Friday, September 24, 2010

Three Strategic Responses

I'd like to share these comments with you. They're in response to a presentation made at AATA's budget retreat in August - unfortunately, this hasn't been made available online. Due to the Board's 2-minute limit on public comment, it was only possible for me to hit the highlights orally, but here's the full thing. The full Board meeting was televised on Ann Arbor Community Cable TV, and may still be playing if you check quickly.

Comments for AATA Board, September 16, 2010

First of all, I'd like to thank the AATA staff and board for their hard work on the six decision-point issues presented at the August budget retreat. I would like to add a few comments on the three issues affecting transit for Ypsilanti, to the Airport, and WALLY.

Strategic Issue Analysis #3: Work Transportation Between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. As a resident in and planning commissioner for Ypsilanti Township, this is important to me.

  • AATA Proposal w1 - #4 Washtenaw route: more frequent peak-hour service at 10-minute intervals: every 10 minutes is excellent. This level of frequency means people can go to a bus stop without worrying about schedules, and expect a bus to come along in 5 minutes, average.
  • AATA Proposal w2 -Ypsilanti local routes - service every 30 minutes all day: 30 minute frequencies makes a great improvement over the current one hour intervals. However, most of the routes are loops, which make them unattractive to choice riders. For example, an Ypsilanti Township resident boarding Route #10 at Forest and Ford would take 32 minutes to get to the Ypsilanti Transit Center in the morning, but less than half that time - only 13 minutes - to get back in the evening. Wake Up Washtenaw's recommendation: alter the routes to provide simpler, two-way service on each street; or failing that, run the loops in opposite directions every half-hour.
  • AATA Proposal w3 - #4 Washtenaw route - more frequent midday service: every 15 minutes is very good.
  • AATA Proposal w4 - Express service during peak hours between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor using Packard Road with no stops between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor transit centers: express service sounds like it might be a good idea, but is unlikely to succeed as proposed.
    • Downtown to downtown doesn't serve the places where Ypsilanti residents work, as shown on the "Ypsilanti Area Residents Place of Work (LEHD)" slide (shown here - click the image for a larger version). The largest employment center is the U of M North Campus/VA Hospital complex with more than 3000 Ypsi residents working there; followed by the St. Joseph/WCC area with somewhere between 700 and 3000. EMU employs somewhere in the same range of Ypsi residents. Downtown Ann Arbor is the workplace for only 300 to 700 Ypsi residents. The high employment areas for Ypsi residents all happen to be served by one route, which would suggest that more frequent service along Route #3 would be the best solution.
    • Intermediate stops are essential. A dedicated right-of-way between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti would make it possible for express service to get between the two cities quickly, but not with an "express" bus running in rush-hour traffic. In any case, without stops at important transfer points such as Arborland, and at heavy concentrations of employment, such as UM Medical Center, the express route wouldn't save time for most people.There is a dedicated right of way between the two cities: the Norfolk-Southern railway line. If you could commute during rush hours between the Ypsi Depot Town station-to-be and the Fuller Road station-to-be (near U of M Hospital), the train would take 10-15 minutes. But would it save time getting to your work place?
  • AATA Proposal w5 - Express service midday between AA and Ypsi: not cost-effective at the estimated $2.65 per new rider. Increased midday frequency (w3) is a far better investment at $1.58, and more helpful for increasing reliance upon transit in the corridor.
  • AATA Proposal e1 - #4 Washtenaw route - more frequent evening service: In spite of its relatively high cost per new rider, Wake Up Washtenaw believes this service would be a good investment. It would increase the ability to rely on transit among those who work late, including university students, hospital shift-workers, and those patronizing restaurants, bars, and cinemas downtown.
  • AATA Proposal e2 - #4 Washtenaw route - later evening service: another service that appears relatively expensive, but which Wake Up Washtenaw believes would be a good investment. The estimate of new riders (35) is low when considering the importance of evening frequency in increasing transit-oriented culture in our region. AATA's cost estimate for extending maintenance and supervision to evenings is placed entirely on the shoulders of Route #4, but would be lowered in the hopeful event that more routes get later evening service and absorb part of this cost.
  • AATA Proposal s1 - #4 Washtenaw route - later Saturday service at 45-minute intervals: we believe this would be more cost-effective at 30-minute intervals by attracting more riders. No regular AATA service currently operates at 45-minute intervals, so that odd timing would confuse many potential riders. Was this potential confusion taken into account in the model that predicted 430 additional riders? 30-minute intervals would decrease confusion, hence increasing potential ridership, without increasing maintenance and supervision portions of the cost.
  • AATA Proposal s2 - #4 Washtenaw route - later Sunday service: as with later Saturday service, 45-minute service intervals are confusing and have the potential to decrease ridership.

Strategic Analysis #4: DTW Service.

I am a frequent user of MDOT's Michigan Flyer service and would welcome better coordination between AATA and MDOT. The current service is quite good, and AATA service, as such, to the Airport isn't necessary. However, two problems need to be addressed to improve access between Ann Arbor and the airport.

  • Connection to the rest of the transportation system and passenger centers: the Flyer currently stops at the Four Points Sheraton, not far from Briarwood. This is reasonably convenient to I-94, but inconvenient to downtown and especially the University. The nearest AATA routes (numbers 6, 7, and 36) stop about two blocks away, but getting from AATA stops to the Flyer stop is confusing at best, and quite difficult when hauling a suitcase. I suggest route 36 be extended to the Sheraton; perhaps also route 6 or 7. [Update: in discussion with AATA staff, I learned that opinion is crystalizing around moving the Ann Arbor Flyer stop to the University Park-and-Ride on State Street, across from the Howard Cooper auto dealership. This would provide a direct connection with AATA Route #36, and a free place to park. The waiting facilities are not as comfortable as the Sheraton, of course, but apparently it's easier for buses to get in and out and takes no longer than going to the Sheraton, and seems the most satisfactory all-around solution.]
  • Frequency of service to the airport: The Flyer currently runs at two-hour intervals to and from DTW from early morning to late evening. That's a good start, but not enough for true convenience. Wake Up Washtenaw recommends one-hour intervals as the next step. It wouldn't be necessary to run hourly all the way from DTW to East Lansing. One option would be to originate a trip on alternate hours from the BTC, calling at the University Transit Center and/or Fuller road station, and the State Street area before going directly to DTW, operated by Indian Trails with coaches similar to those now in use. Three-way negotiations between MDOT, AATA, and the University could result in joint funding and marketing to make this new service a success.

Strategic Analysis #5: WALLY

Although the economy has put the brakes on WALLY, the economy of our region will be greatly enhanced when it is completed. The key to success is financial involvement of the private sector. Rather than looking only to governments to build stations, business interests can be expected to share in the investment if they can expect to earn profits from WALLY through any of several public-private partnership models. Not only can such partnerships fund stations that are more than concrete slabs, but they can engage the business interests of sectors that might lack enthusiasm for a totally government-oriented project. Given the current tight money situation, innovative financing arrangements such as the three-tranche system advocated by Christopher Leinberger for transit-oriented development could open possibilities for commercial and residential development. Wake Up Washtenaw recommends that in addition to seeking government funds, AATA actively partner with the U of M schools of Business and Urban Planning to make a case for private investment in the WALLY line to businesses.

Now it's your turn!

Weigh in on these issues yourself. Leave a comment or two!