Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Regional Transit--Do SEMCOG's numbers add up?

10. November 2006 • Chuck Warpehoski
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Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) released a presentation on its Ann Arbor to Downtown Detroit transit study (pdf).

Transportation Riders United (TRU) notes that the study “offered quite low ridership and high cost estimates for all five primary options considered. They suggest instead concentrating on two low-cost alternatives – premium bus service and basic commuter rail using existing infrastructure. The presentation gave no explanation for the ridership or cost estimates and SEMCOG does not currently plan to release an actual report.”

You will also have a chance to chat transit with TRU at a Transit meetup in Ann Arbor on Monday, December 04, 2006 at 7:00pm Ann Arbor District Library Freespace (third floor), 343 S. Fifth Ave., at William. (Mary Jean writes, “We’ve had to cancel (because SEMCOG is having its transit-plan public hearing that night) and plan to reschedule but don’t know when, yet.”

(Thank you to Mary Jean and Ed V. for sharing these stories).

  1. The South End Newspaper at Wayne State also has an article on this, as does the Ann Arbor News

    I love it that the Wayne State paper covered this before the Detroit News, Free Press, and Michigan Daily.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Nov. 10 '06 - 08:54PM    #
  2. The details released at the most recent steering committee meeting for the Ann Arbor to Detroit Rapid Transit Study were disappointing mostly because they were not the right numbers.

    The consultant team produced ridership estimates and made operational assumptions that swamped the economic viablity of the project. Mayor Hieftje has it right when pointing out in the AA News that the commuter service analyzed was not the commuter service supporters have envisioned all along. Unfortunately, the consultants analyzed a service that nobody contemplated and now we have to wait more months while they go back and produce numbers based on more realistic assumptions – at great cost to the public.

    Also, much has been made of the Federal Transit Administration’s requirements and the competitive merit of this project when weighed against other projects nationwide.

    We might as well forget about producing a project that has ridership estimates that can rival those produced by New Tork, Chicago, Washington DC or other major metro areas that have mature systems. Our numbers will not compete favorably with their numbers.

    What we do have is a capable and dedicated Congressional delegation that have shown real interest in this project. We have tremendous need and a case can be made in Congress that a good project like this should be moved up in the queue.

    What we need from SEMCOG are numbers that are accurate and tailored to the service that the citizens and political leaders have been asking for. I have asked for that action from SEMCOG’s leadership and I’ll be watching to see if that happens.

    Furthermore, if our MPO (Metro Planning Org) can’t get a transit study completed so that the $100 Million earmark earned by Sen. Stabenow can be utilized on an investment for this corridor, I think that perhaps we will have to turn inwards again and seek solutions that can be implemented within Washtenaw County.

       —Jeff    Nov. 11 '06 - 02:01AM    #
  3. Jeff –

    Keep in mind that expanded options within Washtenaw are already being investigated – AATA’s engaged in a study of expanding their service (and funding) area, while Mayor Hieftje and others are pursuing north-south service into Ann Arbor. Meanwhile, WATS is doing a more general long-range County transit plan. I am quite happy that we don’t have to rely on SEMCOG’s foot-dragging and hemming and hawing on the numbers to get something to happen around here.

    Meanwhile, from today’s A2News, Rapid transit plans panned

    At the same time, SEMCOG will approach Amtrak about creating a demonstration commuter service. It will approach the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation and the Detroit Department of Transportation about creating a bus commuter service, Palombo said. The advantage of such demonstration projects is that they will give planners a better chance to measure ridership and interest and to build ridership for future applications to the federal government, he said.

    A demonstration project? At this stage? You know, I don’t know if I can even comment on the fact that this idea has only been struck upon now, rather than, say, 5 years ago, without getting all head-explodey.

       —Murph.    Nov. 11 '06 - 04:24AM    #
  4. “while Mayor Hieftje and others are pursuing north-south service into Ann Arbor.”

    That’s certainly true, if ‘talking enthusiastically’ about north-south service counts as ‘pursuing’ it.

    Murph, perhaps you or others can point to specific accomplishments in any area of rail that Mayor Hieftje can claim credit for … beyond talking enthusiastically about it. And for heaven’s sake, I think it’s great that John Hieftje talks enthusiastically about it. I’m just not sure that anyone in the position of Mayor of Ann Arbor can do more than use the mayorship as a bully pulpit for the issue. Mind you, I’m glad he does, but I’m less glad that he tries to position himself as a leading actor (and perhaps he is, in which case, can someone please provide some specific examples for commuter rail that count as more than just ‘talk’) in positive developments in our community, when it’s others who’ve done the heavy lifting.

    As far as the north-south commuter rail goes, Hieftje himself pretty much got it right when he characterized Louis Ferris’ interest in creating passenger service with the railway he bought as a “piece of providence that had fallen into our laps”. Is there anything specific that a Mayor of Ann Arbor can do to facilitate that or to block it … again, besides to talk about it?

       —HD    Nov. 11 '06 - 05:44AM    #
  5. HD – it’s true that Ferris’ interest is necessary for this to happen, and lack of interest would be basically a show-stopper.

    But I think you underestimate the role of “talk” on the Mayor’s part.

    * The Mayor nominates appointees to the DDA, whose support will be necessary for the downtown terminus of any commuter rail project.

    * The Mayor nominates appointees to the AATA Board, whose support will likewise be necessary for any commuter rail project, as commuter rail very much needs the support of local transit.

    * The Mayor nominates appointees to the Planning Commission, whose support, again, is necessary to the success of commuter rail, as neither transportation systems nor land-use regimes can be considered without the other.

    * I believe the Mayor sits on WATS’ Policy Board. WATS maintains the TIP (short-term transportation improvement plan) and 25-year long-range transportation plan that are necessary for federal transportation dollars, whether they be for roads, transit, or bike/ped improvements.

    * Maybe somebody (perhaps even you, HD, having had him on the Teeter) can verify my suspicion that Eli Cooper’s position at the City wouldn’t exist without the Mayor’s support? And, AFAICT, Eli does a bang-up job of supporting non-motorized and transit-based transportation.

    * Any kind of regional transit involves getting a lot of people on-board. That’s usually a bad pun, when used in cases like this, but Mayor Hieftje “just talked” 40 regional policymakers and business types literally on-board a train to show off the north-south rail vision back in June.

    Meanwhile, Mayor Hieftje manages to win more or less every single precinct in town every time he’s up for election. His “talk” is essential in getting all of the above things to happen, and the fact that he has maintained such good support across town lends credibility to his “talk”. Sure, he sometimes seems to be out in left field, staring at the grass and thinking things that are utterly opaque to anybody else , while the game goes on around him, but I suppose that, if that’s what it takes once in a while to maintain his level of support in town so that his “talk” can carry as much weight as it does, I’ll go along with it.

    I have to ask – who is it that you think is doing “heavy lifting” with regard to regional commuter transit without support from Hieftje playing a role in their lifting? Ferris is about the only example I can think of; for pretty much anybody else around here, Hieftje may not be directly doing the lifting, but he’s almost definitely spotting for them.

       —Murph.    Nov. 11 '06 - 11:17PM    #
  6. “I have to ask – who is it that you think is doing “heavy lifting” with regard to regional commuter transit without support from Hieftje playing a role in their lifting?”

    Murph, you give an excellent rundown in your comment of some folks who do the heavy lifting. I think you’re a just a bit over-eager to include Hieftje in the reflected glow of their work. Let’s grant that your analogy of acting as a ‘spotter’ for the heavy lifters is correct. Do we award an Olympic gold medal to the spotter or to the guys and girls with their hands on the barbell?

    I wonder how much additional support through the entire community there would be for rail—or any of the various projects Mayor Hieftje is content to hear you and others assign him credit for—if his approach were less tied to the strategies typical of career politicians (self-promotional) and instead were geared towards (1) shining the spotlight on the heavy lifters (2) gaining the support of those who aren’t already pre-disposed to agree with him based on their pre-existing views.

    As far as why Eli Cooper’s position in the City exists, Eli had this to say about his position as Transportation Manager:

    “It was created, I believe, as a general restructuring within the city government. Coming from Seattle, which is not in the news-shed of the area, I wasn’t aware necessarily of the changes that had gone through reorganization within the City. I applied as a result of an ad that I’d found on the World Wide Web. The position had been created at that point. I do not believe there was a predecessor with the exact same title. But there was a functionality within city government: transportation. Apparently as a result of some previous form of re-organization it was recognized that it was lacking. So therefore a position was created.”

    So it might well be that it was Hieftje’s idea.

    I hardly think, though, that Eli Cooper’s performance on the job should be credited to Hieftje, any more than, say, the capture of criminals by City Police should be credited to Hieftje.

       —HD    Nov. 12 '06 - 02:42AM    #
  7. Do we award an Olympic gold medal to the spotter or to the guys and girls with their hands on the barbell?

    Sorry to sport-hop, but let me offer up an exhibit . Is that Kenny Rogers hoisting the trophy? Nope. And we all know who “Nancy Pelosi” is – can you name me a House Whip in either party? Who’s Howard Dean’s head of Michigan DNC operations?

    And, yes, there are plenty of champions of transit to laud around here. I’ll start a list: Chris White, Eli Cooper, Susan Pollay, Terri Blackmore – but again, I’m naming up people who are highly visible within larger organizations that have lots of people who deserve some credit. And can you even tell me those four people’s organizations and titles without looking them up?

    Mayor Hieftje has a very talented team around him. And, in some ways, he’s just plain lucky to be surrounded by such amazing people – three of the four I named have been around much longer than he has, and done more than he has. But his name goes a lot further on the front page of the A2News than any of theirs do.

    I suppose my long-winded point is that the Mayor’s talk is, in itself, important for visibility reasons, and, additionally, he has an instrumental position in enabling other people to do what they do.

       —Murph.    Nov. 12 '06 - 04:05AM    #
  8. Murph wrote: “Sorry to sport-hop … [link to image of Jim Leyland, manger of the Tigers, holding the American League Pennant trophy]”

    Yeah, okay, but you’re confusing the hell out of Bruce Fields for one thing [Translation: the manager of the team gets credit for the championship, even though the manager doesn’t actually play, in the same way that the mayor should receive credit for the creation of rail, even though he didn’t manufacture the steel in the rails etc. ]. And for another thing , it would have been a hell of a lot more rhetorically effective if the trophy he was holding had been for the World Series. Still, touche, ... but sport-hopping on AU in terms of analogies deserves a yellow card, maybe even a penalty kick, I’m not sure if you were in the box when you committed the foul.

    “And, yes, there are plenty of champions of transit to laud around here … Chris White, Eli Cooper, Susan Pollay, Terri Blackmore … can you even tell me those four people’s organizations and titles without looking them up?”

    Well, yes, I can. And so can you. And there might even be a photo somewhere of Susan Pollay holding her trophy for ‘champion of transit’ aloft. But if your larger point is that the readership of AU doesn’t know who they are, then you’re in a perfect position in the future to name them, whenever you’re taking the trouble to name anybody in particular, as opposed to lumping them into a grab-bag category of ‘and others’.

    As far as Hieftje’s name going further on the front page of the A2News than any of ‘the others’ does. You’re absolutely right. What would go further still is sentences on the front page of the Ann Arbor News like, “Hieftje pointed to the broad range of support for commuter rail centered in Ann Arbor from Susan Pollay, Director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, to Eli Cooper, Transportation Program Manager for the City of Ann Arbor, to Chris White, Head honcho in charge of some sort of product development at AATA, to Terri Blackmore, who does something or other at WATS maybe even runs the whole show, saying ‘there’s a lot of amazingly talented people who have come together to make rail a reality in Ann Arbor and their work reflects a consensus in the community that this is our future. This is not a solo act I’m performing.’ ” Naturally, Hieftje doesn’t decide what quote runs in the paper. And for all I know he might well have said exactly those words. He might have even thanked God for helping him decide to go for it on fourth-and-one.

    So, yes, okay, so when push comes to shove I don’t know exactly what White and Blackmore’s exact titles are within their organizations, maybe it’s because I’m somehow colorblind.

    At any rate, my even longwinded-er point is that when you can make visible the community support for an idea among organizations like you point to (by highlighting the people who lead them), it’s more powerful than pointing to the support of a particular individual, however important the individual, or others (like you, Murph) think the individual’s role is.

       —HD    Nov. 12 '06 - 07:31AM    #
  9. when you can make visible the community support for an idea…it’s more powerful

    Quite true, quite true. And I do admit to quite some curiosity about just who was on that train ride other than the Mayor and a reporter. I know the Mayor of Ypsilanti was – this thing has support even among people who wouldn’t be directly advantaged by the route! Wow!

       —Murph.    Nov. 12 '06 - 09:49PM    #
  10. I was on the train, but if you want a rundown of who was also on the train, you’ll have to call me. There were too many city, county, non-profit orgs to list off the folks I remember seeing on that day. It was, in my estimation, a great demonstration of community interest in both north-south and east-west options.

    As far as a “demonstraton project,” this is NOT the first time this was raised as an idea. I raised this idea with SEMCOG almost two years ago. I wasn’t the only one. The proposal at that time was to run a demonstration project around the SUPERBOWL. (NOT my idea originally, I think it came from Dick Shackson or Michael Benham). The idea went nowhere. I also raised this idea with others involved in preparation for the Superbowl, to no avail.

    In my opinion, as somebody who has anxiously watched this project since 2000, John Hieftje has been a tremendous advocate for this project. His talking about the issue in such positive terms has done the project a great deal of tangible good and I hope he continues to use the “bully-pulpit” as he has been.

    The eventual success or failure of this project and indeed any plan to invest heavily in transit service will depend on two things: voter support and Congressional heavy lifting. If we want good public transit in Michigan, the money to operate the service will have to come from some sort of local taxes. That will require a win at the ballot box and probably a property tax millage (unless something changes in Lansing allowing other local taxation options – no longer an idea DOA in the legislature). Mayor Hieftje is helping greatly in terms of generating credibility and positive energy behind the idea. If a campaign erupts, Mayor Hieftje will continue to be one of the best advocates this service can hope for.

    Also, Mayor Hieftje has an opportunity to speak directly to our Congressional legislation about the importance of this project to our region. Other local officials, such as myself, will also continue to work with Dingell, Stabenow, Levin and their combined staff to move this project through Congressional approval. Still, Mayor Hieftje’s word carries considerable weight and he alone can speak with the power of Ann Arbor’s 115,000 residents behind him (residents that vote at a higher than normal percentage).

    In any event, I am confident that a train service, utilizing existing tracks, can be implemented for far less than SEMCOG’s admittedly “premium” commuter rail option. I hope that we can be successful in getting ridership estimates around such a service ASAP.

       —Jeff Irwin    Nov. 14 '06 - 07:12AM    #
  11. HD: John Hieftje was responsible for the city hiring Eli Cooper and for that matter, jump starting the city on alternative trans. As an activist cyclist I was watching four years ago when he convinced wary council members to support taking 5% of the money the city gets from the state for transportation and devoting it to non-motorized. (They wanted to sunset it after 5 years.) He then convinced them to take a little more to pay for a new position to coordinate it all and then sat on the interview team that selected Cooper. Since then the city has been going gang busters on cycling and winning awards to boot.

    If you follow all the rail articles you see that Hieftje and Cooper were working on the N-South rail long before Ferris bought it. It certainly was a big break.

    Back in 2001 the mayor was pushing the E-W rail and helped to keep it alive.

    The train ride last spring was a milestone effort that could not have been pulled off as well by anyone else, other than congressman Dingell. There were people there from all levels of Govt., and many different organizations. It was huge boost for rail.

    I concur with Jeff and Murph, the mayor is a great advocate for rail (and all alternative trans.) and we are lucky to have someone in elected politics who will put themselves on the line and stand up for something they believe in.

       —Dustin    Nov. 14 '06 - 09:19PM    #
  12. Getting away from SEMCOG, but on the alt-trans topic, I was in E. Lansing yesterday afternoon to accept a “Promoting Active Communities – Silver Award” on Ypsilanti’s behalf at the Michigan Healthy Living conference. Ann Arbor was the only community in the State whose existing infrastructure and policies/programs merited a Gold Award – nobody has qualified for Platinum yet.

    (Chelsea was recognized with a Bronze Award, making Washtenaw the only County with three awardee communities, and maybe the only County with even 2. Go us.)

       —Murph    Nov. 14 '06 - 11:16PM    #
  13. “I was in E. Lansing yesterday afternoon to accept a “Promoting Active Communities – Silver Award” on Ypsilanti’s behalf at the Michigan Healthy Living conference.”

    What does the award look like? Does carrying it give you, like, special AATA superpowers?

       —Bruce Fields    Nov. 14 '06 - 11:20PM    #
  14. Thanks, Dustin, I’ll add the Hieftje connection with Cooper to the list of things that people specifically cite as examples that go beyond talking enthusiastically.

    The demonstration train ride, I dunno, I’m still riding the fence on that one, because quite frankly, it’s not that hard to talk somebody into taking a ride on something, when it’s something inherently fun to ride. Like a Train. Or other stuff that begins with a T. Like a Trolly, for example. Or a Tirolean Traverse. A Trapeze. There’s probably other examples, too.

    You’re certainly not alone in attributing many of the developments in alt transport to essentially solo efforts on Hieftje’s part … and not just among supporters of alt transport [read on]. What’s less interesting to me now, as this thread has evolved, is not so much whether the mayoral bully pulpit counts for anything, or whether John Hieftje is individually responsible for specific progress in the area of alt transport, is the question of alt transport as a widely-held community value. Is it one for Ann Arbor, or not, and how do you build a case for it [that it is not that it should be, or how we could make it one]? I’d like to do better than: Well, Hieftje’s never lost a precinct …

    Some perspective on my original question about what the mayor’s role is or can be beyond talking enthusiastically. I hang sometimes with a crowd, who will say things to me like: HD, you must love it when Hieftje goes off and decides to put in a bike path, or wants to build commuter rail, but do you ever wonder about how we non-bicyclists and people who will never in a million years ride a bus or a train feel about paying for it?

    My usual rhetorical strategy is to try to make the case that the mayor isn’t acting unilaterally and that neither the council nor the City staff are controlled by Hieftje’s goons, and it’s not that Hiefje’s somehow using his hypnotic powers of personal persuasion, but rather that there’s a community consensus for this alt transport business and indeed there’s community benefit from it, even for people who don’t use the path and don’t ride the train and that’s why this stuff happens.

    To this standard line of argumentation, what I get back is in reply is something like: Yeah, but it is just Hieftje and a few others, it’s not most of the people who live in Ann Arbor who are actually going to be willing to pay for this … it’s always just Hieftje you read about, right? ... and it’s always Hieftje talking about he’s done this or he’s done that, Hieftje’s just deciding for us that this is the best thing.

    So what I’d prefer to be able to say is, No, Hieftje’s not off on some solo mission here, he’s just talking, which is all a mayor can do, and if there weren’t a real community consensus, none of the non-motorized stuff or the mass transit stuff would ever happen, and the fact that it does happen reflects an authentic community value, not Hieftje’s personal agenda.

    So while there’s an individual identification of the Hieftje political brand with alt transport, it can be used with great rhetorical effect against the generic product called alt transport and translate into a lack of support for a millage, which is likely the kind of subsidy we’ll be asked to give. That’s why I think there would be value if Hieftje himself and the alt transport crowd (in case it’s not clear, I count myself in that crowd) downplayed the name-brand and up-played the generic product with its community endorsement, if in fact it exists.

    Granted, I don’t think someone like Karen Luck (correct me if I’m wrong, Karen) is going to buy alt transport as a name-brand or as a generic. If I had to make a pitch to her though, I’d certainly prefer to sell her on the notion that alt-transport is a community-based generic product as opposed to a name political brand.

       —HD    Nov. 15 '06 - 09:07AM    #
  15. In the sense that city government does anything, it does so with the implicit or explicit consent of the Mayor and Council. Last time I checked, the Mayor is one vote on the Council and with a few exceptions, doesn’t have to authority or power to do anything without the support of at least the majority of Council. So when a bike path goes in or a person is hired to promote alternative transportation, that’s a decision of the Council, not just the Mayor. The Council and the Mayor, as the city’s elected officials, represent the will of the people (or at least those who take the time to vote). My point is that most everything that’s happened from the city’s viewpoint already reflects the will of the majority as exercised through their elected officials. The only other alternative is that the elected officials don’t reflect the wishes of the majority of their constituents. But nothing in the election results would appear to support that alternative.

       —John Q.    Nov. 15 '06 - 09:57AM    #
  16. John Q.,

    Okay, I’m now ready for Lesson Two in how a representative democracy works. Does it include an exercise in how to address the inherent pitfalls of what Tocqueville and others analyzed as the tyranny of the majority? Or do we just go with the MAJORITY RULZ!! version here on AU?

    But in all seriousness, to make the case to a broader set of folks than those who live in the City of Ann Arbor that they should support alt transport with their tax dollars, I think we need to make a stronger case for the existence of a robust community consensus specifically for alt transport here in Ann Arbor, not just the the general one you adduce built on the foundation of a representative democracy.

    So when Jeff Irwin alludes to how powerful the voice of the mayor is when it’s backed by over 100,000 Ann Arborites who vote in higher percentage numbers than elsewhere (maybe even higher than what’s reported due to the deadwood on the roles—see Kestenbaum’s Sunday Q & A), that voice is maximally persuasive when it can point to the community support specifically for alt transport among Ann Arborites in as concrete terms as possible. The observation that voters are not so dissatisfied with what’s happening with alt transport that they’ve thrown the folks out of office who’ve been making it happen so far, is a case for community-wide consensus on alt transport. Surely there’s a stronger case that that.

    The way things look, Washtenaw County residents are sooner or later going to be asked to fund a general regional transportation millage of some sort. If people see a strong case for community consensus made all along the way, they’re more likely to vote that community consensus, even if it’s at odds with their own narrowly defined self-interested view. I think it’s those votes we’re going to need, in order to get any kind of regional transportation millage passed.

    When I see ridership numbers for AATA, number of bicycle commutes, number of walking commutes, they stack up really well compared to other communities. What I struggle with is making the case for a community-wide consensus based on those numbers.

    Maybe the only way we get a major system like commuter rail is not to worry so awfully much about a community-wide consensus now and just grab whatever resources we can to make the demonstration commuter service discussed above a reality (how’s the noggin doing Murph … sploded yet?) and let the amazing ridership numbers that generates be the evidence that if-we-build-it-they-will-come, and maybe the amount of the required subsidy will be small enough that it’ll sail through.

    My own personal perspective on a regional transportation millage is that I’d happily pay a mill for it. Unfortunately, the mill I’d be happy to pay just went to parks. And there’s some already voter-approved mill fractions the Library is entitled to if they need them, but is not currently collecting, so I’m hoping that whatever happens with the courts facility and the Library Lot doesn’t result somehow in the need to levy the full amount already approved [you’ve got our backs on this, right Cahill?]

       —HD    Nov. 15 '06 - 12:00PM    #
  17. I don’t fully understand all of the reasoning in this thread: many of the examples that have been given which show the mayor’s amazing support for transit (appointments to various boards etc.) are simply functions of his job. By making those appointments, it’s not like he’s doing anything above and beyond what other mayors have done in support of transit. I would argue that outside of non-motorized transit and his calls for trains, the mayor’s actions haven’t done much of anything to show support for Washtenaw County’s existing alternative transportation systems.

    In fact, if I remember correctly Jean Carlberg has usually represented AA on the policy committee at WATS, and Eli Cooper represents them on the technical committee. And as I understand it, Mr. Cooper has been the cheese that stands alone quite a bit lately on that committee (which has happened quite a bit in the past on the policy committee as well).

    In his great show of support for AATA, the mayor has been appointing people from outside AATA’s service/taxing area who never actually use the service along with a person from inside the city who is anti-transit (or rather he likes transit just fine if he doesn’t have to pay taxes for it…but he’s also not a user of AATA transit).
    The only reason this didn’t happen with the mayor’s last round of appointments is because people let him know that they were actually paying attention to the process this time (and that they weren’t satisfied with his last appointments). The mayor was in the process of interviewing another monied anti-transit person from outside of the AATA service/taxing area before people started speaking up.

    The people mentioned above as being part of the mayor’s team (White, Blackmore, Pollay) aren’t part of his team at all. They don’t answer to him, they don’t work for his organization, and the mayor doesn’t largely directly interact with their organizations (except for the DDA – but again, that’s another function of his job as mayor). The mayor and most of the people who work directly for him don’t do most of the grunt work which makes transit possible in this area.

    I for one would like the mayor to step up to help enhance the EXISTING systems of the area (something he hardly ever talks about in public).
    So far he’s largely shown that he’s only interested in courting the people who commute into Ann Arbor and other choice riders.
    To me that says that the mayor’s interest in transit doesn’t appear to stretch very far beyond the ballot box.
    If the mayor wants to be Mr. Transit Champion, he needs to actively support ALL kinds of transit – not just that which is the equivalent of low-hanging political fruit.

       —Erik Andrews    Nov. 16 '06 - 12:33AM    #
  18. When I look at AATA’s board I see a balanced group of talented individuals including a lawyer, a business man, someone who works for MDOT on transit issues, a bio-fuels expert, a transit specialist from UM, a non-profit worker who rides the bus, etc. Appointing Eli Cooper a while back and bus rider Nancy Shore along with an Ecology Center staffer more recently all seem like smart, transit friendly moves. You need a business-numbers person and an attorney to keep everything on the up and up. So he is supposed to find a lawyer and numbers person who are also regular bus riders and who want to serve for free on a transit board?

    I really appreciated what the board did to keep Ypsi’s service running, losing that would have been a real blow to transit.

    As for further supporting and improving/enlarging the existing systems, what else can he do for AATA? It is a separate authority. The changes the mayor has made in the city’s approach to cycling have been remarkable. The city is now rated as one of the best in the nation and if you have heard him speak, he says that is because most other cities are not doing much at all and there is still a long ways to go.
    Low hanging fruit? Promoting rail in this state has been a political no-no for decades, if is such a political boon, how come other politicos are not out there pushing it? Where’s the Gov. on this? Silent…

       —Dustin    Nov. 16 '06 - 02:49AM    #
  19. I’m with Dustin on the “low-hanging fruit” issue. For all its shininess and prestige, commuter transit service has always, and pretty explicitly, taken a back seat in this area to service oriented exclusively at basic mobility.

    Erik – if commuter transit is politically that easy, why is it that we’ve not seen any implemented in AATA’s decades of service? Or seen any separate, commuter-oriented service spring up? The go!pass and the MRide program were both, in my opinion, new, significant, and laudable steps towards considering riders of choice, though still not necessarily catering to them. And seeing how many people take advantage of those programs, despite the fact that they’re just minor tweaks on top of a basically pokey basic mobility oriented service, is evidence to me that there is demand out there that’s not being met.

    Now, don’t get me wrong – I think that basic mobility is a fundamentally important function of public transit. But I don’t think that our concern in that area should completely preclude us from trying out other approaches or testing the waters with regard to commuter oriented transit. In fact, I personally believe it’s pretty clear that a system that does not serve “passengers of choice” will eventually lose support. Google for comments about “empty buses” by people who don’t ride the bus, or recommendations that we just buy cars for all the transit riders, a suggestion clearly made by somebody who’s never seen transit oriented at riders of choice. I see service targeting riders of choice as important for building and maintaining broad support for all forms of transit in a time when, as HD points out, voters are feeling increasingly strapped about local taxes.

       —Murph.    Nov. 16 '06 - 04:23AM    #
  20. It all comes down to money. Express routes don’t currently exist in this town because the pot of operations money has been pretty much fixed for a long time. The MRide program has offered the only significant shot of money into AATA’s budget since I’ve been in the area. As of this point, communities in this area (despite all of the talk) have not been willing to spend money to develop any service beyond that which is “pokey basic mobility oriented”.

    Murph has said that times are financially tight. When that is the case, resources need to be maximized for the provision of transit service to people who don’t have any other options. 42% of AATA’s ridership makes less than $15,000 per year. I’m sorry, but I for one wouldn’t want to have to be the person who tells some of those sub-$15k people that their route segment has been cut and they no longer can get to work because we’ve diverted service to provide a route that gets people into the hospital from the Green Rd. P&R in 14 minutes instead of 25…many of whom probably have the resources to buy an orange permit and park at Glazier Way anyway.

    People around here constantly ask “why can’t we have transit service like Germany/Sweden/England/New York/insert-whatever-city-you-would like”.
    We can have that type of service, but it comes at a price…a price which southeastern Michigan largely hasn’t been willing to pay for decades.
    Correction: people are starting to talk about a county-wide millage, so that is a big step in the right direction.

       —kena    Nov. 16 '06 - 10:07AM    #
  21. “We can have that type of service, but it comes at a price…a price which southeastern Michigan largely hasn’t been willing to pay for decades.”

    I’m reminded of a remark earlier this year about mass transit from, I think, the director of the Detroit Rennaissance Center in the context of some panel discussion that included a couple of other regional leaders, which went something like: Mass-transit’s been tried and it’s always failed.

    As far as the price, I think that perhaps this is what Erik Andrews is alluding to with ‘low hanging fruit’. If it doesn’t cost anything, or doesn’t cost anything more than what we’re paying now, then that fruit is comparatively lower than initiatives that will cost a ton of money or depend on radically increased density (not just the modest increases our current cast of local elected officials are willing to embrace).

    It’s easy to get people on board a free train when they know for sure they’re going to ride it, see and be seen etcetera (the demo ride). It’s more difficult to ‘get people on board’ a train they have to pay for that might not serve their specific individual transportation needs.

    And that’s why it’s important to beat the drum of mass-transit, alt transport as a community value, if we can, not merely as something John Hieftje has accomplished through his singular effort.

    I think the Greenway advocates at least got that part of their political strategy right: they appeal constantly to the Greenway as a community value (dating its concept back 40 years). Naturally, that kind of rhetorical appeal helps tremendously if something truly is a community value. In the case of the Greenway, Dale over on Urban Oasis has documented that the community resistance to the Greenway also dates back as long as the concept, suggesting it’s partly just a political stragegy. Joe O’Neil was smart enough, at least, not to set himself up as the one guy, who’s singular achievement advocates point to as accounting for all progress to date.

       —HD    Nov. 16 '06 - 06:51PM    #
  22. Just a quick note, the TRU meetup is being re-scheduled. Check back for more details.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Nov. 17 '06 - 02:28AM    #
  23. I personally like the current round of board appointments, but they would NOT have happened without public scrutiny. The mayor appeared to be poised to appoint another person with a big house, who never has touched the service, and lives outside the service area – a completely inappropriate combination for the AATA board. That combination isn’t even remotely representative of the ridership.

    I would much rather have people appointed to the board who actually use the service. Anybody can be taught the details of how a transit organization operates. It doesn’t take lawyers, doctors, or anybody with specialized training to learn that stuff. It just takes time. A supportive belief in the concepts of public transit and the AATA as an organization are much more important prerequisites for board members than fancy credentials.

    “So he is supposed to find a lawyer and numbers person who are also regular bus riders and who want to serve for free on a transit board?”

    Yeah dustin…that’s one thing that the Ann Arbor area is definitely short of…professionals such as lawyers and doctors.
    The mayor could’ve looked a little harder to find a numbers/business person who actually supported the idea of public transit instead of responding to someone who wrote a negative op ed in the paper. Public transit supportive business people do exist in this city. The one in question on the board does not. Why else would he be proposing AATA millage reduction strategies when AATA’s ridership is the highest it has ever been and continues to grow by significant percentages each year?

    I’m not really sure if the board did Ypsi a favor by bailing out their transit service. When the community was faced with the prospect of service reductions, people came out of the woodwork to help find permanent solutions to the funding problems. The city council actually started talking to WCC, St. Joe’s, etc. about forming funding partnerships. When the AATA board floated Ypsi’s service for a few years – it isn’t a permanent thing – all of those talks halted. The board may have taken care of the short-term situation at the expense of the long-term. I hope for their sake – and the sake of everyone in Ypsi who depends upon transit – that the county-wide millage passes.

       —Erik Andrews    Nov. 20 '06 - 12:38AM    #
  24. “When the AATA board floated Ypsi’s service for a few years – it isn’t a permanent thing – all of those talks [WCC, St. Joe’s, Ypsi Council] halted.”

    The Ypsi City page with email addresses of the newly-elected Ypsi council and mayor is here

    Perhaps some encouragement to keep those conversations going (about partnerships between Ypsi, AATA, St. Joe’s, WCC) would help ... even if that encouragement comes from folks outside the City of Ypsi. Those are the kinds of partnerships that have the potential to boost ridership (helping to bolster the claim that it’s a community thing), as well as keep as low as possible the amount of the eventually requested county-wide millage.

       —HD    Nov. 20 '06 - 04:22AM    #
  25. Haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere but higher gas prices led to a record year for Amtrak here in Michigan:

    One of the nice bonuses of the increased ridership was that it reduced the amount of subsidy required from the state by about a million dollars.

       —John Q.    Nov. 20 '06 - 06:31AM    #
  26. Chuck:
    Is this the rescheduled TRU meeting?

    Talk transit with TRU in Ann Arbor
    The Ann Arbor meeting will be on Tuesday, Nov. 28 at 7pm on the third floor of the downtown library in Ann Arbor.

    This event is the first in a series of TRU meetings and house parties throughout the region to discuss how regional transit issues intersect with local transit interests, and opportunities to join TRU’s efforts. Additional events are planned over the next two months in Grosse Pointe, Farmington Hills, midtown Detroit and Royal Oak – more info on those soon.

       —kena    Nov. 22 '06 - 07:13PM    #
  27. Kena, yes this is the rescheduled TRU meeting. A bit more info below:

    Rapid Transit Meet-up
    Interested in bringing quality rapid transit to southeast Michigan? Want to help push for commuter trains from Ann Arbor and Ypsi to Detroit, metro Airport, Chelsea, and Livingston County? Curious about the latest findings from the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) on transit in our area? Come to a meet-up with Transportation Riders United (TRU), a non-profit group working to improve public transit in southeast Michigan.

    Eli Cooper, Transportation Program Manager for the City of Ann Arbor, will discuss Ann Arbor’s efforts for rapid transit. TRU Director Megan Owens will discuss regional transit issues, the proposed Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter train, SEMCOG’s upcoming public meeting on that issue, and opportunities to get involved. Q&A follows. Free.

    7 p.m. Tuesday, November 28th
    Ann Arbor District Library Freespace (third floor)
    343 S. Fifth Ave., at William
    (313) 963-8872

       —Juliew    Nov. 22 '06 - 09:13PM    #