Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

The Buses are Alive, with an Increase in Ridership

9. January 2008 • Nancy Shore
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Update: After posting this article I received some feedback from the AATA clarifying some of the statements I made below. I am including their comments in italics so you can get the full story of what is going on.

The AATA Board Finance Committee recently asked staff to come up with recommendations for reducing bus service to low-performing routes and increasing service to routes that are doing well. Sounds easy, right?

So several months ago, the staff set out to do just that. They based their reduction recommendations on which routes had the lowest ridership (such as the 14 and the 1U) and on consultant recommendations.

At today’s Policy and Operations Meeting, AATA Board members were supposed to approve the proposed service changes. The P & O Committee was planning to recommend to the full board that the public input process move forward with respect to the recommended service changes. They were not supposed to approve the proposed service changes. But something amazing happened.

More riders are riding buses that ever before. And the low performing routes are no longer doing all that bad. In fact they’re doing quite good. What we don’t know is whether the increase in ridership is along the portions of the routes that are proposed for adjustments.

Staff is seeing an unprecedented amount of passengers. 2-3 years ago, there were about 20 passengers per service hour. Now there are 32. October-December of 2006 1,414,976 people rode AATA buses. This past October-December, 1,502,863 people rode. That’s over 85,000 more riders (more passenger trips, not riders) , which is more than twice the enrollment at the U of M.

So who are these riders? Well, the UM does account for a lot of the increase. But that’s not all. The numbers of other riders are up, including those that use go!passes (yeah!).

The AATA is trying to figure out how it will modify service to meet the financial needs of the organization and the increased rider numbers. Stay tuned for some public meetings to address potential changes. In the meantime, I’ll see you on the bus!

In other AATA news . . .

The AATA recently installed 16 new bus shelters. 10 of those replaced old and unhappy shelters.

The AATA is looking at the feasibility of a fare increase. The last time they increased the fares was in 2001. But nothing is set in stone and the conversation is just getting started. The frequency of a fare increase is not the main reason to consider a new fare increase. There are many variables including the increase in fuel from 88 cents per gallon at the time we had our last fare increase to now paying $3.00 per gallon.

getDowntown is working with the AATA to create a transit service for evening employees in the downtown. The basic idea is having a van that picks up employees at a certain designated location downtown and drops them off at their destination. The service will probably be piloted in 3-6 months and start by providing service to employees who live on the west side of Ann Arbor (which, as was found in a survey getDowntown conducted, is where most evening employees live). getDowntown is presenting this survey to several groups and if you want a copy of the presentation, just email me at

The Policy and Operations Committee is discussing the advertising that is wrapped on the buses. Some individuals with visual impairments are saying they can’t see through the wraps.

Since the bus wraps bring in about $169,000 a year to the AATA, the organization is going to have to decide if having the wraps is worth the money or if they just present too much of a hassle for riders. Any comments you have about this would be appreciated. The $169,000 is equal to providing service more than doubling the service on some routes.

Finally, the AATA discussed what to do about snow at bus stops. This was recently an issue with the last snow storm since the City plows often pile up snow at AATA stops. The AATA is going to try to work with the City to coordinate snow removal to make sure stops don’t get covered.

That’s about it from AATA land

  1. re: Bus stops.

    That’s excellent news. My biggest complaint about my AATA use during the recent storms was the fact that the bus stops weren’t well cleared at all from the snow. I hope I see a change as well, it’s a great way to get to work!

       —jhallum    Jan. 10 '08 - 07:09PM    #
  2. They need some routes that go along the loops of the hub and spoke — forex, there’s nothing that goes along Stadium from Westgate to Arborland.

       —Fred Zimmerman    Jan. 11 '08 - 12:47AM    #
  3. This is great news! Increased ridership is important to lessen our carbon footprint and make use of a valuable public service.

       —Ryan Munson    Jan. 11 '08 - 05:08AM    #
  4. I would like to be able to catch the bus on Packard (before Eisenhower)and ride it straight downtown without going all the way out to Ellsworth or Briarwood. Is this, “Packard Express” route feasible? I can’t be the only one who would ride the bus more often if this were an established route – why isn’t this part of the Get Downtown package?

       —Letitia Kunselman    Jan. 11 '08 - 10:51PM    #
  5. Letitia, if you can get to Platt just off Packard or Stone School, just off Eisenhower, the #5 then picks up Packard and goes straight downtown.

       —Liza    Jan. 11 '08 - 11:39PM    #
  6. I would like to know how many riders with visual impairments have trouble seeing through the wraps. If it’s three that have complained, I don’t think it’s enough to lose $169,000 in revenue.

    I live on the 14, and it is pretty empty between 10am and 2pm. Maybe eliminate a midday loop?

       —Cooler Heads    Jan. 12 '08 - 12:52AM    #
  7. These wraps don’t go over the windshields do they? And it’s not visually impaired bus drivers complaining, is it?

    Then who the hell cares? When they announce your stop you get off the bus. You don’t have to be able to able to identify passing birds from an aisle seat.

       —Parking Structure Dude!    Jan. 12 '08 - 01:08AM    #
  8. Everyone, thanks for your comments. In terms of a Express Packard Bus. Trust me, if I had my way, that would already be done. But it isn’t as easy as me waving a magic want and it happening. As I am starting to learn, there is a lot involved in transit services and it takes time to get routes changed. But I think the 2x Commuter route is a good start and getDowntown will continue to work with the AATA on better options for commuters.

    Liza, thanks for your suggestion.

    Please feel free to email me at with any suggestions you have as I want to continue to represent rider needs to the AATA.

    In terms of the wraps, it’s kind of hard to know exactly how many people are complaining, but I do know it hasn’t been an enormous amount. But generally it is the squeaky wheels that get the grease so when people raise concerns, they need to be taken seriously. Especially if they are causing folks to feel uncomfortable riding the buses because they can’t see where they are.

    In terms of the 14, there are some considerations to rearrange that route and modify parts that are not as well-utilized. There will definitely be more details when a public meeting is called by the AATA.

    In terms of the bus wraps

       —Nancy Shore    Jan. 12 '08 - 01:26AM    #
  9. Nancy, the part of the route on Arlington/Geddes is well used some parts of the day, but not others….

       —Cooler Heads    Jan. 12 '08 - 07:12PM    #
  10. I dislike the wraps – I rarely deboard at named/announced stops other than Blake, so I like to be able to see where I am to make sure I can get the right stop. It’s particularly difficult when the wraps are added to darkness (e.g. anytime after 5pm in the winter) or dirty/salty windows (e.g. anytime in the winter).

    Additionally, a certain person I’m married to gets carsick sometimes if she can’t see out the window. A big impediment to bus riding.

    I think rider comfort/happiness is a big part of getting riders of choice to try and continue to use the bus; even if the wraps don’t pose a performance problem for bus riders, if they cut into comfort and ease of use, that’s a problem.

       —Murph    Jan. 12 '08 - 07:24PM    #
  11. Nancy, is the $169,000 revenue from ALL wraps, or just the full wraps that go over the windows? I don’t have a problem with the wraps that cover the non-window parts of the bus (though I don’t much like them), but I don’t like not being able to tell where I am at night. Why not compromise and allow wraps that don’t cover the window (or even ones that don’t cover more than 20% of the window).

       —Lisa    Jan. 13 '08 - 12:34AM    #
  12. Are the routes WITHOUT mid-day operation being re-evaluated? For example, the 12UL (Westside-Campus) does not operate between approximately 9:30am and 4:30pm … but at least for me, that is exactly when I wish I could use the 12UL. I would love to see daytime service on the 12UL.

       —SF    Jan. 14 '08 - 12:56AM    #
  13. To answer your questions:

    Julie, the $169,000 is for all the wraps, both the full and the partial. And one of the things brought up at the Board Committee meeting was having the wraps, just not having them on the windows. The big question is if the advertisers are going to think this is adequate or not.

    SF, At this point, service without mid-day operation is not being looked at as far as I know. The 12UL is by name a limited service and is supposed to provide peak day service to the UM. This is also the case with the 9U. The 12A and 12B pretty much cover the same territory as the 12UL, but don’t go to the UM.

    Since UM ridership definitely drives some of the route choices, anything is possible, but as far as I know, there isn’t any talk of extending the 12UL past its hours at the moment.

       —Nancy Shore    Jan. 14 '08 - 02:29AM    #
  14. there were about 20 passengers per service hour. Now there are 32

    That’s good — but how would one translate that into average loading at any given time or average number of passengers per bus-mile?

       —mw    Jan. 14 '08 - 07:09PM    #
  15. MW That’s a good question and a lot of it depends on the route. I’ll see if I can get this info and put it here.

       —Nancy Shore    Jan. 14 '08 - 11:45PM    #
  16. MW: Trips/service hour is pretty much the gold-plated standard when evaluating transit service. What are you looking for when breaking out the stats in the way you propose?

       —keaz    Jan. 15 '08 - 06:36AM    #
  17. keaz – I’m guessing, from past threads, that mw is looking for number of passengers at a time to compare cost- and/or emissions-per-mile to single-occupancy vehicles. For that purpose, it doesn’t matter how the service stacks up to other transit systems.

       —Murph    Jan. 15 '08 - 07:46AM    #
  18. Here’s a transit evaluation page:

    Lots of possible numbers, a spreadsheet geek’s dream when doing transit system evaluation that doesn’t neatly compress into a single number.

    (The one number I watch is “how late is the inbound 5 at the 7:58am Packard/South Blvd time point”.)

       —Edward Vielmetti    Jan. 15 '08 - 11:36AM    #
  19. I’m guessing, from past threads, that mw is looking for number of passengers at a time to compare cost- and/or emissions-per-mile to single-occupancy vehicles. For that purpose, it doesn’t matter how the service stacks up to other transit systems.

    Right—I’m wondering, with the increase in ridership, how close we’re getting to the point where our bus system is getting to be an environmentally efficient form of transport as well.

    Back of the envelope, if the average length of a passenger trip is 10 minutes, then the average loading with 32 trips-per-hour, would be about 5 passengers at a time, which would work out to about 20 passenger-miles-per-gallon. Which I’d guess is roughly the same as for private automobiles in the city (the average city MPG is probably something under 20, but the average passenger loading is something over 1).

    And I wonder how the new diesel buses are working out with respect to fuel economy? This is not encouraging:

    But Ann Arbor probably has a smaller percentage of long-distance, high-speed suburban routes (and I assume they’re not running the hybrids on those routes).

       —mw    Jan. 15 '08 - 05:36PM    #
  20. FYI I made some changes to the main article post that better represent what happened at the last P&O meeting to make sure we are all on the same page.

       —Nancy Shore    Jan. 15 '08 - 10:29PM    #
  21. I’m guessing that average length of a passenger trip is more than 10 minutes, mw.

    The bus I ride (the 5) take about 15 minutes to get from Blake to my stop, and about 8 minutes to get from the U to my stop. That bus is mostly or completely full at rush hour, and it’s still full at my stop with people who live farther out.

    Nancy, what I’d love to have from the AATA is immense amounts of data logged from all of their systems. Are those daily logs of passenger on/off and on time performance at each time point records that can be requested? I’ll bet that some in the Web Analytics Wednesday group could slice and dice a more informative report or map than the standard reporting that comes from whatever contractor is producing the reports you see.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Jan. 16 '08 - 07:16AM    #
  22. Ed, I would ask the AATA about stats.

       —Nancy Shore    Jan. 17 '08 - 02:35AM    #
  23. I also dislike the wraps since I rarely exit at an announced stop, and it is difficult to see out of them at night. I also do not like the new hybrid buses, only because the windows are so heavily tinted. Again, the tint makes it very difficult to see out of the bus at night and combined with the wraps it makes it impossible. Also the tint does not give the impression of safety when on the bus, since people can’t see in very well.

       —KGS    Jan. 17 '08 - 10:39PM    #
  24. KGS, that’s an interesting observation about safety. I hadn’t noticed the tinted windows (I also haven’t ridden one of the hybrids yet); and being a tall, white man, I’m probably less likely to have had that same thought. Even now, I’m not clear on what sort of unsafe situations might be avoided with better visibility into the buses. Maybe it’s more a matter of perceptions.

    In any case, I encourage you to send any other, or more specific, safety-related thoughts to AATA.

       —Steve Bean    Jan. 17 '08 - 11:20PM    #
  25. Nancy, who would be the right contact at the AATA to talk about bus data?

       —Edward Vielmetti    Jan. 18 '08 - 03:05AM    #
  26. Hello Mr. Vielmetti: pulling the kind of data you’re interested in would require a good deal of work. We don’t have the staff time available for that sort of project at this point.

    We will be making our generalized operational statistics available on the AATA website (including various route performance indicators), but it may take awhile since there are many other projects underway.

    We will also be releasing information concerning possible service changes sometime in the next several months, but we are very early in the process. Please watch the AATA and getDowntown websites for ways to participate in the public input process.

       —Ken Anderson - AATA Communications Coordinator    Jan. 18 '08 - 10:07AM    #
  27. I would like AATA to use more of a grid network, instead of the hub and spoke system. The hub and spoke system is only practical if you want to go downtown. I currently commute 4.5 miles to work, but I live on the SE side of town and work on the NE side of town. So what takes me 10-15 minutes to drive, and 25-30 minutes to bike, takes me 50 minutes to do by bus because I have to go downtown, transfer, then come back out again.

       —KEF    Jan. 24 '08 - 09:30AM    #