Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Bickering Continues to Distract AATA

18. September 2006 • Scott TenBrink, Guest Contributor
Email this article

Board of Directors continue to bicker with CEO, Gregg Cook, at AATA. The Ann Arbor News reports that the turmoil revolves around on-time service and cutting costs. With two Board members stepping down, Ted Annis leads the charge against inefficiency and, perhaps, against Cook as CEO. Annis attacks Cook’s performance on a number of issues, focusing on on-time service and excessive spending on travel and staff salaries. Cook refutes the accusations with recent study results.

This is happening in the context of consideration of county-wide service and rising fuel costs. As Eli Cooper points out, ““If we are inefficient at a city level, imagine what would happen at the county level. I want to be rock solid that we are as efficient as we can be.’‘ Yet budget cuts have dominated the discussion at the expense of implementing a strategic plan to improve both service and ridership. Is the board doing the public (87% of AATA riders are satisfied with service) a favor by trimming the fat on a sacred cow? Or are they sacrificing vision for penny-pinching?

Perhaps the Mayor’s two new appointees, Nancy Shore and Charles Griffith, can shift the Board’s focus back to envisioning the future of AATA.



  1. The problem with Mr. Annis’ approach is that he’s apparently had a set agenda from the day he first sat on the board: to reduce the expenditures at AATA, and if possible to reduce the AATA millage. Provision of public transit to people who have no other alternatives does not appear to be on his agenda. He’s made that fairly clear through his actions and off-handed comments at board meetings. AATA has been reducing its internal budget for years now, and it has been running a balanced budget (but that still doesn’t appear to be enough for Mr. Annis).

    When Mr. Annis makes requests for evaluative information using industry-standard techniques and they don’t make the case he wants, he then apparently proceeds to make up his own statistics (this is what Mr. Cook is referring to when he talks about “monkeying around” with AATA’s figures).

    Case in point: Transit systems measure “trips”, not “riders”. The reason is because it’s very hard to determine how many times an individual has ridden a bus in a particular day, especially if they ride multiple times in a single day. There really isn’t an easy way to determine the number of “regular riders” Mr. Annis refers to. Nobody in the industry uses cost per rider as an evaluative criteria because it’s much too subjective.

    AATA’s on-time performance ranks among the best in the nation using industry-standard evaluations (around 87%), but this also doesn’t appear to be good enough for Mr. Annis – he came up with his own calculations for on-time evaluation which look like nothing anybody else in the country uses.

    Efficiency, optimization, and oversight are laudable things for a board to do. However, the numbers don’t really appear to support Mr. Annis’ claims at this time. I’d be more willing to listen to his case if he’d lay aside his apparent reduced-taxes-at-all-costs agenda and work for a better public transit system by listening to the people around him.


       —kena    Sep. 18 '06 - 03:23PM    #
  2. If AATA hopes to pass a county wide millage, they had better rein in their costs, and stop the excessive travel budgets. It was a very informative article in yesterday’s paper. For $6000.00 per rider, we could buy used cars or pay for cabs cheaper than run buses. 87% of the riders may be satisfied with the service, but they account for less than 1% of the taxpayers who will be asked to pay for such a high cost, inefficient system. There is no real need to have talking buses, or GPS locators on each bus, or new murals on the side of the bus, or a system where 90% of the buses have only 2-3 riders. Yes, cutting costs and maintaining an economical means of transportation for those who are dependent on mass transit is a number one priority. Good for Mr. Annis. Let’s appoint more cost conscious persons to support him.


       —Karen Luck    Sep. 18 '06 - 06:35PM    #
  3. Karen: Mr. Annis’ “numbers” are fictitious in the context he is using them in. That $6000 per rider doesn’t mean much of anything. Mr. Annis himself defined what a “rider” was. He didn’t use any accepted or widespread definition of “rider” (only people that ride three days a week or more count as riders?). He didn’t ask the staff for any information on what the estimates of daily riders are. He didn’t gather the necessary information to make the determination himself (or maybe he spent his own money to hire a consultant to perform the rider surveys to build the estimates?). Where did this magical number come from?

    Why didn’t he use information from the National Transit Database to compare operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile or some other accepted standard? The answer is most likely that it wouldn’t give him the numbers he wants, and he wouldn’t be able to subsequently frame the “debate” in the manner that is taking place now (where we all talk about fantastically high costs of ridership without asking what those numbers really mean).

    So Karen, from your comments I take it you’d rather have governmental agencies that are run/overseen by people who make things up as they go along?


       —kena    Sep. 18 '06 - 08:07PM    #
  4. Mr. Annis’ “numbers” are fictitious in the context he is using them in.

    Well, OK, let’s try these numbers then. The article mentions 4.8 million passenger-trips per year and a cost of $33 million per year (including federal subsidies) or $22 million not including subsidies. Are those numbers right? If they are, then simple division yields numbers of $6.90 / $4.60 PER PASSENGER TRIP. What’s the length of an average AATA trip? It can’t be more than a couple of miles, can it?

    Or am I missing something?


       —mw    Sep. 18 '06 - 08:35PM    #
  5. That’s been clear for some time.


       —Dale    Sep. 18 '06 - 08:36PM    #
  6. What? Nobody told me it was Poorly Justified Numbers Time. I love this game!

    Okay, so, 4.8 million rides per year.

    We’ll spread that out evenly over 365 days, for about 13,150 rides per day. (Actually, I suspect, much lower on weekends, much higher on weekdays.)

    Now let’s say that every rider takes two rides – a round-trip – for 6,575 people using making round trips on the bus per day.

    Let’s stop that distasteful subsidizing of these people’s transit, shall we? Get ‘em into cars, like good little Americans!

    Okay, now, hmmm. Where do we put those 6,575 extra cars? We need more parking structures. The RFP for First/Washington placed a value of $35,000 on a structured parking space, so let’s use that.

    So, when we get these people out of buses and into cars, we’ll be spending $230,137,000 on parking for them. Ouch.

    Now, if just the cost of providing parking for AATA’s users is 6-7 times their annual budget, what happens when we add in costs like “providing access to jobs for people who can’t drive”? Or “reducing congestion (and therefore air pollution) by 13,000 car trips per day?”

    Now, it’s obvious that there are gaps in my assumptions big enough to drive AATA’s bus fleet through, but that’s my point – “simple division” is not a good way to analyze these things. I’m not saying that AATA is run perfectly, but the types of criticisms that Mr. Annis is offering don’t seem useful.


       —Murph    Sep. 18 '06 - 09:15PM    #
  7. Also,

    1. Look, Scott TenBrink got his own byline! (Is anybody surprised his first post is on transit?)

    2. Wow, Nancy Shore got appointed to the AATA Board! Congratulations, Nancy!


       —Murph    Sep. 18 '06 - 09:16PM    #
  8. just for comparison, what is a ballpark figure estimating the per-trip subsidy for automobile passengers?


       —peter honeyman    Sep. 18 '06 - 09:19PM    #
  9. Thanks Murph…i had forgotten to mention Nancy’s appointment. She’ll be a wonderful addition to the board!

    The actual total operating budget for the financial year mentioned by Annis was about $21M.
    However, that also includes demand-response costs, ridesharing costs, the getdowntown program, pass-through costs to out-county demand-response providers, and other things not related to fixed route bus service.

    That’s why I’m saying that Annis appears to be making this stuff up as he goes along. His numbers not only included capital costs, but they also include the items I mentioned above. He isn’t bothering to check out what the costs behind the numbers he quotes actually are.

    And on top of it all, he goes to the public with these fuzzy numbers…that’s really helpful for informed public debate.

    Operating costs/vehicle revenue mile for AATA for FY2004 were $7.07 (taken from the NTD – I’m not going to hunt down the info. to calculate the FY2005 costs right now – the FY2005 will be very close to this one though). This is very comparable to other agencies of AATA’s size, demographics, etc.


       —kena    Sep. 18 '06 - 09:26PM    #
  10. “It was a very informative article in yesterday’s paper. For $6000.00 per rider, we could buy used cars or pay for cabs cheaper than run buses.”

    Apparently it wasn’t informative enough. Karen, please think through the full costs of your ‘solutions’.

    Other factors to consider: safety (GPS/”talking buses” free driver to focus on driving); reliability (GPS helps driver stay on time and may be coordinated with traffic signals in the future); congestion and emissions; parking demand; bicyclist and handicapped service. I’m sure the list goes on. (Others pitched in while I typed this.)

    mw, now you just have to put your numbers into the context above and add in the subsidies for private vehicles and you might be able to make something approximating a valid comparison.

    AATA has a web site with lots of info.


       —Steve Bean    Sep. 18 '06 - 09:39PM    #
  11. Let’s stop that distasteful subsidizing of these people’s transit, shall we? Get ‘em into cars, like good little Americans!

    Okay, now, hmmm. Where do we put those 6,575 extra cars? We need more parking structures. The RFP for First/Washington placed a value of $35,000 on a structured parking space, so let’s use that.

    Well, first I was just trying to get a handle on the numbers. So it sounds like nobody’s really disputing roughly $5 per passenger trip and something around, say, $2 per passenger mile.

    I see two big problems with that (if accurate). Yes, it’s economically inefficient. But it seems to me that the only way AATA can spend that kind of money per trip and per mile is that it is ALSO environmentally inefficient. A full bus is an economical and environmentally friendly means of transport. But if AATA buses were operating mostly full, then costs per trip and per mile would be much lower. Mostly empty buses, on the other hand, both cost a lot to operate AND burn a lot of fuel and pump out a lot of greenhouse gases (and diesel exhaust) per passenger mile.

    Now maybe I’m wrong—maybe AATA buses are expensive to operate even though they’re heavily utilized on average and, therefore, are fuel-efficient on a passenger-mile basis, but I’d be surprised.

    Does this mean everybody should be in cars? Let me turn it around—is a large fleet of (expensive, lightly utilized) diesel buses the right sort of public transport system for a city like ours? Or might some other form give us better economic AND environmental efficiency?


       —mw    Sep. 18 '06 - 10:01PM    #
  12. The paragraph that got me was the one comparing AATA’s operating costs with Kalamazoo, Lansing and Grand Rapids.. Do the math, AATA is quite a bit higher per ride than anybody else. In light of this the board made a good decision in not raising rates when Ypsi came up short.

    Because of the hign costs in $$$, increased congestion and environmental degradation, we need an efficiently run AATA but we also need rail. The $35,000 (to $40,000) figure Murph uses for building a parking space makes this all simple. This is what the Mayor talked about back in June when he rolled out the rail proposal. A thousand commuters on the train (or the bus) saves $35 to $40 million. Seems like you want people like Annis to ask some questions and others like Cooper, who know transit. The new appointments sound like good additions who will even things out.


       —Dustin    Sep. 18 '06 - 10:05PM    #
  13. The only way one could compare straight cost per rider between transit systems is if there were no variables between the systems (i.e. every one had the same wages, vehicle revenue miles, hours of service, service hours, etc.).
    When speaking in those terms, AATA runs a very different system from CATA, ITD, etc.

    This is why operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile, operating expenses per passenger mile, operating expenses per unlinked passenger trip, etc. are used for financial comparisons between systems in the National Transit Database.

    Here’s a breakdown of a few Michigan systems for cost per trip (2004 is the most recent year available):
    Operating expense per unlinked passenger trip in 2004:
    AATA: $4.05
    CATA: $2.49
    ITD: $3.24
    KMETRO: $3.16
    SMART: $8.00
    DDOT: $5.30

    Here’s a measure of system productivity:
    Unlinked passenger trips per vehicle revenue hour in 2004:
    AATA: 23.13
    CATA: 37.65
    ITD: 21.59
    KMETRO: 22.77
    SMART: 13.00
    DDOT: 20.52

    What these numbers don’t factor in is the comparative cost of living in each area. As salaries and wages make up the lion’s share of most transit operating budgets, the cost of living in a particular area can heavily affect the operating costs of an agency. That’s part of the reason why AATA’s peer agencies are not usually considered to be Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, etc. Other reasons include the fact that AATA operates very different service from most of these cities. Just because two agencies run bus systems doesn’t automatically make them directly comparable.


       —kena    Sep. 19 '06 - 12:17AM    #
  14. The paragraph that got me was the one comparing AATA’s operating costs with Kalamazoo, Lansing and Grand Rapids.. Do the math, AATA is quite a bit higher per ride than anybody else.

    Yes.

    Because of the hign costs in $$$, increased congestion and environmental degradation, we need an efficiently run AATA but we also need rail. The $35,000 (to $40,000) figure Murph uses for building a parking space makes this all simple. This is what the Mayor talked about back in June when he rolled out the rail proposal. A thousand commuters on the train (or the bus) saves $35 to $40 million.

    I really don’t see that working. If we build a rail system, it will cost a fortune to build and probably end up being even more costly to operate on a per passenger mile basis than AATA. The problem is that, SE Michigan, our homes and workplaces are just too spatially dispersed. The US-23 corridor is a big problem, yes, but how many people are really going to drive to Brighton, catch a train to Ann Arbor, and then catch AATA buses to get to their place of work? And then do it all again at the end of the day?

    Let’s face it, most of the employment of the area is neither downtown nor within convenient bus/bike/pedestrian access of a downtown train station. (And, BTW, parking spaces don’t cost anywhere near $35-$40K when you’re putting them out in the townships).

    I think our limited transportation money would be much better spent on HOV lanes (possibly with smart tolls) and ride-sharing and car/van pools (with subsidized reserved parking spaces). We really need to match our transportation system planning to our built environment and to the preferences of our citizens.


       —mw    Sep. 19 '06 - 12:20AM    #
  15. Unlinked passenger trips per vehicle revenue hour in 2004:
    AATA: 23.13

    So then if the average passenger trip length was, say, 10 minutes that would work out to an average load at any given time of about 4 passengers, right? (4 passengers turning over 6 times in an hour = 24). Or is 10 minutes to short for an average ‘unlinked trip’?


       —mw    Sep. 19 '06 - 12:32AM    #
  16. Mostly empty buses, on the other hand, both cost a lot to operate AND burn a lot of fuel and pump out a lot of greenhouse gases (and diesel exhaust) per passenger mile.

    I have always, and will continue to, challenged the “mostly empty buses” charge.

    Let’s assume we average it out. AATA’s FAQ states that the systemwide average is 29.6 boardings per hour of service. What shall we call an average trip length? 15 minutes? That’s downtown to Washtenaw & Stadium on the #4, or downtown to Pfizer on the #2. So call that 7.5 people on the bus at a time. Hmmm, SEMCOG’s Commuting in SE Michigan, 2000 report is the best mode-split I can find, and says about 87% drive alone, 8% carpool. Call it 1.1 passengers/vehicle for driving. So AATA’s buses carry, on average, 6.8 times as many passengers as cars.

    Are cars more than 6.8 times as fuel efficient as buses? The EPA says average fuel economy in 2006 is 21.0 mpg. So an AATA bus would have to get less than 3.1 mpg to be less efficient than putting those people in cars. Is that the case? I don’t know, but I doubt it. Anybody know what model AATA’s buses are?

    At any rate, though, that’s on average. In reality, buses have peak ridership hours. Anybody who has ridden the numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 in the last year (just the ones I have experience with) can tell you that that the 7-9am and 4-6pm periods tend to be elbow-to-ribs full; the routes couldn’t possibly get by with the smaller vehicles that critics often think would be “more efficient”. In order to drive around smaller, “more efficient” buses during off-peak hours, AATA would have to buy twice as many buses – big ones for peak hours, little ones for off-peak. Surely, having one bus waiting for every bus on the road can’t be considered “efficient” fleet maintenance.

    Now, what I find interesting when I look at AATA’s ‘04 Annual Report is that the by-far-largest cost is “Wages, Salaries, and Other Employee Costs”, clocking in at 63.7% of total expenses. (I can’t even find where “Fuel” might fit in. “Materials and Supplies”, at 11.2%?) Looks like the biggest part of operating costs is the piece that will remain constant whether AATA is running big buses, small buses, or taxis.

    Shorter hours, or fewer routes, perhaps? Trim out underperforming (inefficient) routes or times? The problem with that approach is network effects. People will only take the bus there if they can take it home. Cutting “inefficient” hours will reduce ridership during peak times, too. I’ll drive on the weekend to a destination I’d take the bus to on a weekday, because I want to be able to get home again, and the route ends at 6pm. The last time AATA cut service hours, I heard people grumbling, “If they do that once more, I think I’ll need to buy a car – I won’t be able to count on the bus anymore.” Which works for those who can afford it, I suppose.

    It’s probably the case that some savings can be found on the expense side of the tabulation. I’d be more inclined to look on the revenue side, though. Ridership is growing, fast – the ‘04 annual report says that ridership was 4.275m. rides in 2003, and 4.39m. in ‘04. AATA expects to hit 5m. rides in 2006. Something around 7% annual growth in ridership? That’s better than twice the annual growth in automobile vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and adding rides without adding system hours brings the cost per ride down. Be nice if we could keep that pace up, though the peak hour capacity is the limiting factor. (As another source, the DDA’s June 2006 benchmarks report (pdf) (Won’t let me make this a link? Weird: http://www.ci.ann-arbor.mi.us/dda/June06_benchmarks.pdf) states that go!pass use is up 15% in the first half of 2006 over the first half of 2005.)

    Also on the revenue side, I have to disagree with Dustin, and say that I would/did support a fare increase – definitely for the Ypsi routes, perhaps for systemwide. $1.25 might be a little harder to find in your wallet than a straight dollar, but is still a very decent price.


       —Murph.    Sep. 19 '06 - 12:46AM    #
  17. Two comments by mw snuck in while I was looking up numbers.

    re #15: It would be nice if the FAQ, which I took my boardings-per-service-hour from, had a date on it. I suspect that it’s 2005 – which would mean a pretty decent jump in that figure in a year! Your trip time and mine are both guesses. I know Nancy’s reading – maybe she can slip us a copy of any data she gets ahold of.

    re #14: I have problems with the statement, “We really need to match our transportation system planning to our built environment and to the preferences of our citizens,” as it treats transportation as something that follows built form, rather than as something that helps drive built form, and also because it makes strong assumptions about our preferences. Can we make the statement that we prefer driving to all other transportation options when we don’t have other transportation options? (When I tell people that I walk to work, they unfailingly sigh jealously – maybe driving isn’t their preference?) And, also, is “transportation mode” the only thing that we have a preference about? Maybe, “not being stressed by sitting in traffic jams,” is something we have preferences on. Or “the environment”, perhaps?

    It is very true that, for a commuter rail system to have a big effect on these things, we’ll need to examine the ways in which our land use policies interact with our transportation systems – but I just met someone this evening who’s working with the Michigan Suburban Alliance on a project to help municipalities along the proposed commuter transit routes revise their Master Plans to allow transit-oriented development. Really, the biggest task is to convince people who have given up on alternatives to auto-hegemony that their fatalism is a little overstated.

    As I’ve stated in other threads, also, _ If we build a rail system, it will cost a fortune to build and probably end up being even more costly to operate on a per passenger mile basis than AATA_ may be pretty pessimistic. On the construction side, if we utilize the existing lines – as is being considered – we may be able to build ourselves a commuter rail system extremely cheaply. Additionally, the capital outlay will involve sucking federal transportaion dollars into the area to spend on local construction jobs – hardly something to sniff at. And, while I assume that a train has higher maintenance costs than a bus, I’ll return to that point from the AATA annual report – that 64% of costs are in employee time. A bus driver can carry 40 uncomfortable people at a time during peak hour. An engineer and a fare collector can easily carry a few hundred people at a time during peak hour. Not all the operating cost ratios are more expensive for trains.


       —Murph.    Sep. 19 '06 - 01:09AM    #
  18. Annis’ points are all about a false cost/benefit analysis. What is the public benefit to having a transit solution other than owning/operating a personal car, even part of the time? Some solutions cost more than others. How about the senior/disabled transit service? Probably better to let them rot if they can’t afford to own/operate a car or pay retail for a cab. (rhetorical point assigned to Annis and his side) The Link has been mostly free to riders. That will drive up the per-rider cost. Other really good initiatives are doubtless being run at a loss and supported by the overall funding complex because they are good ideas with a social benefit, or a benefit to the city as an entity. That is why we have millages. It is not meant to be a self-supporting operation, but to be a public good.

    Our country has been sucked into a market philosophy that says, if you can’t pay for it, you don’t deserve it. This is in contrast to a community-based, shared responsibility model that acknowledges the need to provide basic services to all. That was the idea behind most of the social initiatives begun in the 40s-50s-60s-70s that Reagan and his successors have been squelching ever since. Now a new form of social Darwinism is being promoted shamelessly by the Republicans and, unfortunately, by some people who choose to adopt the label of Democrat (especially in this town where only one flavor is available if you want to have influence). It puts everything on a user-pays basis, and if you can’t, tough luck, and you probably weren’t worthy anyway. Maybe you just can’t afford to live in Ann Arbor and therefore don’t deserve to.

    Anybody see the movie, “Who killed the electric car”? Anyone thought about how the auto companies have consistently killed alternative transportation solutions and how this local issue resonates? What’s the connection here? And why is our supposedly transit/alternative transportation mayor appointing people like Annis specifically to get his hard-nosed, unforgiving market solution into action, and to let the “low achievers rot” viewpoint prevail? Does he (Hieftje) want to kill the AATA in hopes of using transit dollars for his own visions? Or is it just his old tax-aversive habit?

    Thanks, Murph, for your more analytical approach. As Disraeli said, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. People like Annis who distort figures for their own purposes are like the devil quoting Scripture. But though it doesn’t get as much public interest, someone needs to argue the figures on their merits.

    BTW, I use the bus system only sporadically but I have found the buses always to be on time and even in the middle of the day, when I use it, there are several people on my route who clearly have no alternative. I think it is a good operation. I hope it is there when gas goes back up after the election and when it is really impossible to park downtown, considering all the construction.


       —anonymous too    Sep. 19 '06 - 01:50AM    #
  19. I don’t know what buses you all ride, but when I ride the 5 it’s almost always busy – with people standing in the aisles.

    I do wish that the AATA was a bit more forthcoming with real time data about bus locations, like UMich’s “Magic Bus” project. There doesn’t appear to be the same civic-minded spirit of creativity with the system in evidence there compared to e.g. the AADL.


       —Edward Vielmetti    Sep. 19 '06 - 02:14AM    #
  20. just a note on rail traffic—one of the big problems with using the existing rail lines is that they are privately owned. freight companies own them and, in turn, own the right of way. if you’ve ridden amtrak you’ve probably been delayed by freight trains in the past. this is b/c the freight companies bump the passenger trains in favor of their own freight trains. obviously, on-time performance would suck if you used existing lines.


       —tim    Sep. 19 '06 - 02:38AM    #
  21. Freight companies. I say we go eminent domain on their asses. Turnabout is fair play.


       —Dale    Sep. 19 '06 - 03:44AM    #
  22. “I’m not a bus system expert,’’ Annis said. “But I’d judge that this is a problem.’’
    While taken out of context, this sums up my perception of his efforts.

    I think the larger problem here is that Annis does not seem to have a vision for what AATA service should be. As Murph points out, transportation systems are not just a reaction to land use; they are a driving factor in creating land use patterns and social interaction. The board should be helping to define that vision and ensuring that AATA is taking steps to achieve that vision while being financially responsible.

    But I don’t see any thing like that in recent articles (as always, I reserve the right to blame this on the reporter instead of the source). For example, before being appointed to the board, Annis wrote an LtE stating, “I understand that there may be reasons for keeping hands off this sacred cow, but do not know what those reasons are.” Then he suggests the AATA millage should be cut less than half. Today there is little indication that Annis has learned much about the goals of AATA and every indication that his aim is to reduce costs without wasting time understanding where AATA is headed or how it should get there.

    This situation raises two other questions for me:
    Are Mr Cook and AATA to blame for failing to market the successes and goals of the organization?
    Why did the Mayor appoint Mr Annis if his apparent goals for AATA were so small-minded, and how has he come to dominate the rest of the board?

    Murph’s inclusion of parking costs may be high considering that everyone will not park in a downtown parking structure. However, studies show that each additional car requires between 5 and 8 new parking spaces. Even at $2-3,000/space it adds up quick.


       —Scott TenBrink    Sep. 19 '06 - 04:57AM    #
  23. Just a counterpoint, when I ride the bus at 10 am after doing several hours of work at home, it is empty. When I come home at 3, it is empty. They could run a smaller vehicle during midday….


       —Just a homeowner    Sep. 19 '06 - 06:49AM    #
  24. As was stated above, it doesn’t seem that the buses themselves are a big expenditure. I think for most businesses, and the AATA is no exception, its the personnel that is the biggest expense. Besides, the AATA already has the buses. It’s sunk cost at this point. Looking at the total number of miles driven by the AATA, if you switched from 40 ft. Gillig buses to 29 ft. Gillig buses for as much as 60% of the miles driven, it would give you a savings of about $130,000 a year. considering a 29ft. Gillig costs $250,000, that’s not enough to justify a smaller bus. The math: 2.55 million miles driven by AATA. Say 60% of those miles would be switched out for a short bus. That’s 1.53 million. According to EPA report done with AATA, 40 ft. bus gets roughly 5 mpg. 40ft. bus for those 1.53 million miles=306000 gallons. We’ll say 29ft. gets 6mpg or 20% more. 29ft. for those 1.53 million miles=255,000 gallons. At $2.50/gallon diesel that’s a difference of $130k a year. not much compared to the cost of a smaller bus.


       —tim    Sep. 19 '06 - 08:54AM    #
  25. Murph: Are cars more than 6.8 times as fuel efficient as buses? The EPA says average fuel economy in 2006 is 21.0 mpg. So an AATA bus would have to get less than 3.1 mpg to be less efficient than putting those people in cars. Is that the case? I don’t know, but I doubt it. Anybody know what model AATA’s buses are?

    29 passenger-loadings per hour is different than 23 ‘unlinked trips per hour’—but in the same ballpark, I guess. Average loading then depends on average trip length estimates. The fuel economy numbers Google turned up for city buses was 3.5 (4.5 for an expensive hybrid bus):

    http://news.com.com/The+greening+of+the+city+bus/2100-11389_3-6079090.html

    Which would mean somewhere between 14 seat-mile-per-gallon (4×3.5) and 26 seat-miles-per-gallon (7.5×3.5). Which is to say, quite a bit worse than an average car (with only the driver) to somewhat better than an average car (with only the driver). And decidedly worse than a fuel-efficient car or an average car with 2 or more passengers. And, of course, buses achieve those MPG numbers with diesel engines which are worse for air quality.

    Looks like the biggest part of operating costs is the piece that will remain constant whether AATA is running big buses, small buses, or taxis.

    Hmmm—how does that add up? Suppose we use the 29 number for the number of trips/boardings per hour. Is AATA paying $29/hr in wages and benefits? If if costs are that high, that would account for only $1 of the $4+ per trip cost. Or is AATA like the military where there are several other employees for every one of the ‘front line’ troops?

    And this, BTW, is one of beauties of car pools and HOV lanes—the driver is also a passenger and doesn’t draw a salary. Also, the number of drivers and vehicles available scales up and down nicely with demand—at the time that passengers want to travel, there are lots of drivers wanting to go the same directions at the same time.

    Can we make the statement that we prefer driving to all other transportation options when we don’t have other transportation options? (When I tell people that I walk to work, they unfailingly sigh jealously – maybe driving isn’t their preference?)

    Ann Arbor is not the first and only place to grapple with these issues. Other places in the U.S. have already spent large sums to install new rail systems. What has been their experience? What is the level of utilization? Has the built environment changed—have people and businesses moved to be close to rail stations? We know that over many decades, the overall pattern in the country has been a steady decline in mass transit usage as autos have become more reliable, comfortable, durable, fuel-efficient, etc.

    Neither my wife nor I commute by car (she walks or rides the bus, I work out of a home office) and people do express envy. But when it comes time to choosing places to live, they tend to choose bigger newer houses with longer commutes rather than smaller, older houses with shorter commutes. Those preferences turn out to be stronger than commuting time preferences. You and I may think that’s a dumb choice, but it is the predominant one.


       —mw    Sep. 19 '06 - 11:15AM    #
  26. anonymous too: This is in contrast to a community-based, shared responsibility model that acknowledges the need to provide basic services to all.

    But is the AATA model the only way to provide basic services to all? Look at the UM van pool model, for example:

    http://www.parking.umich.edu/fleet/vanpool.html

    It serves a much wider area than AATA, delivers passengers door-to-door, and costs about $1/day (and nothing at all if you’re willing to be the driver). But how many people even know about it?

    Why not expand that approach? Even without HOV lanes, I’d bet that we could get quite a lot of car-pools going with no subsidy other than offering free parking downtown for the pool drivers. It’d be an easy thing to try without any upfront costs at all.


       —mw    Sep. 19 '06 - 11:18AM    #
  27. Smaller buses have a shorter life—disproportionately shorter than their smaller upfront costs.


       —Dale    Sep. 19 '06 - 01:30PM    #
  28. mw, we already try van and carpooling. It’s called Michivan

    In fact AATA is a Michigan RideShare office and partners with Michivan. Part of the budget we’re discussing goes to support these programs.

    Vanpools cost $75/month/passenger and they are elidgible for Commuter Choice incentives up to $105. The RideShare service is free. I don’t think either of these programs are wildly popular. They are also geared around commutes of 15 miles or more, which is not exactly the same sevice that the bus offers.

    Also, offering free downtown parking does require overhead and it is a major pain in the ass to enforce. You also have to include the loss of parking revenue in the “cost” of such a program.

    More importantly, car and van pools do little to address the primary focus of AATA, which is to provide mobility to those without personal transportation.


       —Scott TenBrink    Sep. 19 '06 - 02:44PM    #
  29. looks like scott posted some similar comments while i was typing mine…

    MW: Ridesharing (especially vanpooling) and HOV lanes aren’t designed to provide basic transportation services to all segments of the population in the way that buses do.

    Ridesharing and HOV lanes are primarily designed to accommodate work and school commutes (or other regularly scheduled needs/events). Many people in this area consider it to be too inconvenient for getting to work (I can say this because one of my responsibilities is to run the ridesharing program at AATA, and I field many queries each week about carpooling/vanpooling), so I don’t see how it could be adapted to serve multiple trip purposes at variable times. Informal ridesharing exists in some cities (dubbed ‘slugging’), but even that starts from specific locations (otherwise no one would know whom to pick up!). Car sharing/co-oping is what you may actually be thinking of (but that option is very expensive for poor people).

    Buses are designed to serve many different trip purposes because they don’t require the kind of personal commitment that ridesharing does. It’s also much cheaper for disadvantaged people to use than ridesharing or carsharing.

    The question that one needs to ask is what is the primary purpose of our transit system? For the AATA, it’s provision of low-cost mobility options to disadvantaged populations within our community. It’s the reason why the system was charted in the first place. The system that is currently in place (a timed-transfer, pulse system of fixed route buses operating at scheduled intervals) is currently considered to be the best industry practice for meeting that purpose.


       —kena    Sep. 19 '06 - 02:58PM    #
  30. Yes, the AATA’s main purpose is to serve the disadvantaged. People should recognize this. I read recently that about 30% of all adults in this country don’t have access to a car. That is the poulation the AATA is meant to serve.

    I was at an AATA board meeting a couple of years ago, and Greg Cook said that only recently had the AATA begun to reach out beyond the disadvantaged.

    Of course the system is inefficient from a market-based point of view. I think that less than 10% of its revenue is from fares. The rest of the revenue comes from various grants and tax subsidies.

    AATA is a charity. Because it exists, thousands of people in our area can get and hold jobs, and can obtain the necessities of life.

    The local AATA millage is a very reasonable price to pay for helping the disadvantaged exist.


       —David Cahill    Sep. 19 '06 - 07:55PM    #
  31. To build off Dave’s idea, the disadvantaged and those with no other transportation options are the reason we shouldn’t CUT AATA service. We should EXPAND AATA service because it will improve connectivity and efficiency for those who do have other options (as well as those who don’t).


       —Dale    Sep. 19 '06 - 08:19PM    #
  32. “Other places in the U.S. have already spent large sums to install new rail systems. What has been their experience?”

    I can’t speak to the market side of these systems but I think they’ve generally succeeded from an operational and PR perspective based on the number of new systems being built and the existing systems that are being expanded.

    “What is the level of utilization?”

    Good question, I’m sure someone here can answer.

    “Has the built environment changed—have people and businesses moved to be close to rail stations?”

    Generally yes. Some of this is controlled by zoning but the communities that have successful systems have helped encourage the success of those systems by allowing mixed-use higher density development to surround the stations on the systems. For many of those communities, proximity to the system is a selling point.

    “We know that over many decades, the overall pattern in the country has been a steady decline in mass transit usage as autos have become more reliable, comfortable, durable, fuel-efficient, etc.”

    That’s one factor. But in many places in the US, there’s almost no alternatives to using a car. Live in most suburban communities and unless your a hard-core walker or biker, you can’t get anywhere without a car. Often you have to risk life and limb if you choose a mode of travel that doesn’t involve a car. Why are we surprised that mass transit usage is declining when it’s simply not an option in most places?

    This can be chicken-and-egg in some ways as you can argue that people choose to live where they are dependent on cars and I argue that zoning, etc. create places that are dependent on cars. But I think you’ll be challenged to find successful urban areas without good mass transit and by most definitions, Ann Arbor is an urban area. Can anyone name any city over 100,000 people in size that is considered a “destination” city that doesn’t have a quality mass transit system?

    Also, remember that the “everyone drives a car” model is unsustainable from a basic traffic perspective. If everyone who needed to get to or around Ann Arbor drove a car, the roads would be gridlocked, we would never have enough parking and the quality of life would be so degraded that people wouldn’t want to live or work here.


       —John Q.    Sep. 19 '06 - 09:47PM    #
  33. Is Detroit considered a “destination”?


       —David Cahill    Sep. 19 '06 - 10:43PM    #
  34. i think the AATA should reduce the fare … to zero!

    who’s with me?


       —peter honeyman    Sep. 19 '06 - 11:59PM    #
  35. David Cahill: AATA is a charity. Because it exists, thousands of people in our area can get and hold jobs, and can obtain the necessities of life.

    But transportation at a cost that is much higher than it would be, hypothetically, to provide every low income person a free car (with free gas and free maintainence)...is that the best that can be done? Perhaps—but it’s depressing if so.

    Dale: To build off Dave’s idea, the disadvantaged and those with no other transportation options are the reason we shouldn’t CUT AATA service. We should EXPAND AATA service because it will improve connectivity and efficiency for those who do have other options (as well as those who don’t).

    It seems to me that would inevitably worsen efficiency (and fuel economy). Additional routes would be marginal routes with lower demand than average. It would certainly increase the convenience for some users of the system, but it would hurt efficiency.

    John Q: Also, remember that the “everyone drives a car” model is unsustainable from a basic traffic perspective. If everyone who needed to get to or around Ann Arbor drove a car, the roads would be gridlocked, we would never have enough parking and the quality of life would be so degraded that people wouldn’t want to live or work here.

    But I wasn’t suggesting an ‘everyone drives his or her OWN car’ model. The potential is there to reduce congestion significantly if we were able to increase, even marginally, the average number of passengers in a car. There is a mind-boggling amount of wasted transport capacity rolling around out there every day…


       —mw    Sep. 20 '06 - 12:41AM    #
  36. mw: i think it would be much easier, and less expensive, to increase the average number of passengers in a bus, rather than a car. Maybe the problem isn’t with the AATA, but with the snooty people who refuse to ride the bus with the rest of us non-car-owning peasants.


       —tim    Sep. 20 '06 - 04:13AM    #
  37. mw: i think it would be much easier, and less expensive, to increase the average number of passengers in a bus, rather than a car.

    But why? Why do you think people would be more willing to switch to the bus system than share a ride with even one other person? Both go against the grain to some extent, but it seems to me that sharing rides with a friends or neighbor is much less of a hurdle.

    Maybe the problem isn’t with the AATA, but with the snooty people who refuse to ride the bus with the rest of us non-car-owning peasants.

    The problem isn’t with the business, it’s with the snooty customers who refuse to patronize it ;)

    But haven’t you just explained why it would not be easier to increase the average number of bus passengers? I think that the general refusal to ride the bus is over-determined—comfort and convenience are big considerations, but I’m sure that status consciousness plays a role, too. But, what makes you think those ingrained attitudes are likely to change?


       —mw    Sep. 20 '06 - 12:57PM    #
  38. Market considerations—the cost of parking and the cost of fuel.


       —Dale    Sep. 20 '06 - 03:15PM    #
  39. Dale nailed it right between the eyes. Industry research shows that fuel costs and parking pressures are the two major factors in this country which cause people to make lifestyle changes concerning transportation modes. Other factors influence peoples’ decisions, but those two are the main ones.

    From anecdotal evidence I’ve gleaned since working in transportation, it seems that most people don’t want to be dependant upon other people for their mobility (especially men for some reason)

    People want to maintain the greatest flexibility of trip options (i.e. ‘I need to have a car available so I can run errands at lunch’ or other such things) while making the fastest trip possible. However, many people are willing to add extra time onto their trip to hunt for parking because of the “independence” that mode of travel offers (i.e. they can arrive/leave whenever they want without having to collaborate with anyone else).

    For people who want to make general purpose trips, it’s easier to sell them on using a bus than ridesharing because they can make that trip whenever they want. All they have to know is the route and schedule. They don’t have to make contact with anyone to arrange the trip.

    Ridesharing works for many peoples’ commutes, but I’m also consistently told by many other people (again, men way more than women for whatever reason) that it won’t work for them because it doesn’t offer the same kind of flexibility as a personal car. However, many of these same people have said that they would be willing to try an express bus or commuter train if that picked them up somewhere near their home town. I think this willingness to try this type of bus also ties in with the ‘I don’t want to be dependant on other people for my commute’ mentality, as the express bus would require less coordination with other people to make the trip (in comparison to ridesharing).


       —kena    Sep. 20 '06 - 04:14PM    #
  40. But when it comes time to choosing places to live, they tend to choose bigger newer houses with longer commutes rather than smaller, older houses with shorter commutes. Those preferences turn out to be stronger than commuting time preferences.

    I think this is incorrect. Where people buy houses (or anything else) is not based purely on their preferences, but on a combination of their preferences and what’s available. Studies have shown that people often accept housing in less dense settings than they would optimally like, because those are the options we offer them. As the example I’m most familiar with, see Levine, et al, 2005, A Choice-Based Rationale for Land Use and Transportation Alternatives

    John Q. summarizes nicely, though, in stating, “Why are we surprised that mass transit usage is declining when it’s simply not an option in most places? This can be chicken-and-egg in some ways as you can argue that people choose to live where they are dependent on cars and I argue that zoning, etc. create places that are dependent on cars.”

    To avoid dragging us further into the perpetual density debate, I’ll head towards Dale’s approach – increase transit ridership by expanding service. I disagree with mw’s “marginal routes” assertion. This would be true if the new AATA route ran between, say, Manchester and Milan, each of which is completely unserved by AATA at present. Expanding service in the urbanized Ann Arbor/Ypsi/Saline area, in a careful manner, is less about “adding marginal routes” and more about “increasing network power”.

    As I said earlier, I don’t ride the bus on Sundays because it runs too infrequently and stops too early – I don’t want to be stranded. More Sunday service would add trips to the routes that already exist. Or what about evening workers downtown? Start work at 4, get off at midnight, and you can’t use the bus. If the bus ran past midnight, you’d be able to ride it home, which means you’d also be adding a mid-day trip on your way to work. Add express routes, and you get people who wouldn’t otherwise ride the bus due to speed concerns out of their cars and onto the bus, grooming ridership for the other routes.

    I don’t think Metcalfe’s Law has ever been tested for applicability to transit, but I think it’s roughly applicable. Metcalfe’s Law is that the value of a communication network is equal to the square of the number of users. The transit equivalent would measure in squares of destination/time pairs.


       —Murph.    Sep. 20 '06 - 11:07PM    #
  41. Whoah,
    I feel like I should say something really profound and earthshattering now, but it’s kind of hard when you try to incorporate 40 different comments into your head at the same time.

    I think it is truly fabulous that this conversation is happening and I will make a point to print it out. As a soon-to-be AATA Board member I know I cannot possibly have all the knowledge I need. That’s why I am dedicated to listening what the community has to say.

    I applied to be on the Board because I really, really care about public transit. I believe it is essential for us to have a functional system that caters to those who need it most, while always looking for ways to expand ridership. I ride the bus (mostly 4 and 5) at least 3 times a week from the Ann Arbor Transit Center to Downtown Ypsi.

    I think the AATA already does a great job and believe bus service should be about the people who use it, what they need, and how to meet that need. This consideration should of course be balanced by the needs of the drivers for a living wage and other needs that I am too tired to think about right now.

    One concern I have is making sure the AATA does what it can to serve riders with disabilities. I got a call the other day from a guy who lives in Webster Township who can hardly get around and was asking about having bus service out there. He says there are many more rural townships where people with disabilities or people who are elderly have a hard time getting around. I’d like to know more about this issue, especially if it indicates a service trend.

    I am also a young professional who could choose to drive my car everyday, but I don’t. For environmental and physical reasons, I really don’t want to drive. I also really love the sense of community on a bus. I have talked to more random strangers on the bus than I ever had driving in my car alone on 94. I think that’s pretty incredible and should be considered a benefit. I am also aware that many people in my socio-economic/educational status find riding the bus icky. And yes, sometimes there are people who smell not so fresh. These are issues.

    I could go on, but I won’t.

    But I guess what I am trying to say is that I am really excited to serve on the Board. But I don’t want to and will not do it alone. There are a couple of you that I already have on my list of people I need to have lunch with to talk about AATA issues.

    I will do my best to let you know what is going on on the Board. I want to ensure that the Board is listening to the community and making decisions that reflect the mission of the AATA.

    So, yeah, feel free to send me an email if you have any concerns. I’m at nancys@soscs.org

    I also want you to know that my life is pretty crazy right now (we lost our Development Director, so I get to be Interim on top of my regular job. Anyone know any good Development Directors?).

    This means that I may not be able to comment much, but know that I am reading the comments and am happy to respond to any emails.

    Thanks for all your support. I’ll try to keep you in the loop.
    —Nancy


       —Nancy Shore    Sep. 21 '06 - 02:43AM    #
  42. A board member who actually uses the service that she’s going to be making decisions about? What a concept! Makes you wonder how many of the other AATA board members can make the same claim? Good luck Nancy. Based on the article that started this thread, you’ll need all the good will that we can send your way!


       —John Q.    Sep. 21 '06 - 03:40AM    #
  43. As of this time, i’m fairly certain that none of the other board members can make Nancy’s claim. Eli Cooper comes the closest, as he rides once or twice a week on the #2 (at least that was the riding level he claimed when we spoke a few months ago).

    It’ll be refreshing to have someone like Nancy on the board, as none of the other board members usually give the appearance that they care for anything other than choice riders (except for when the AA News was present for the discussion on the potential fare increase).


       —kena    Sep. 21 '06 - 03:52AM    #
  44. To bring this thread back to the original discussion…it was an interesting board meeting last night.

    A consultant from Parsons-Brinckerhoff presented a service evaluation analysis. He made recommendations on ways to improve the system using the existing budget (roughly)…recommended that service be strengthened in certain areas and reduced or eliminated in others. This report will be made available to the public in the near future (it’s still in draft state currently).

    The consultant also commented on the on-time performance of the system. He said that AATA’s on-time performance was something that “operators from other systems would kill for.”

    The board then had a brief discussion of whether the board standards governing the route structure needed to be revised (which will be continued later). This will probably turn into a discussion of route efficiency (i.e. directness of routes to help accommodate shorter trip times vs. wider coverage). This discussion could have the potential to significantly reshape large portions of the system…

    David Nacht was then elected chair, Eli Cooper secretary, and Ted Annis treasurer. (I think I got those right)


       —kena    Sep. 21 '06 - 02:25PM    #
  45. Nancy, when will you officially join the AATA Board?

    Also, I hope you continue to post here. Some local officials have realized that what they say on Arbor Update actually matters, and they no longer post.


       —David Cahill    Sep. 23 '06 - 04:12PM    #
  46. As a heads-up, WATS is going to be working on a county-wide transit master plan for the next year. I believe the initial meeting for the plan’s steering committee is next week, with the first round of public participation sessions beginning in October. I’ve been disappointed in the attendance of every WATS public participation session I’ve ever been to, and I know there are people here with things to say, so I’ll be posting date/time/locations of those sessions when I know them. Consider yourselves warned.


       —Murph.    Sep. 23 '06 - 08:34PM    #