Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Interesting Things Afoot in AATA Land

21. March 2008 • Nancy Shore
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There were two articles about AATA in the Ann Arbor News today.

Article 1: Board member: AATA needs a ‘diet’.
AATA Board Member Ted Annis presents a Treasurer’s Report at the AATA Board Meeting. The report criticizes AATA for it’s service, funding, and more.

Article 2: Bus from Chelsea to start May 15.
An Indian Trails Commuter Bus from Chelsea to Ann Arbor will start on May 15 (during Curb Your Car Month). Initially, the bus will run two times in the morning and two times in the afternoon. Preliminary price for a monthly pass is set at $125.

In other commuting news, Ann Arbor is now the proud owner of a Conference Bike. And a place to purchase one.

discuss . . .



  1. It’s become clear that Mr. Annis really needs to be let go from the AATA board. He doesn’t appear to be working in the best interests of the agency, and isn’t even trying to hide his agenda of trying to pay less property taxes. His findings are a pretty clear indicator of his desire to lower his property taxes by cutting the AATA millage (which he’s alluded to many times in the past). While lower property taxes may be a laudable goal, it shouldn’t be the primary reason why he’s on the AATA board.

    There are areas where the AATA bus system needs to be improved, but not in the ways he suggests. He didn’t even bother to document or source any of his “findings”. They contain a great deal of speculation, conjecture, and factual errors.

    His conclusions that UM riders are being subsidized by “Ann Arbor taxpayers” is spurious. As part of that argument, he claimed that UM students don’t pay property taxes. I’d love to rent from him, because my landlord passes those taxes through to me in my rent! UM already pays a substantial amount for its people to ride on AATA buses. The contract with UM was constructed using a very common model which many other universities/transit agencies throughout the country have implemented. Mr. Annis’ proposal for UM isn’t even remotely like anything in the industry. If he drives away UM, the productivity of the AATA system certainly isn’t going to fare well (interesting when considering that particular metric is supposedly so important to him).

    AATA is not part of the city gov’t and never has been (Annis couldn’t even be bothered to get that fact right in his paper). The city collects taxes on behalf of AATA, but AATA was incorporated as an independent single-purpose unit of government under the MI state constitution. The people who pushed the original AATA ballot issue had the choice to create a city transit dept, but they deliberately steered away from that (and created a dedicated millage with no sunset). I’ve talked to some of them…they knew that transit would be one of the first things to be chopped if it was a regular line item in the city budget (hence the current structure and financing of the AATA).

    Under the Annis model, the AA Public School system is also a city dept…i guess someone forgot to inform them of that. Having the city audit AATA is inappropriate, and there’s no precedent for it anywhere in the state. AATA is financially audited every year, and once again received a clean rating a few weeks ago.

    The bus system structure was also recently evaluated by a consultant, which found that AATA uses best industry practices in the implementation of its service (including the fact that it’s a ‘hub-and-spoke’ arrangement…most cities of Ann Arbor’s size use this type of system). There are things that can be improved in the system’s design…no one disputes that. The upcoming service changes in august are the first step in an attempt to deal with that.

    Why doesn’t Mr. Annis mention these things in his paper? Because his agenda isn’t to save Ann Arbor taxpayers money…it appears to be more egocentric than that. He’s spent a ton of money on a big house and lots of landscaping (and doesn’t appear to like paying taxes for his opulence), so he seems to be willing to tear apart our public transportation system to save himself a few dollars.

    I like shrubs and big rocks as much as the next person, but i also realize that public transpiration is a vital part of this region’s economy. It’s also going to be a major part of the region’s tools for growth.

    It’s time to get this clown off the AATA board and replace him with someone who actually has experience with transit and is dedicated to the cause (or at least has set foot on an AATA bus more than a couple of times). The region’s riders deserve better. Are you listening AATA board, AA City Council, and Mr. Mayor?


       —flareontoo    Mar. 21 '08 - 04:24AM    #
  2. I find Mr. Annis’ ideas alarming.

    First, this is a time in our region’s history when we need to expand transit funding, not limit it.

    The idea of turning the AATA millage over to City Hall to manage is equally wrong-headed. This utility needs to be protected from political winds and our City Council has not displayed good judgment on a number of big decisions in recent years. Mayor Hieftje has already appointed two staff members to the AATA board. There was some justification to appointing his transportation chief but the appointment of Sue McCormick, a top city administrative official, appears to be an effort to run AATA from the City Administrator’s office.

    My own bus service (route 13) is being cut. We will no longer have midday service. I did use this service for business downtown. There were always people sharing the bus with me. I would like to see AATA sustain service to residents, not cut it. That is why we pay for a generous millage that no other municipality can match.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Mar. 21 '08 - 01:04PM    #
  3. I think there are areas where the AATA could improve, but Ted Annis is way off base about what they are.

    Organization leadership is hard. Good Executive Directors are rare, good Boards are even rarer.

    Right now the AATA has neither a good Executive Director nor a functioning Board.

    From what I see, the previous executive director had a very top-down style. That has created an AATA culture where the staff, while very competent, aren’t empowered to speak up. Everything I hear about the interim ED, Dawn Gabay, tells me that she was a great operations manager, but that’s a different skill set than what is needed for an Executive Director.

    So, there’s a vacuum in leadership from the staff.

    And from what I hear, the search for a permanent ED is going nowhere (I could be wrong on this one, if anyone knows more, please correct me).

    Then, there’s the AATA Board. As I said earlier, good Board governance is very rare. That’s not a slam on the people volunteering on Boards, it’s just that it’s hard for an all volunteer body to put the time, the focus, and the expertise into good governance.

    So with the AATA Board, we have Ted Annis running off half-cocked, the mayor’s fondness for appointing city staff. C’mon, Eli Cooper and his boss, Sue McCormick, are are both on the AATA Board. How likely is Eli to butt heads with his boss on AATA issues at a public Board meeting?

    And here’s the clincher… nobody on the Board even rides the bus.

    What worries me most about this situation is that from the outside this looks like a cataclysm of dysfunction. That will make recruiting it much harder to recruit a a top-notch new Executive Director.

    So, that’s a bunch of complaining. What do I see that needs to be done?

    1. Recognize Strengths: We have a good system developing innovative services like the Link and Hybrid Buses. For all my complaining, things are pretty good.

    2. Recognize that everything is not OK: A little bird told me that when the Mayor was asked about how AATA was doing, he thought everything was fine. Everything is not fine.

    3. Get busy finding a permanent Executive Director: Without someone to take leadership of the organization, cast a vision for the future, and work with the board and communities develop a strong system, the organization will stagnate.

    4. Build a better board: I’ve heard sinister theories about why the Mayor has appointed city employees and political supporters like Ted Annis. I don’t know. I think they might just have been convenient. Whatever the case, The AATA needs Board members who actually ride the bus, understand the roles and limitations of board governance, and are willing to recognize what they don’t know (ie, if they haven’t done the research to judge the hub and spoke system, they acknowledge that).

    End of rant.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Mar. 21 '08 - 03:02PM    #
  4. it’s clearly time for a transit rider’s union, so that the snooze gets the view from the rider’s point of view too.


       —Edward Vielmetti    Mar. 21 '08 - 03:17PM    #
  5. Chuck Warpehoski wrote: “And here’s the clincher… nobody on the Board even rides the bus.”

    I believe Eli Cooper uses the Park and Ride most days and cycles on Fridays, weather permitting.

    But by mentioning that, I don’t mean to challenge your basic point, which is that the perspective of regular bus riders should be better represented on the Board.


       —HD    Mar. 21 '08 - 04:22PM    #
  6. Thank you HD, and I’ve also been told that Charles Griffith also rides the bus sometimes.

    I stand humbly corrected.

    Oh well, never let the facts get in the way of an opinion. :) I still think there’s a leadership gap at the AATA that requires a permanent ED and a more functional board.


       —Chuck W.    Mar. 21 '08 - 11:38PM    #
  7. Certainly, the bus system could interface much more effectively with the train service. However, I’d rather cut the millage to Washtenaw Community College than to AATA. Oh….maybe take part of WCC’s millage and allot it to AATA? Why not?

    David Nacht is a self-important blowhard who can’t lead the AATA Board; he should be replaced. Maybe Annis’s report was comprised of his opinions, but he is the treasurer and, one would imagine, familiar with the budget. Need we forget that AATA’s Executive Director, Greg Cook, quit just over a year ago over questionable travel and expenses? After that, Nacht told us that “AATA would continue to grow under Ms. Gabay’s direction.”

    Uh huh.


       —SR    Mar. 23 '08 - 12:46AM    #
  8. “Maybe Annis’s report was comprised of his opinions, but he is the treasurer and, one would imagine, familiar with the budget.”

    One would imagine but his “opinions” appear disconnected from reality.


       —John Q.    Mar. 23 '08 - 05:14AM    #
  9. As a former AATA employee this scenario is not surprising. It comes up time and time again since the city has no clear financial control over the AATA and has been desperate for their tax dollars for years. Their control is of course a strong one though since the Mayor appoints the board. That said the financials of AATA have always been strong. Maybe that is why the City is upset. They can’t seem to match AATA’s financial and auditors reports.

    It is unfair and inappropriate for a person who never set foot on an AATA bus to have influence over the organization. How exactly does Mr. Annis propose people get to work or to school without the service. This is a age old argument. Those who don’t ride it or need it want the service cut. I guess they never think about what that kind of action would do to this economy.

    AATA has always been recognized as a stellar leader in public transportation; from technology, to service levels for a community our size, it is a system which is duplicated and honored.

    Dawn Gabay is a competent leader as is her long serving staff. I am sure she did not ask for this position but she has taken the responsibility seriously until a new ED is found. No one who worked with the former ED should have been surprised by his demise. It may have taken longer then many thought, but it was inevitable. Give Ms. Gabay a chance to lead. Look at the board she has to deal with.

    Too bad Mike Bolton couldn’t be convinced to return. He truly lead the AATA to a leader in providing public transit to the community.


       —Liza    Mar. 25 '08 - 12:23AM    #
  10. The full text of the Ted Annis’ report is here. It should be noted that the AATA board rejected this document as a treasurer’s report and that “the document does not reflect the policies or views of AATA or its other board members.”


       —Juliew    Mar. 25 '08 - 02:13AM    #
  11. It seems funny to me that because there is disagreement on the board of AATA some writers assume something is wrong. Compared to the way it used to be, with Greg Cook riding roughshod over the board; this is a breath of fresh air.

    Ted Annis made some bold statements but the rest of the board did not back him up. This is not out of character for him. Boards need people who are not afraid to rock the boat. The board will have to work it out over time. That seems like a healthy discussion to me. Diversity of opinion is not a bad thing.

    They have been doing some good things since Cook left. The express buses are clearly a hit and now they are adding late buses from downtown. Seems to me like they have a strong board although they must miss Nancy Shore who left to take the job with the Chamber.

    AATA is a big business; it needs some competent, experienced, organizational people on the board along with people who know transit.

    Seems like it would be hard to find many people who have all the experience and skills needed plus the time to serve on the board and they ride the bus everyday.

    I don’t care if they ride the bus so long as they manage the operation well and if you step back from it, it seems like they do OK. But I would like to see them be on time more often. They seem to be working on it and when it stops snowing it will get better.


       —LauraB    Mar. 25 '08 - 04:43AM    #
  12. This is David Nacht, Board Chair of AATA. I am genuinely happy that people care enough about our bus service in the community to blog about AATA. I invite members of this blogging group to attend our meetings, generally on the third Wednesday of the month at AATA headquarters on South Industrial at 7:30 pm. We usually get a few representatives from the diabled and senior communities, but we have almost no one from the general public who rides the bus daily as a commuter. I genuinely would love to hear commuter voices at our meetings.

    From where I sit, AATA does a good job of meeting the needs of those who use it regularly. And if you disagree, I would like to hear about specifics. I ride the bus randomly and solicit rider views as well as reviewing our rider feedback data. (As suggested, I do not commute on the bus on a daily basis. But I view it as my job to advocate for those who do)

    As I have stated publicly, the views of any one board member may not be those of the board. I respect all of my colleagues, but I don’t agree with all of them on everything. It is my job to ensure that dissenting voices are heard and not suppressed, but that the majority vote on policies.

    The Board is about to enter a “visioning” process where we will hopefully come together around a few coherent themes for future growth. The choice to delay hiring a new executive director was a majority board choice: we decided that it was better to decide where we want to go, and then pick the right person to help us get there, rather than allow the selection of the new e.d. dictate the direction of transit to the community. We actively debated this issue, and it was not unanimous.

    In the meantime, I am proud of the positive incremental changes that have been taking place:

    1. we have hybrid buses;
    2. we have bio-diesal;
    3. we have worked to keep service to Ypsilanti, recognizing the financial issues that community faces;
    4. We coordinated with the private sector to get a bus to the airport at no cost to taxpayers;
    5. We are launching express commuter service to Chelsea;
    6. We are cooperating with the City, the DDA; the County; and others on a wide array of planning and visioning projects in ways we never used to;
    7. I am starting to take a more public role as an advocate for regional transit, such as a presentation I gave before the County Commission a few weeks ago.

    In short, I think respectful disagreements about the direction of the agency or criticisms of current board direction are healthy, and I encourage all of you to stay involved as transit advocates, particularly as the community may face choices about funding regional transit.

    ***
    As for the comment that I am “self-important blowhard”, I will try to take this criticism into account in the future. Maybe I can modulate into a self-aware unimportant blow-hard….

    David Nacht
    AATA, Board Chair

    feel free to email me your thoughts directly at davidnacht@gmail.com


       —David Nacht    Apr. 9 '08 - 07:01PM    #
  13. Some set of bus details are now online, in the form of a revised proposed fall bus schedule changes .


       —Edward Vielmetti    May. 22 '08 - 08:17PM    #
  14. Here’s the whole press release:

    PRESS RELEASE

    For immediate release

    May 23, 2008

    AATA Board approves revised service changes

    ANN ARBOR, MI – Following extensive public input on proposed service changes, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) Board of Directors carefully considered the public’s concerns and approved a revised list of changes at its May 21 meeting. The service changes will take effect on Sunday, August 24, 2008.

    Overall, the changes are designed to add service during morning and afternoon peak hours, and improve on-time performance on routes where this has been a problem, including the 4, 1U and 12UM routes. The changes will improve service to the Miller Road Park & Ride lot and add service to the new Skyline High School.

    Service reductions are planned in lower productivity service during midday, evening, and weekend hours on Routes 7, 12UL, 14 and 16.

    On behalf of AATA, Board Chair David Nacht said, “I’m excited that we’re going to be able to serve hundreds of our commuters with service every 15 minutes. There is a real difference between having to wait for a scheduled bus and knowing that you can just go out and wait at a stop and a bus will arrive shortly.

    “What pleases me most, however, is how much input we received and how responsive our staff was in changing the plans in response to the public comments.”

    Six meetings were held around the community to gather comments from the public. AATA also received more than 350 comments and questions by e-mail, written correspondence, telephone and petition.

    The Policy and Operations Committee of the Board and AATA staff considered the comments and suggestions, further analyzed the service in question, summarized the input and made recommendations to the board, which approved the recommendations without further revision.

    Of the original 28 proposed changes, 17 were adopted as proposed, four were adopted with modifications and seven were not adopted, as a result of the public input.

    Route 1U – Pontiac-University

    Timing will be adjusted on this route to improve on-time performance.

    Route 4 – Washtenaw

    Multiple changes are designed to improve the reliability and frequency of the route in Ann Arbor without adding to rider’s travel time or adding a large number of additional service hours. Details of the changes will be included on the AATA web site when the maps and schedules are produced and posted.

    Route 7 – South Main-East

    • The 10:18 p.m. trip leaving the Blake Transit Center will end at Eisenhower and

    South Industrial.

    • The loop now serving Kerrytown will be eliminated.

    • A trip from the Blake Transit Center to the Pioneer High Park & Ride Lot

    will be added at 10:48 p.m.

    Route 8 – Pauline

    Frequency of weekday service during morning and afternoon peak hours will be increased to every 15 minutes. The additional service will use Liberty Street to travel inbound to the Blake Transit Center (BTC). Service on Route 8 will be through-routed with the #2 Plymouth route. That is, a bus arriving at the BTC on Route 8 will depart as a #2 bus to enable riders to travel to and from the University of Michigan (U-M) campus and medical center without changing buses.

    Route 9U – Jackson-University

    The route will be moved away from Maple Village to the Miller Road Park & Ride Lot. Service will be provided on North Maple Road between Dexter Road and Miller Road. No service will be provided on Jackson Road.

    Route 12UL – Liberty-University

    The route will be eliminated.

    Route 12UM – Miller-University

    Peak Hour Service

    Service to and from the Miller Road Park & Ride Lot will be increased to every 20 minutes. Service to the new Skyline High School will be added.

    Midday Service

    Service will operate every 30 minutes between the Miller Road Park & Ride Lot/Skyline High School and the Blake Transit Center, resulting in service every 15 minutes on Miller Road.

    Route 14 – Geddes-East Stadium

    Peak Hour Service

    During peak hour service, the route will be shortened to operate between Pioneer High School and U-M Medical Center (Mott) and time will be added to improve on-time performance. The #14 and #9U route service will be through-routed at Mott. That is, a #14 bus that arrives at Mott will depart as a #9U bus to enable #14 riders to travel to and from the U-M campus and downtown without changing buses.

    Midday Service

    Midday service will be eliminated.

    Route 16 – Ann Arbor-Saline Road

    Service will be eliminated on two loops along the route: 1) William, Thompson and Hill streets and 2) Oak Valley east of Lohr, Ellsworth and Lohr Road south of Oak Valley. A third loop on Oakbrook, Main and Eisenhower streets will be shortened to use Northbrook rather than Main.

    Once revised, maps and schedules showing the changes will be posted on the AATA web site, www.TheRide.org.

    Route and schedule questions may be directed to AATA at 734.996.0400.


       —Edward Vielmetti    May. 23 '08 - 06:19PM    #