ Washtenaw Regional Organizing Coalition (WeROC) and Partners For Transit â€“ say they will urge the AAATA Board to place the millage proposal on the 2014 ballot. The advocates said they will launch grassroots campaigns to promote awareness about the benefits the new millage will produce. The coalitionsâ€™ members include business leaders, clergy, organized labor representatives, advocates for the elderly, local professionals, students and environmental activists.
â€œWe believe additional funding is necessary to ensure that AAATA can provide the new and improved services desired by a majority of the more than 200,000 residents who live in these three key Washtenaw County Urban Core communities,â€ said WeROC spokesperson Mark Coryell. â€œWe share their view that expanded public transit can spark economic activity, because as more people collect in a city center, more jobs will cluster there too, boosting wages and economic activity over time. WeROC also believes that a robust public transit system supports the mobility needs of all Washtenaw County residents, whether they own a vehicle or not.â€
In addition to the benefits seen on fixed routes, seniors and people with disabilities would enjoy improvements to Dial-a-Ride services, including later weekday service hours, later weekend service hours and access to destinations such as the Pittsfield Branch of the Ann Arbor Public Library, the Ypsilanti District Library, Meijer (Carpenter Road), Kroger (Whittaker Road), Wal-Mart and Quality 16 Movie Theater.
â€œBusinesses will benefit from the proposed improvements, since more employees and customers will have easy access to their doorsteps,â€ said Charles Griffith, Chair of TheRideâ€™s Board of Directors. â€œWeâ€™ll all have better commutes because there will be fewer cars on our roads and more available parking spaces. We are encouraged by the strong public support for the Program and look forward to taking the next steps to provide funding for the improvements. Ultimately, this Program will allow more people to connect with more places, more frequently and more directly. It paves the way for a healthier, more economically vibrant future, increasing economic activity while improving public safety for all of us.â€
â€œThe most prosperous places across the country today, and even more so tomorrow, are those where mobile talent are concentrating,â€ added Lou Glazer, President of Michigan Futures, Inc. â€œIncreasingly, those places are vibrant cities with great amenities â€“ with transit being the most important. Areas without great transit are going to have a hard time retaining and attracting young talent--the key ingredient to economic growth and prosperity.â€
AAATA Board members said their decision recognizes that over the past year, USA Today, CNN and independent national transportation associations published reports that included TheRide in Best-of-Class rankings based on ridership, operational efficiency, financial stability, and technological innovation. Board members said they believe this proven track record of success demonstrates solid return on investment to taxpayers. TheRide operates a balanced budget, and the existing millage pays for existing services. More funding will be necessary to provide the improvements proposed in the Five-Year Transit Improvement Program, Board members agreed.