Tuesday, May 10, 2011

AATA Updates: Rail and East County

Here's the latest on commuter rail for Washtenaw County, from the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority's Planning and Development Committee (PDC):

  • Nov 11, 2013, is the new tentative starting date for excursion trains on the Ann Arbor-Detroit route. Of course, this is contingent on other things. Nobody specified what "other things" this might be contingent on, but my guess is probably the same as yours... Nobody had to mention the connection, but no funding has been committed for operating the trains.
  • Wally has no starting date in the works, but they to have a station specifications ready; and put out requests for design proposals (RFPs) 3 weeks ago.
Activity in the eastern part of the county got Board Member David Nacht quite enthusiastic at the PDC meeting. He reacted very positively to news about expanded Night Ride service.

Night Ride is actually taxi service subsidized and dispatched by AATA during evening hours that aren't served by fixed-route buses. Since it is largely funded by the city of Ann Arbor, it has (in the past) been run only in the city limits. But the Board of Directors recently approved a test expansion of service about a mile east, to Golfside Road, beginning April 1 (no fooling!). The result? Fully 22% of Night Ride calls either began or ended in the newly served area. Mr. Nacht said he had never known any new service to increase so rapidly in its first month. What can we do, he asked, to improve service in that hgh-demand area?

Well, there are a number of possibilities, some which may fall into the category of "cockamamie ideas", as Michael Benham jokingly put it. What do you think of these suggestions?

  • Right now, AATA's CEO Michael Ford is in discussions with McKinley Properties, owner of Glencoe Crossing shopping center, about using their parking lot as an "official" AATA park-and-ride site. McKinley is reasonably receptive to the idea, but hopes soon to expand businesses in the area adjacent to the Ichiban restaurant, which may require moving the park-and-ride to another location within the shopping center.
  • Put a station on the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail (whenever it starts) at Dixboro Road, either instead of or in addition to the stop at Ypsilanti. This could be connected by a direct bus to Washtenaw Community College, St. Joseph Hospital, the many apartments of Golfside Rd., and buses on Washtenaw Ave.
  • Currently routes 4, 7, and 22 pass Glencoe Crossing (route 22 by back-tracking about a quarter mile from Carpenter Road). What about making Glencoe Crossing a more important transfer point by bringing other bus routes there?
  • Can we see if St. Joe and WCC would be willing to pay for shuttle service between their campuses and transit, on either Washtenaw or the railway?
  • How about encouraging public-private partnership to develop station-area businesses in conjunction with an enhanced transit?

Do these sound like "cockamamie ideas" to you? Well, they may not all be equally practical, but it's great to hear Board members so enthusiastic and full of ideas. Mr. Nacht commented after the meeting that in his nine or ten years on the Board, he had never encountered so many esxciting things in the transit world happening at once.

One other east-side service that's coming up soon: Ann Arbor to Detroit Metro Airport, a project spearheaded by AATA's Dawn Gabay. As you probably know, there is already service roughly every two hours provided by Indian Trails and the Michigan Department of Transportation. It runs under the name of "The Michigan Flyer" in luxury motor coaches (with WiFi that sometimes works!) from Lansing through Jackson and Ann Arbor, stopping near Briarwood at the Four Points Sheraton. That location is convenient for rapid service, because it's so close to I-94, but there is no AATA bus service to it. AATA's proposed service would run from downtown and/or campus locations in Ann Arbor on an hourly basis. The goal is to take no more than 40 or 45 minutes from there to the airport. That's quite feasible as long as you don't have many stops in Ann Arbor. The problem is, everybody wants the bus to stop where they are: the Medical Center, Central Campus, the downtown Ann Arbor transit center, somewhere on the south side of Ann Arbor, and somewhere in Ypsilanti. And of course there's always the problem of how to pay for the service, how much it would cost users and how much would be subsidized. AATA is working on a presentation to the University of Michigan, hoping they will guarantee a block of seats on each run - perhaps as many as 50% of the seats - for students and staff. Naturally, that would imply an emphasis on service to U of M locations. The good news: tentative start date for the service is October of this year...or at least before Christmas!

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1 comment:

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