Archive for the ‘Transportation’ category

AAATA and the Zen of the Millage Vote

January 16, 2014

Will they or won’t they?  The tantalizing wait for a May millage decision.

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has been on a long journey.  We began reporting  in December 2009 on their efforts to put in place a county-wide transit authority.  It’s been a long Ride.  On November 8,  2012, the culmination of much planning, consulting, execution of legal documents, and public engagement collapsed when the Ann Arbor City Council voted to opt out from the nascent authority, in the face of the withdrawal by virtually every other jurisdiction in Washtenaw County.  But the AATA got busy and assembled “urban core” communities for some serious talking.

Partners for Transit cartogram representing communities' areas as a function of population

Partners for Transit cartogram showing population (click for larger)

The idea was to put together a smaller, tighter version of the countywide plan to serve only the relatively urbanized communities surrounding Ann Arbor.  This matches the population profile of the county and makes sense, as mass transit does require some masses.  They had some measure of success.  They have now succeeded in expanding the authority to include the City of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.  Other communities continue to be reserved about jumping in to a membership that includes being vulnerable to a future millage tax.  Still, the newly christened Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority plans to include Pittsfield Township and perhaps the city of Saline and village of Dexter via longer-term POSA contracts.

With that in hand, the AAATA has been involved in a major public engagement campaign for the new, reconfigured 5-year plan.  Our post Moving Us Forward: The Urban Core Expansion Plan explains that in some detail.

Now the AAATA has refined their plan, following public input. Tonight (January 16, 2014) the Board will be asked to approve the revised 5-year plan (formally the Five-Year Transit Improvement Program) “for implementation when local funding is secured”. The plan has a roughly $5.47 million funding gap. That is what is supposed to be filled by an authority-wide (Ann Arbor, City of Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township) millage.  There is also a fairly hefty expectation of additional POSA funds. (Click the figure for larger view.) Note that the expected millage amount is still 0.7 mills, as has been estimated for months.

Estimated funding gap calculations from AAATA resolution

Estimated funding gap calculations from AAATA resolution

Who moved my millage?

But what is missing from tonight’s agenda is an approval of a millage ballot measure.  Partners for Transit, an organization formed originally to promote a countywide transit organization, today put out a public statement calling for AAATA to authorize a millage measure.

Partners for Transit, a coalition of business and community leaders, religious groups, social service organizations, and environmental organizations today called on the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority to propose a new millage to advance the AAATA’s five year plan for improving public transportation in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and the neighboring region.

The account on the Ann Arbor News mentions that “AAATA officials have been talking about putting a 0.7-mill tax on the ballot in May to fund the expanded services in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township”, and doubtless PFT assumed that this vote is on tonight’s agenda.  But it isn’t.  Further, there is no mention of this issue in the minutes of the Planning and Development Committee, where agenda items are usually discussed.

Now, this is very peculiar.  We’ve been hearing for months about a likely May millage vote, and it is already being debated by the public.  Indeed, I spoke at public comment to the PDC two months ago and urged them to go ahead and schedule the vote. But apparently, AAATA administration and Board are still weighing their options.

The May ballot made sense for an important reason: the property tax collection schedule.  Local property taxes are collected in July.  A millage on the May ballot would mean that money would start rolling in for an August implementation, and indeed schedules presented at the fall workshops seemed to factor in that expectation.  A millage passed either at the August primary or the November general election would not be available until July 2015. This would put off implementation by a full year.

There was some urgency in getting the matter voted on by the AAATA Board.  There are statutory deadlines for putting measures on the ballot.  Two steps, first informing (by “petition”) the local clerks, then getting the final language to them for the ballot.  Here are the deadlines for this year.

millage deadlinesNote that unless AAATA holds a special board meeting,  they will already be too late for a May election.  Further, if they want to put something on the August ballot, they’ll have to act by April.

This was an error and the table has been replaced with one showing correct dates.  The “petition” step does not apply to ballot measures placed by a governing board, but rather to petitions which require collection of signatures.  In each case, the Board meeting for a month in which action is necessary does precede the deadline in that month.

Why the holdup?  We can only speculate.  There is always a strategy involved in getting a ballot measure passed.  We don’t know what the fine details of all the surveys that they have been conducting.  Has there been some uncertainty about public acceptance?  Any tax issue is always controversial. But positive survey results are not necessarily a guarantee.

The later elections this year seem to be problematic for a couple of reasons.  One is the possibility (probably remote) that the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority might also place a transit millage on the ballot.  This seems not very likely reading between the lines of the Detroit News report of the RTA’s recent meeting.  They have had some setbacks, including a lack of support from the State Legislature and the loss of their selected candidate for CEO, John Hertel.  But the Chair of the RTA board, Paul Hillegonds, is quoted as saying that they have enough funds to get along for a while (mostly just to pay staff, not to undertake any initiatives).

Even more troubling might be the chaotic nature of current Ann Arbor politics.  With John Hieftje’s departure from his mayoral chair, the music has been getting downright frenetic, with four council members running for mayor and three new council candidates for vacated seats (partial summary here).   The months of June and July are likely to be steamy regardless of the weather.  The November election looks calmer in the city, but it is a gubernatorial election and there will be plenty of action at the polls for statewide seats.  Based on the November election of 2012, Ann Arbor is likely to contribute about 64% of the voters to an AAATA-wide election.  (The City of Ypsilanti is about 7%, Ypsilanti Township 28%.)  So the political mood in Ann Arbor could be important to the AAATA.  In addition, it is always the mix of voters for a particular election that matters.  Is a bigger turnout more or less favorable?  Typically there are many more voters, often less informed, in the November elections.  For a millage vote, it might be better to try to turn out favorable voters in a smaller election.

A timely report on tonight’s (January) board meeting from the Ann Arbor Chronicle provides one possible reason for the delay; a May ballot will incur more costs (because they’d have to pay for the election) than later.  With all the money spent to date, it seems it might have been worth it.

UPDATE: AAATA has already issued a press release regarding the Board’s approval of the plan.  Here is what they say about a millage:

AAATA officials say they are considering a recommendation that calls for the TheRide Board to approve placing a 0.7-mill, five-year property tax increase proposal on the 2014 ballot for residents in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. The date of a potential election is still to be determined pending the outcome of the AAATA Board’s decision.

SECOND UPDATE: In a follow-up article on Ann Arbor News AAATA Board Chair Charles Griffiths describes the potential benefits of the plan for “this year”, apparently without understanding that a deadline for the May ballot is about to pass without his board’s action.

THIRD UPDATE: I’ve been informed that I am misinterpreting the ballot deadlines.  The petition deadline applies to measures for which signatures must be collected. (See corrections in the body of the text.) The relevant deadline for a May ballot is February 25, for ballot language.  So it looks as though they can still make it.  But why the delay in approving it?

FOURTH UPDATE: Here is a report from ModeShift of the latest RTA meeting in which there was discussion of both an RTA millage and possible conflicts with provider millages (including AAATA) .

FIFTH UPDATE: The Ann Arbor Chronicle has produced a comprehensive summary of the January 16 AAATA meeting, in head-spinning time.

SIXTH UPDATE:  At their Planning and Development Committee meeting of February 11, 2014, AAATA board members sent forth a resolution to place a measure calling for an authority-wide millage of 0.7 mills on the May 2014 ballot.  This is likely to sail through the February 20 board meeting without a hitch, in time to be submitted before the deadline.

This is a boon to Council and Mayoral candidates, who are now relieved from being asked questions about their position on this measure prior to the August primary.

SEVENTH UPDATE: As predicted, the AAATA board voted unanimously to place the millage on the May ballot, after some carefully staged political theater (many speakers were present to urge them on). Excellent coverage by the Ann Arbor Chronicle has the details.

Regionalism Reconsidered II

November 26, 2013

So what is Ann Arbor’s region?

In our first post in this series, we noted the importance of the concept of regionalism in current political discourse. But we also noted that there has been little discussion of the impact of regionalism on “the overall health and long-term development of communities, in other words, to the public good.”

First, what is a region?  It is a general term, of course, but there have been a number of attempts to define our region.  Here is an overview.

Let’s Make a Plan

SEMCOG region of 7 SE Michigan countiesBroadly speaking, in its simplest formulation regionalism is practised by information sharing and coordinated planning across jurisdictional boundaries. In Southeast Michigan, the regional planning agency has since 1968 been SEMCOG (the SouthEast Michigan Council of Governments).  This is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties.

As their website explains, SEMCOG is the contact point for many governmental programs, including regional transportation planning under MAP-21 (Federal trust fund), air and water pollution under those Federal acts, housing and land use under Housing and Urban Development (Federal) and many other Federal planning projects under MFPRS.

SEMCOG is also known for its data collection and summarization of items such as census figures, and its projections of population, job growth, etc.  These are sometimes taken as predictions, a mistake.  (It would be entertaining but time-consuming to go back 20 years and track how closely these projections have been made real over time.)  On the basis of all these data and projections, they consider trends and how to address them in their work program.

SEMCOG doesn’t implement or do.  SEMCOG facilitates discussion and makes plans.  Here is what the site says about how they operate (emphasis is mine):

All SEMCOG policy decisions are made by local elected leaders, ensuring that regional policies reflect the interests of member communities. Participants serve on one or both of the policy-making bodies — the General Assembly and the Executive Committee. These bodies act on recommendations developed through SEMCOG’s various engagement methods. We engage regional stakeholders from local governments, the business community, and other special-interest and citizen groups.

The significance of that statement is that all parties are equally represented.  That is a governance model that is very easily understood.

Regional Transit Coordination

regional transit authority2The Regional Transit Authority, formed as a result of state legislation, involves just four counties, all of which are also part of SEMCOG.  As we noted early on, there was some degree of fuss about how representatives were to be allocated to four counties and the City of Detroit, but after some down-to-the-wire legislative high-jinks last December, it materialized as a reality.   The authority is temporarily housed on the SEMCOG website, where meeting notices are to be found. (Evidently, minutes are not yet being made public.)

Information on the RTA is only sketchily available.  It will, according to its legislative mandate, coordinate the transit agencies within its borders (currently, DDOT, SMART, and AAATA).  In the future it may also create some regional high-capacity transit corridors.  According to an account by the Ann Arbor Chronicle, the RTA is still looking for a source of operating funds.  It is working with a small grant from MDOT and a minimal appropriation from the original legislation.  One possibility was use of local bus operating funds, which would have reduced the ability of local transit agencies to provide transit.  That has now been excluded by agreement.  The authority could place a millage on the ballot for all four counties next year, or could attempt to impose a special vehicle license fee, which would also require a majority vote across the four-county area.  (No opting-out by individual counties is possible.)

Good for Business

One of the drivers for regional planning has been to enhance the opportunities for economic development.

a2 successAn early attempt at a regional economic entity in Washtenaw County was the A2Success venture.  This was an initiative of the Board of Commissioners and took the “suits around a table” approach.  In October 2007 a number of community leaders were assembled to launch a county-wide effort to boost regionalism in several areas, including education, transportation, business marketing and incubators, and human services. (One of the participants was a guy named Rick Snyder, a local entrepreneur.)  They formed “action teams”.  Several projects were launched and took on their own identities. washtenaw One was ReImagine Washtenaw; another was the effort at a countywide transit authority. The “A2Success” title referred to the notion of rebranding all of Washtenaw County as Ann Arbor. The idea was that Ann Arbor was a nationally recognizable location with a favorable image. Indeed, SPARK (an economic development not for profit that is partly supported by tax dollars) has characterized itself as AnnArborUSA.   Although A2Success is still listed on the Washtenaw County Economic Development webpage, its website is no longer active; an annual report  was last published in 2009.

Livingston plus WashWhile SPARK has retained its “AnnArborUSA” title, it has pushed into new territory.  It has had a business incubator in Plymouth Township (Wayne County) for some time.  In 2011, it moved into Livingston County as well.  In a telling statement at the time, its CEO, Paul Krutko, is quoted as saying, “We recognize the old parochial boundaries that are from the 18th Century … are not how the 21st Century works”.

Greater Ann ArborNow those boundaries have been expanded over six counties.  Greater Ann Arbor includes not only Washtenaw County and its adjacent semi-urbanized neighbors Livingston and Jackson Counties, but also rural Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties, not to mention Monroe County (which is due south from Detroit).

Located at the crossroads of the nation, anchored by the University of Michigan and home to one of the world’s most highly educated workforces, the Greater Ann Arbor Region is equipped and ready for business. No one can imagine, engineer, build and deliver your idea to the world better than we can.

Talk about a reach!  It was announced in MLive this month by Councilmember Christopher Taylor.  SPARK is, of course, involved.  As quoted by MLive,

Ann Arbor SPARK president and CEO Paul Krutko said that the new region will help all parties involved by allowing them to take advantage of the Ann Arbor name while giving companies more flexibility when exploring the region.

The 10 state prosperity regions in Governor Snyder's initiative.

The 10 state prosperity regions in Governor Snyder’s initiative

The geographic form of this enlarged Ann Arbor is easily traceable to Governor Snyder’s Regional Prosperity Initiative, which divides the state into ten economic zones.  We are Zone #9.  As the page describing the initiative acutely observes,

Michigan has numerous regional entities, including regional planning and development organizations, metropolitan planning organizations and workforce boards. Unfortunately, they were designed in such a way that results in overlapping goals and competing priorities.

And in another paragraph:

As it stands today, many of Michigan’s regions and their various public planning and service delivery entities have overlapping responsibilities yet competing visions for their economic priorities. The absence of a broad based regional vision and coordination of services create both redundancies and gaps.

required participantsSo what does the Regional Prosperity Initiative amount to?  It is a competitive grant program.  As the Governor’s message indicates, the intent is to avoid additional “layers of government or bureaucracy”.  Regional entities are encouraged to apply for grants from $250,000 to $500,000 (it is a little unclear whether that is a one-time grant or annual) to enact a 5-year “regional prosperity” plan that will have a “performance dashboard and measurable annual goals”.  This is classical Management By Objective language.  The required participants are split between existing educational, “workforce development” (typically training and employment counseling), economic development, and transportation agencies.  Clearly the intent is to create an efficient business environment with good transportation and readily available employees throughout the region, as well as to facilitate recruitment of new business to the area.

Something is missing

So what do all these regions have in common? Mostly, they have no power and no relationship to the population of the region.  And they are lacking a reliable funding source.  SEMCOG has some power in that it allocates grants, and its funding is by dues paid from the constituent governments, who are all represented.  The Regional Transit Agency will eventually have the ability to levy taxes (if the measures pass) and to make changes in local transit provider plans so that the area’s transit is better coordinated.  But the funding for those local transit plans is mostly based on funding by the localities where they are based, so that the issue of governance of this additional layer of bureaucracy will likely re-emerge over time.  Neither of these agencies has the power to pass or enforce laws and regulations over the region.  The economic development initiatives appear to be most active as marketing efforts.

It is notable how variable and inconsistent the regions are in their definition.  Washtenaw County is included in the greater Detroit metropolitan area in two, and separated from it in another.  (What in the earth does Washtenaw County have in common with Hillsdale County?  Not the politics, at least.)   Does it make sense to try for “regional cooperation” when the regions keep shifting?

In the end, all of these efforts are destined to be limited in effect, because they have no effective governance mechanisms.  Unless Michigan localities choose to be blended into regions, or unless the State Constitution is radically amended, most of these efforts will be talk, even if very well-informed talk by estimable citizens sitting around those tables, and staff generating reports with many tables of data.  As we indicated in our first post of this series, it is very difficult to get localities, especially townships, to give up any level of sovereignty.

ADDENDUM: Alert readers will have noticed that I left out one recently-discussed region encompassing Ann Arbor: the “urban core” that AAATA is basing its recent expansion on.  We discussed that at length in a recent post, Once Again, AAATA Exceeds Its Reach, and the post that follows it.

UPDATE:  Another important “region” for Ann Arbor is the Ann Arbor MSA, or Metropolitan Statistical Area.  This is a census region that includes the actual city of Ann Arbor but is actually the entire county.  Some articles and reports talking about Ann Arbor or ranking it according to various measures are actually referring to the MSA because that is a region for which the census collects a lot of data.

The Milken Institute recently rated cities according to their economic development success, or “performance”. Ann Arbor was placed in “large cities” because the rating really applied to the MSA  (Ann Arbor’s rank was 87, a loss of 11 notches in rank since last year).

SECOND UPDATE: Bridge Magazine has used the Governor’s economic regions in an analysis. They indicate that Region 9 (aka Greater Ann Arbor) nearly matches the Grand Rapids region in expected job growth for 2023, both just a little over 9%.  Of course, that is simply a projection.  Don Grimes was involved in the study. He links economic growth to population.  (Can anyone say “young talent”?)


MDOT divides the state into 7 regions. The yellow one containing both East Lansing and Ann Arbor is the

The yellow region containing both East Lansing and Ann Arbor is the “University” region.

Yet another region that Ann Arbor belongs to is significant in transportation planning.  The University Region is a planning category for the Michigan Department of Transportation.  Projects are assigned by region, and there are staff specifically tasked for the region.  Ann Arbor is separated in this case from the Detroit Metro region and combined with nine other counties, including Ingham  County, the location of Michigan State University.  Recently MDOT released a list of accelerated road projects that received additional funding from the Legislature.  None of the projects in the University Region are located in Washtenaw County.


ModeShift’s David Sands with another excellent transportation article, this one about SEMCOG’s role.

FIFTH UPDATE: SEMCOG has now posted a compilation of all their transportation initiatives.

SIXTH UPDATE:  The RTA has hired a new CEO (Michael Ford) and as of May 2015 is moving along to create a transit plan, including a series of open houses around the region.  Here is their new website.

INTRIGUING SERIES: CityLab has begun a series on borders that looks promising for many insights on regionalism, and regions.  Drawing the Lines (January 2017)

Regionalism Reconsidered

November 3, 2013

What are the realistic outcomes of Regionalism? In Michigan, can it live up to expectations placed on it ?

Regionalism has been a recurrent theme that we have been exploring.  (See our post of two years ago, Is Regionalism Really A Good Thing?; we have now added Regional to our category list, which will make searching for related posts more feasible.) The subject keeps coming up. Many recent initiatives in the Ann Arbor area have been linked to this concept. In particular, transit and transportation planning have revolved around a regional vision.  But there has been little debate about the significance of regionalism to the overall health and long-term development of communities, in other words, to the public good.  Nor has the concept truly been explored and explained in any depth, at least not at the popular level.  (I’d welcome citations to some scholarly work that applies to Michigan or comparable states.)

Rather, a faith in the power of Regionalism has emerged as a category of received wisdom.  It seems that every new City Council candidate expounds on its virtues without the impediment of having studied its history or implementation.  As a very recent example, here is what Chip Smith, a write-in candidate for the Fifth Ward council seat currently held by Mike Anglin, had to say in an interview on the blog Damn Arbor.

Economic Development also includes developing regional transit solutions to more effectively move people into and out of the City…(it) has to grow our regional economy so we can continue to make investments for the future and provide the public services we need to be a great place to live. (skip)We also had a debate during the last budget cycle about making sure we keep five fire stations operating. What’s the return on this investment? Can we engage our neighbors like Pittsfield and Scio Townships to develop a regional partnership to more efficiently provide the same, or better, level of service than we have today?

Unfortunately, such rosy viewpoints ignore the actual structure of Michigan governance and the history of past efforts. Here is a white paper on Michigan governance that lays out the history and impediments to action across governments. Briefly, the history makes clear that the strong direction of Michigan legislation and law has been to strengthen the power of townships and to inhibit the ability of cities to expand.  This has also meant that the development of metropolitan governance so successful and celebrated in other states (think, Portland) (note, Seattle) has been virtually impossible in Michigan. We have previously discussed, notably in this post, township governments and their approach to funding, that make cooperative efforts difficult.

Washtenaw County regional planning groups active in 2005

Washtenaw County regional planning groups active in 2005

I confess to being a recovering regionalist.  As a county commissioner, I was intent to bring these concepts to Washtenaw County.  The County had a long-standing and successful Metropolitan Planning Department.  It was my mission as a planning commissioner and later as the first chair of a new Planning Advisory Board, to bring a new County Comprehensive Plan into being, which we achieved in 2004.  This was the springboard for many regional initiatives. At the time, Washtenaw County planning had been facilitating many regional planning groups.  Their discussions went beyond land use planning to many issues of mutual interest.

A countywide workshop was held in 2005.  The background material, Thinking and Acting Regionally, encouraged localities to engage in issues from solid waste disposal to farmland protection to transit, as well as sharing expenses for necessary services and using growth management techniques to avoid an undue demand for new services.

Unfortunately, it was all for naught.  As detailed in a scholarly paper by Carolyn Loh and Neha Sami (of Wayne State and University of Michigan, respectively), the Washtenaw Planning department came to an end even in the midst of a major burst of activity in initiating regional cooperation in the county. Here is the abstract:

Advocates have long claimed that a regional land use planning approach achieves gains in equity, efficiency, and environmental protect(ion), but few studies have empirically tested these claims. In this case study of a regional planning process in a weak mandate state, we find that the regional plan would have produced better land use outcomes, but its impact was severely limited by political conflicts at the county level, a recession that necessitated cuts to non-mandated services, and a lack of state leadership around regional planning. Ultimately, all these factors contributed to the eventual disbandment of the entire regional planning structure in the area.

After County finances suffered a collapse during the national fiscal crisis (and the collapse of housing values and thus taxable value), the Board of Commissioners decided to cancel the entire enterprise.  This memo to the Planning Advisory Board (which was soon to be disbanded) details the many regional initiatives that had been begun in the interim between the Comprehensive Plan (2004) and the memo (2009).  Most of those were abandoned.

Still, the golden gleam of regionalization still calls to those who hope.  The fire protection cooperation idea has been recurrent and its advantages are clear.  (Here is a Washtenaw Metro Fire Cooperation overview from 2006 of a county effort.)  Yet, it seems every time county townships consider it, there are very small steps indeed.  In this recent account, Pittsfield Township joined a cooperative effort based on a technological enhancement.  Here is what the Pittsfield Township fire chief had to say about it:

“I see it as a step in working together. There are good points and bad points to regionalizing,” he said. “In some places it works great and some places it’s not so great. So in Washtenaw County, if it ever happens, we’ll have to wait and see.”

In the next series of posts, we’ll continue to consider what regionalism really offers here and elsewhere.  Does it really improve the human condition?  Some thoughts to consider.

UPDATE:  Detroit’s water system is a case study in regionalization of a vital resource.  This editorial in the Detroit Free Press outlines the issue with some useful links.  It’s the same quandary as with other regional initiatives: control vs. who pays vs. cost vs. “equity” (i.e. supplying a service to those who need it but can’t really pay).

While it might seem that this is a problem for another set of communities, Detroit water actually serves a substantial number of Washtenaw County residents.  Ypsilanti City, Ypsilanti Township, and Pittsfield Township at a minimum rely on Detroit water, as does the neighboring Wayne County Canton Township.  Meanwhile, Ann Arbor has been a regional water source for some other communities, including notably Scio Township.  There are unanswered issues about the future role of Ann Arbor’s limited system in that regard.

SECOND UPDATE:  The effort to regionalize Detroit’s water system has apparently failed.  Here is the Free Press coverage of the latest developments.

THIRD UPDATE: As we have noted before, another attempt at regionalism (the Regional Transit Authority) has a limited ability to provide the necessary services to the Detroit Metro area because of governance issues.  This article from the Free Press examines the problem of Oakland County’s patchwork coverage.  Rochester Hills and some other communities have elected to stay out of SMART, forcing one brave man to walk 21 miles daily in order to get to his job.

FOURTH UPDATE: With the eyes of the state turning to Detroit, the Michigan Suburbs Alliance is reconfiguring itself to Metro Matters, in a bid to be relevant to the greater Detroit metropolitan area.   (“Suburb” isn’t exactly a classy appellation any more.)

FIFTH UPDATE: This article in the Free Press provides an overview of the problems of providing transit in a region where local options have made for patchwork coverage.

SIXTH UPDATE: As of May 2015, the Detroit Water Authority remains a poster child for the challenges of regionalization.  As this article from the Detroit News describes,  Detroit’s bankruptcy exit plan calls for a new Great Lakes Water Authority that would lease the water system from the City of Detroit.   But some of the suburbs are resisting certain details.  (Although Ypsilanti Community Utilities Authority receives water from Detroit, Ypsilanti does not have a representative on the new board.)

SEVENTH UPDATE: Apparently the greater Detroit area now has a regional water authority.  According to this report from Crain’s, the deal has been finalized, but not with a unanimous vote of the Great Lakes Water Authority Board.  A sticking point has continually been the boost to Detroit’s finances in the aftermath of Detroit’s bankruptcy. Macomb County executive Mark Hackel is quoted as saying “I wanted to make sure ratepayers weren’t paying for something other than for their water.”  Macomb County did not vote for the deal but the rest of the board did, providing the required supermajority.  Rates are likely to go up as much as 10% next year. 

EIGHTH UPDATE: The Flint water crisis has been a national story for weeks now.  This was only one of the consequences of the regional water conundrum that has resulted in part from the organizational issues surrounding the Detroit water system.  This column about Flint presents a thoughtful viewpoint on how the community, and the crisis, can be tied directly to Michigan’s “hyperlocal” system of governance, and its neglect of cities.

 NINTH UPDATE: This review of local financing mechanisms in Michigan from Bridge is a good review of the conundrum. Can regional goals coincide with the many layers of restrictions on revenue built into the extremely local-oriented Michigan system?


Moving Us Forward: The Urban Core Expansion Plan

October 26, 2013
Click on the thumbnail to see both sides of flyer. Similar flyers for other wards.

Click on the thumbnail to see both sides of flyer. Similar flyers for other wards.

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is moving forward with a new Five-Year Plan for expanded services.  They describe this plan on their recently remodeled website and have been conducting public meetings all over Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. In the meeting I attended, emphasis was given to local (5th ward) routes and enhancements in detail.  The flyer at the right lists many specific route changes.  (There was a surprisingly vigorous discussion, with one current bus user objecting to some of the “enhancements”.)  Clearly, much planning and fine-tuning has gone into the proposal.

The map below shows detail about enhancements in the Ann Arbor area.  (Similar maps are available on the website for the Ypsilanti and Pittsfield areas.)  Here are a few quick points about the changes:

  • New routes are shown in blue, old ones green.  Express Routes purple.
  • Note that most of the new routes are on the west side of Ann Arbor.  (These have letter designations instead of numbers, but this is temporary.)
  • Routes “leak” outside the borders of the City of Ann Arbor, with excursions into Scio and Pittsfield Townships. Scio Township is not participating in the Urban Core plan but a bus would run along Jackson Avenue to Zeeb Road.
  • There is no expanded service into Ann Arbor Township on the northeast side, despite the complex of medical services and offices at Domino’s Farms in that area.
  • There are several Express Routes shown, including the present ones to Chelsea and Canton, and new ones to Belleville and the Walmart/Saline complex on Michigan Avenue.
Proposed enhancements for Ann Arbor area. Click for larger image.

Proposed enhancements for Ann Arbor area. Click for larger image.

In my judgment, there are many reasons to say this is a lovely plan on functional grounds.  For example, the plan allows people from Ann Arbor to seek employment at Meijer and presumably makes all the commercial and nonprofit  (like the family shelter) opportunities accessible.  Some of the commercial spots in Pittsfield, like Costco and Walmart, plus the Pittsfield library branch, are also made accessible.  It is rather concerning, however, that the northeast side of Ann Arbor and the WCC/St. Joe’s area appear to be receiving no enhancements.

So, as is always the question: how will this expanded system be paid for?  As we indicated in our previous post, the City of Ypsilanti has joined the authority and Ypsilanti Township has requested to join.  Pittsfield Township and Superior Township will apparently just maintain their current POSA contracts, while Scio Township and Ann Arbor Township have declined to play.  The City of Saline is also a nonparticipant.

As was explained at the meeting, a major cost of implementing the plan will be buying new buses.  Most of the buses in the existing fleet were purchased with Federal funds, but for a variety of technical reasons those won’t be available to expand service. improve and expandAll this will not happen without a major infusion of cash.  As we reported earlier, there was an informal consensus at the “Urban Core Meetings” that the “Improve & Expand” option was to be selected.  According to the description offered, that option will require an annual additional revenue of $5.4 million by 2019 (the last year of the Five-Year Plan). (Since Pittsfield and Saline are not participating, the actual figure is not clear.)  Much money is needed to start up. The planner, Michael Benham, stated, “We’re using every cent we’ve got right now.”   So where will the cash come from?

It is an open secret that AAATA hopes the answer will be a new authority-wide millage.  (The authority is expected to include Ypsilanti Township, along with Ann Arbor and the City of Ypsilanti, the two current members of AAATA.)  The number mentioned is 0.7 mills, to be approved by voters in May 2014.

So as explained in the public meeting, Year One of the Five-Year Plan will begin in August 2014, assuming that a millage passes through the entire authority in May 2014.  This was not obvious, since the assessment and tax cycle has various milestones.  A November millage vote would not provide revenue until the succeeding year.  However, since taxes are paid every July, the May vote will deliver the needed revenue in the same year as the ballot.

AAATA is currently on a charm offensive, with many meetings with local officials and the public meetings.  Although officials have been careful to say that the AAATA board has not yet authorized a millage vote, it is clear that that is in our future.  But the outcome is not certain.  Will voters endorse the plan with their dollars?

UPDATE: AAATA has now released electronic versions of flyers for all Ann Arbor wards.  Here they are.Ward 1 Ward 2  Ward 3  Ward 4  Ward 5

NOTE: A list of previous posts on this topic can be found on the Transportation Page.

The Reach for The Ride: Local Governments and Funding

October 20, 2013

As we have noted before, transportation is one of those governmental functions that is almost necessarily delivered on a regional basis.  Yet two local concerns inevitably appear almost immediately in any discussion of a regional transportation system.

  • Governance: what power does any one locality have over what services are provided?
  • Equity: who pays, and who benefits?

In Michigan, as again we have noted, these concerns are made especially vivid by the strong tradition of home rule. Regional transit is a vision gladly embraced by many, and it is rightly described as having many potential benefits in providing connectivity across borders and economic benefits.  (For an excellent overview of recent regional transit efforts, see this recent article from the Ann Arbor Chronicle.)

Our previous post suggested rather harshly that the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority was “exceeding its reach”.  That judgment was based on the expectation that the AAATA will run up against those same two obstacles in its effort to achieve a somewhat more limited version of its county-wide 5-year plan.

Here is the blunt truth: Township officials are conditioned by tradition and possibly legal constraints to spend money only to the extent that it buys a direct service.  They will not easily contribute to a regional approach in which monetary contribution and location of service delivery are disconnected.  But the very essence of a regional system is that resources must be made available to the entire system without regard to the source of the funds.

Another blunt truth is that even when the money to be spent is not coming from township coffers, officials will be very cautious about subjecting their residents to taxation via a regional tax.  One argument often made is that even though a “vote of the people” may be required for a new tax (such as a transportation millage), the relatively low-population townships and small cities can be “swamped” by votes from larger urban areas.  One reason people choose to live in townships is the lower tax rate, and placing them in hazard of a new tax is politically unpopular.

best for usFor these reasons, a broad vision of improved connectivity and access across the “urban core” will always be trumped by a careful accounting of the precise benefits to each unit.  This quote from MLive coverage of Pittsfield Township deliberations makes the point: “(Mandy) Grewal (Supervisor) noted that Pittsfield Township opted out of joining a proposed countywide busing authority last year because the township was unclear on service levels it would receive and didn’t have a good cost-benefit analysis.”   Even more illustrative, from MLive coverage of Ypsilanti Township deliberations, (Trustee Stan Eldridge) “I’m in favor of the AAATA expanding transportation, I’m just a little uncomfortable with some things … and I want to make sure we’re doing what’s best for our residents first and the rest of the county and region second.”

A limited result

The limits of the expanded authority. Pittsfield retains its POSA, Saline does not participate

The limits of the expanded authority. Pittsfield retains its POSA, Saline does not participate. Ypsilanti Township not finalized.

What is unfolding is that AAATA will not succeed in their broader plan.  However, they will manage to bring in both Ypsilanti communities, on unequal terms.

The final steps have now been taken (admirably summarized by the Ann Arbor Chronicle) to incorporate the City of Ypsilanti into the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.  It is now the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, with one seat on the board designated to the City of Ypsilanti. (The Ypsilanti City Council must still approve the Transportation Funding Agreement , scheduled for November 5, but it appears unlikely that they will fail to do so.)  By the agreement, the City will transfer its transit millage to the AAATA, less an administrative fee of 1%.

This expansion of the AAATA to include the City of Ypsilanti solves the problem that they had run up against their ability to tax themselves adequately to pay the POSA charges required not only for their previous routes, but for the expanded #4 service and additional Night Ride service that were provided as part of the “advance implementation” of the countywide transit plan.  On practical terms, it means that Ann Arbor taxes are now supplementing Ypsilanti’s millage to provide transit to Ypsilanti.  My own view is that this is a good bargain.  Ypsilanti is our sister city and our success depends on their success, in community terms.  The two cities together really are our “urban core”.

AAATA officials have reached out to the other three main communities in the plan with a proposal that they, too, should consider joining the Authority or at least step up their POSA service.  Most of the proposals for additional service date from the proposed countywide plan improvements, with some refinements.  There have been three different outcomes:

Pittsfield Township heard the proposal from the AAATA on September 11.  They politely declined any expansion of service at this time, but left the door open for later.  Supervisor Mandy Grewal, who has always been supportive of expanded regional transit on an abstract level, commented that “she thought the board needed to look for ways to cut the final cost”.  I predict that they will never join the AAATA, since it would expose their residents to a future millage.  They will maintain their current POSA and likely add service on a carefully metered basis as it seems needed, but the broad expansion envisioned by AAATA is unlikely in the near term. (A chart showing proposed increases over 5 years is here; also refer to service plans in pages illustrating the Urban Core concept.)

The City of Saline was very supportive of the countywide plan and was one of the last to opt out.  However, they do not currently receive service from AAATA; instead, they have a contract with WAVE.    Evidently AAATA made a presentation to their City Council on July 1, and were turned down even for limited POSA service ($175,000/year).   An informal newspaper poll showed a small sample were about even on the proposal (37 for, 41 against, 19 wanted a smaller proposal).  The single commenter on the poll probably spoke for many others, “The City just raised taxes stating that there where no more places to cut. And here they go finding new places to spend the money that they confiscated from their own citizens.”   It appears that Saline will not be a joiner in the near future.

Ypsilanti Township voted to join the AAATA on September 9, 2013.  An account of that meeting, reported by MLive, indicates that there was extensive discussion about proposed future expansion of services, though there is currently no funding source for them.   In their resolution asking to join AAATA, the single “Resolved” clause reads

the Charter Township of Ypsilanti Board of Trustees requests membership in the Ann Arbor Area Transportation
Authority in accordance with the State of Michigan Public Act 55 of 1963 and asks the AAATA Board of Directors to approve the request.

At the request of the AAATA PMER committee, they also included a Whereas:

WHEREAS, the Charter Township of Ypsilanti wishes to join AAATA in return for continuing to contribute general fund dollars equal to the cost of providing services represented by Purchase-of-Service Agreement costs to AAATA;

What AAATA board members apparently failed to understand (odd, since some of them have been on other boards) is that Whereas clauses have no force of law.  When a unit of government passes a resolution, the Resolved clauses are binding until revoked.  But Whereas clauses are often used as a summary of known facts or statement of principle.  In this case, another Whereas indicated Ypsilanti Township’s expectations for this arrangement:

WHEREAS, bus service in the Charter Township of Ypsilanti can be improved to more efficiently meet the transportation needs of Township residents by increasing frequency and hours of current operations, as demonstrated by a 30 percent ridership increase on AATA Route 4 and further expanded urban core bus service improvements such as an additional route to service the Ypsilanti District Library and residents in the southern part of Ypsilanti Township, increased frequency and hours on routes in the north, west and east parts of Ypsilanti Township, a new Park and Ride lot and the institution of Ypsilanti Township-wide Dial-a-Ride Service for all Ypsilanti Township seniors and disabled are needed and identified as a part of the future Urban Core transit expansion plan…

As reported by the Ann Arbor Chronicle, the AAATA board approved the addition of Ypsilanti Township to the AAATA on September 26, 2013, despite urgings (mine) to examine the fine print more closely.

My interpretation is that both parties have been proceeding from good intent but misleading impressions.  This is essentially a “handshake” arrangement in which Ypsilanti Township, unlike the City of Ypsilanti, brings no fixed financial contribution to the table.  All along, the Township has evidently been persuaded that they can better the services offered to their residents without any real cash on the table.  In fact, Karen Lovejoy Roe suggested as much at an early urban core meeting – that if the authority-wide millage passed, they could remove the burden from the general fund.

AAATA depiction of relative millage contributions (dollars are not shown)

AAATA depiction of relative millage contributions (dollars are not shown)

The material provided by AAATA staff reinforces that intent. As the figure indicates, the promised POSA contribution from the general fund will be omitted if an authoritywide millage is passed.  The new millage (paid by Ypsilanti Township residents as well as the other two communities) will also pay for expanded service in the Township.

AAATA published a concept paper with many questions and answers.

Here are a couple of points about the millage and the POSA. (Added emphasis is mine.)

  • Question: If Ypsi Township becomes part of the AAATA organization, will they no longer have to pay for services under a POS contract? Answer: Only if Ypsi Twp becomes a member AND there is a successful millage, would Ypsi Twp stop paying for service from their general fund and start paying the full cost of service through their millage contribution.
  • Question: Is there a backup plan in case new funding through a millage is not approved? Answer: If millage funding is not feasible for any reason, the AAATA will continue running the services already being provided, funded through existing mechanisms, including the POSA mechanisms that have existed for over thirty years. As property values continue to rise in Ann Arbor, AAATA revenues may increase sufficiently to add new services. We can also increase service to the nearby communities if they are willing to increase their POSA payments.

If no millage, what?

So AAATA is running up against its limits.  Although its administration has demurred on the plans for a millage, it is clear from all their planning documents that they are depending on the passage of one, perhaps in May 2014.  They have brought no new revenue in through their expansion efforts, and have only succeeded in expanding the authority to include the two Ypsilanti communities.  This will doubtless lead to more expectations (and probably needs) for increased service.  (Note that the concept paper hinted that increased services would be available via Ann Arbor tax proceeds.) But to pass the millage, they will have to persuade the Ann Arbor public that they will vote in an additional 0.7 mills in taxation in order to accomplish this truncated expansion of transit services.

UPDATE:  The Ann Arbor City Council voted to postpone the resolution approving the addition of Ypsilanti Township to AAATA.  See coverage by the Ann Arbor Chronicle .  It will be taken up again on November 18, when the new Council is seated.

SECOND UPDATE:  Regarding the obligations of township governments to spend for the benefits of their residents: I have been provided with this article with a summary of lawful expenditures for township governments.  Clearly any township trustee would feel quite constrained in making broad commitments.

THIRD UPDATE: The Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce evidently intends to make a recommendation to the Ann Arbor City Council regarding the Ypsilanti Township addition to the AAATA.  They invited me to present my views at a committee meeting on November 12.  Here is the position paper I prepared for them.  As you will see, it also includes an overview of tax equity issues for a future millage.

FOURTH UPDATE: The Ann Arbor City Council voted to include Ypsilanti Township in the AAATA, but not without some debate.  Here is the account by the Ann Arbor Chronicle.

Once Again, AAATA Exceeds Its Reach

October 19, 2013
The urban core authority concept

The urban core authority concept

It seems we’ve seen this movie before.  Elaborate plans.  An extravagant marketing effort.  High-level diplomacy. And an utter lack of understanding of how local government works.  It’s the county-wide transit plan, compacted and trimmed.

Just a little over a year ago, the countywide transit plan, based on an Act 196 authority with a complex structure, was soundly rejected.  As we reported over a number of months, the ungainly plan simply had a number of fatal flaws and most Washtenaw County units of government couldn’t opt out fast enough.  This left the AATA in a precarious situation because of the “advance implementation” of the countywide plan (they simply assumed that the money would be coming from a countywide millage and spent in anticipation).

As reported by the Ann Arbor Chronicle, Ann Arbor’s City Council passed a resolution to withdraw from the Act 196 authority and terminate the “4-party plan” that had been so painfully negotiated.  The opt out resolution passed on November 8, 2012 contained an additional phrase:

Resolved, That AATA is encouraged to continue to discuss regional transportation options among Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Ann Arbor Township, Pittsfield Township, and Scio Township, leading to a better understanding and process for improving local transit options

Say no more!  AATA took that to be a directive and launched a new initiative, the Urban Core.  At their November 15, 2012 meeting, a subdued AATA Board heard their CEO pledge to start afresh, saying “doing nothing is not an option”.   Michael Ford’s statement was a defiant and confident outline of a new course of action.  He said in part,

We respect the opinions of our elected officials who have chosen to withdraw their participation in the proposed transit authority in favor of moving forward with a different process and a more compact authority…Washtenaw County’s urban core communities…have indicated a strong interest in developing an expanded transit network despite Ann Arbor City Council’s actions to withdraw from the new transit authority. These communities include the cities of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Saline and the townships of Pittsfield, Ypsilanti and the Village of Dexter.

Staff (especially Michael Benham, the chief planner for expanded transit) began working immediately and had some drafts for a committee to review by December 2012.  The first “urban core” meeting was held on March 28, 2013 at the Pittsfield Township Hall. The meeting included officials representing different communities, including four Ann Arbor councilmembers. A large-format book with pages illustrating the Urban Core concept was provided.

    Urban Core meeting of March 22, 2013. L to R: Daniel Cherrin & colleague from Dispute Resolution center; Shawn Keough, Dexter; Peter Murdock, City of Ypsilanti; Paul Schreiber, Mayor of Ypsilanti; Mandy Grewal, Supervisor, Pittsfield Township; Spaulding Clark, Supervisor, Scio Township

Urban Core meeting of March 28, 2013. L to R: Daniel Cherrin & Brian Pappus; Shawn Keough, Dexter; Peter Murdock, City of Ypsilanti; Paul Schreiber, Mayor of Ypsilanti; Mandy Grewal, Supervisor, Pittsfield Township; Spaulding Clark, Supervisor, Scio Township; Charles Griffiths, AATA chair in foreground.

Two more meetings were held on April 23, 2013 and June 27, 2013 (packets are linked). The meetings were facilitated by Daniel Cherrin and Brian Pappus, who were working as dispute resolution volunteers (an odd note, since this was not exactly a dispute).  They brought a fresh approach to the process, as they had no particular knowledge of transit and had not been associated with the long earlier process.

An early draft of the concept (presented at an AATA meeting in December) had included Scio, Ann Arbor and Superior Townships.  However, Superior Township was not represented at all at the March meeting, and some others were just along for the ride.  Supervisors Spaulding Clark of Scio Township and Mike Moran of Ann Arbor Township pretty much indicated that, while Shawn Keough of Dexter joked that he was there to explore “getting on the map”.  It was clear that the two Ypsilanti communities and Pittsfield Township were the major likely players in an expanded authority, possibly along with the City of Saline.  Brian Marl, the Mayor of Saline City, was very positive but it became evident that they wouldn’t play much of a role (Saline is currently served by People’s Express and does not currently have a relationship with AATA.) .   The outline map has continued to include Saline.

One of the tasks was to decide on which of four options would be pursued.  These were either to keep the current service levels, improve service in Ann Arbor, expand service elsewhere, or to “Improve & Expand”, the full package.

Proposals for "beyond the urban core" services, perhaps at net service cost

Proposals for “beyond the urban core” services, perhaps at net service cost

But in addition, a tinge of the ambition for the county-wide plan persisted.  (AAATA has not disavowed the 5-year plan from the TMP, but has instead said that much of that is still valid.)  A slide, “Beyond the Urban Core” proposed that an expanded authority might still engage many entities outside its borders.

Process at the first meeting was a bit wobbly, with the officials present taking some time to meet up with the earnest efforts of the moderators to organize a real working structure.  The objective, to form two working groups on governance and finance, was never met.  But the group did more or less accept the idea of the “Improve & Expand” option, in the sense of a “consensus” (no one actually objected).

Moving You Forward

An obstacle to this process was that no one at the meeting actually had the authority to commit their respective communities to anything.  Local governments have processes and requirements of their own.  Leaders may lead, but they still must obtain a resolution from their elected councils or boards of trustees. AATA has had some trouble with understanding this in the past.  With the countywide plan, they seemed to think that having gathered some good people around a table and having made numerous presentations without strong objections being voiced, they were good to go.  But after a year’s laborious effort to achieve an Act 196 countywide authority, Washtenaw County communities couldn’t opt out fast enough.

Local officials present at urban core meetings (most likely participants)

Local officials present at urban core meetings (most likely participants)

In this case, the people at the table were significant elected officials who could evaluate and discuss the concepts being presented, but who were necessarily circumspect about making commitments.

An exception: the City of Ypsilanti officials present, especially their Mayor, were passionate about the need for a new authority that they could join.  The reason: though the city’s voters approved a charter millage to pay for bus service, they were limited in the amount that they could levy by state law (they are at their 20-mill constitutional limit).   At the April meeting, where a number of different governance models were reviewed, there was a burst of discussion which resulted in the addition of the City of Ypsilanti into AATA, thereby cementing the Act 55 authority as the likely vehicle for an “urban core” authority.  That move has been completed, with the addition of two new board members, one representing the City of Ypsilanti, one appointed by Ann Arbor.  The Act 55 authority is now called “Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority” (AAATA), though the marketing staff prefers simply “The Ride”.  The final paperwork has now been executed that will commit Ypsilanti’s millage to the AAATA.

So by the third meeting, the situation was that we had a two-unit authority with possible participation by three others, perhaps by use of expanded Purchase of Service Agreements (POSAs).  This “Improve & Expand” model, which received approval not by any vote but because no one objected and all seemed to agree in principle was a nice idea, was said to have a $5.4 M annual price tag (additional funding needed) by 2019.   The financial model provided at the June meeting supposes that much of that will be met by additional POSA spending by Pittsfield, Superior and Ypsilanti Townships, and the City of Saline.  In addition, the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti would agree to pay a new millage levied by AAATA, now supposed to be 0.7 mills.  Note that more funding is needed just to make up the shortfall in Ypsilanti’s current millage payment.  AAATA is still paying for their earlier advance implementation of the countywide plan.

From the June 27 packet. (Click for larger view.)

From the June 27 packet. (Click for larger view.)

But will the respective governmental bodies actually approve funding for this expansion?  And will voters approve a new millage?  Plans are being made.  Once again, AATA (now AAATA) is moving us forward with a broad expansionary vision, but is dependent on local politics.

Transit, Transportation, and the Money Question IV

April 12, 2013

Funding Transit

The Comprehensive Transportation Fund is critical to any discussion of transit in Michigan. It is the major, if not the only, source for transit funding in the state.  As explained in this guide to Act 51transit funding is constitutionally limited to 10% of transportation tax revenue.  This memo summarizes the features of the fund.  In addition to the MTF allocation (explained in our previous post), the CTF also receives money from auto-related sales tax.  For FY 2012-2013, estimated revenue from the MTF was $158.155 M and $88 M from the auto-related sales tax.  As the memo (from the excellent House Fiscal Agency) notes, this fund is the source of local bus operating assistance and the total allocated to that purpose has not been increased since FY 2006-2007.  This has created a “zero sum game” for local transit agencies, since they must compete for a limited pot of money.  A complicated funding formula distributes funds in part based on the total operating expenditure for each agency, but there is also a floor created by a 1997 bill.

…the state operating assistance formula rewards local cost participation.  Agencies that pass local transit millages can expand service and effectively use local funding to leverage additional state funding.  Since state funding is capped at the appropriated amount, every additional dollar of state assistance a transit agency can capture comes at the expense of other transit agencies.  Under this formula, agencies in relatively affluent areas…have tended to capture and increasing share of state assistance.

AATA has benefited from this, since our local millage has allowed an expansion of service.   However, DDOT (supported by the Detroit city general fund) received a disproportionate amount of the funding this year (although less in previous years) because of the floor.  (See the report by the Ann Arbor Chronicle and the truly head-spinning explanation of how the formula worked.)  AATA fell short of their expected state assistance by about $800,000; they are hoping that the legislature will make them whole in a placeholder bill that currently contains no provisions but is evidently intended to fill in various budgetary holes around the state.

For the FY2013 budget year (through September), AATA expects to receive $8,301,880 in state assistance out of a total of $32,403,360 in revenue, or about 25.6% of its revenue.

proposed flow of fundsA critical point for the future is that the SE Michigan Regional Transit Authority will now receive the entire CTF allocation for the region, and will distribute that to the different public transit providers under its authority.  This begins on October 1, 2013.  Public transit providers are required to submit applications to the RTA for their allocations.  The RTA will also receive all Federal operating assistance under MAP-21 and distribute that.

In FY2013, AATA expects to receive $5,795,268 from Federal formula funds, about 17.9% of operating revenue.

The Regional Transit Authority

As we just indicated, the emergence of the Regional Transit Authority has brought about a profound alteration in the way AATA will receive operating funds from state and Federal sources.

Here is a guide to the package of bills passed in the last days of the December House session that established the RTA. They have now been assigned Public Act numbers.  (All are “Public Act…of 2012.)  The most authoritative overview of the effect of this package of bills is from the House Fiscal Agency.  Click on the links to individual bills to read their text.

Senate Bill Public Act Immediate effect Summary
909 P.A. 387 Yes 12/19/12 Creates Regional Transit Authority (the RTA act)
911 P.A. 388 No 3/28/13 Vehicle License Fee ($1.20/$1000) with approval of voters in region
912 P.A. 389 No 3/28/13 Makes zoning ordinance subject to the RTA act (subordinate)
967 P.A. 390 No 3/28/13 May operate dedicated public transit lanes on highways
445 P.A. 391 Yes 12/19/12 Directs CTF monies to RTA; RTA would distribute.

Despite the passage of a resolution by the Ann Arbor City Council on December 10, 2012 and what has reportedly been some vigorous lobbying in Lansing by our Mayor, it appears that Washtenaw County is firmly included in the RTA.  (The urgency shown by the Mayor is presumably related to this item in the RTA act):

Section 6 (3) (b) A board shall provide in its bylaws that the following actions require the unanimous approval of all voting members of the board: (i) A determination to acquire, construct, operate or maintain any form of rail passenger service within a public transit region.

The new board (see the temporary SEMCOG site for pictures) had its first meeting on April 10.  Local (Detroit area) transit advocates were wildly ecstatic.  Here is a live blog account. There is money. The RTA bill appropriated $250,000 which does not expire with the end of the fiscal year but can be carried over.

This may have a number of effects that we can only guess at for the moment. In addition to the routing of state and Federal operating funds through the RTA,  all grant requests for capital projects must also go through the RTA.  AATA has been particularly effective at obtaining Federal grants for capital purchases and special programs.

Among the many questions which we might ask: how does Detroit’s desperate situation play into this?  It is now under an emergency manager and its bus system is supported by general funds.  Will the rest of the region be, in essence, taxed to make DDOT a viable system?  Will the RTA board try to rearrange Washtenaw’s transit plan?  Will it continue to allow UM’s ridership to count toward the state formula requirements for AATA?  But above all, what will be the new funds source for this new layer of transit administration?  Much depends on how much more of Governor Snyder’s transportation proposals are accepted by the state Legislature.  And that is not going too well.

UPDATE: The House Fiscal Agency has issued updated discussions of the CTF and the overall transportation funding structure.

SECOND UPDATE: A discussion at the recent AAATA board meeting (July 23, 2013) of the RTA’s funding problems also reviewed its possible effect on funding of local transit agencies.  The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s account has the details.