Countywide transit DOA

A week or two back, Paul Krugman shared a titillating anecdote:

(I)t is my civic duty to report that yesterday, as I got off Amtrak 161 from Trenton to Washington — having spent 2 1/2 hours being made more amenable to collectivism, not to mention finishing another chapter for 3rd edition — I saw George Will leaving the business class car.

(Will, for those of you blessed or wise enough not to have read his work, frequently rails — pun intended — against fuel-efficient travel in general, and public transportation in particular.)

Shifting focus from the East Coast Acela back to Michigan, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority presented its proposal to make itself a countywide service, funded by a countywide millage, to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners last Thursday.  Only 6 of the 11 commissioners were present, and it was a tough crowd, to say the least.  As Ryan Stanton reported, Commissioners Kristin Judge & Wes Prater objected particularly strenuously.  I’m guessing at the very minimum, other the other out-country commissioners, including Alicia Ping & Rob Turner, would join them in opposition.

The sooner AATA recognizes a countywide system is not going to happen, the sooner they can start focusing on improvements that actually have a chance.  To take one example, AATA could still partner with interested municipalities, say, contracting separately with, say, Dexter, Chelsea and Saline, without asking all voters from even the most remote and rural townships to pay for transit they themselves will never use.

For another, it could free up resources to partner with UM on improvements for the areas with by far the highest transit ridership, those that adjoin or service the U’s two campuses as well as the Medical Center.  The U is already leading the way with big improvements in Blue Bus service for Medical Center and North Campus Research Complex commuters.  The North-South Connector, which I’ve previously written about, seems to me by far the closest to fruition of any rapid transit plans in the region.  The “lifeline” service for seniors, people with disabilities, and others who can not drive could and should be coordinated in partnership with the UM Health System.

Has AATA considered approaching SMART to supplement service in the much denser eastern part of the county?  A partnership with SMART would have the benefit of establishing bus transit between Wayne, Washtenaw & conceivably even Oakland Counties, for which I would imagine there would be at least some demand from commuters.  AATA already provides commuter service to and from Canton; I could foresee plenty of interest from Belleville & Detroit as well, and as gas prices rise, from other parts of Wayne County.

In closing, a couple of other transit links of particular interest:

Since January 2010, the Central Ohio Transit Authority has been hedging against spikes in fuel costs by buying and selling contracts for heating oil. Historically, prices of the two products rise and fall in tandem, which means that as COTA spends more on fuel, it earns more on heating oil.

A 2008 change in state law allowed government entities in Ohio to get into the fuel hedging game, which is used by airlines and other big buyers of fuel to reduce the impact of rising oil prices. Bus systems in Cleveland and Cincinnati also hedge against rising fuel costs.

There is also news on Detroit rail, which I’ll address in another post.


2 responses to “Countywide transit DOA

  1. I find it pretty disappointing that you’re going to write off an extensive process just because of one rocky meeting. Some specific notes –

    The sooner AATA recognizes a countywide system is not going to happen,

    Why do you say that? We already have countywide transit – it’s just not very functional in most of the outlying areas. Nobody’s suggesting that transit in rural Sylvan Township will involve plunking bus stops on corners – but maybe senior citizens will be able to get to their doctors appointments with a little less difficulty.

    the most remote and rural townships to pay for transit they themselves will never use.

    Again, you misunderstand what’s proposed. Transit takes a lot of forms, including rural door-to-door paratransit, which a lot of people in those remote townships want to make sure they have access to.

    Commissioners Kristin Judge & Wes Prater objected particularly strenuously.

    These Commissioners both represent areas that are within the urbanized area and at least partially served by existing POSA arrangements. Reading their comments in the Chronicle, I’d guess their concerns are more heavily focused on the “who” than the “what”.

    Has AATA considered approaching SMART to supplement service in the much denser eastern part of the county?

    This is not a disagreement, but some notes – AATA’s process did discuss links to other areas, and the plan includes everything from additional park-and-ride and vanpool services to commuter rail. Unfortunately, SMART is not going to be extending service to Washtenaw County anytime soon – thanks to property value decreases, they’re strapped to maintain service even in the area they cover now, let alone extend service through communities that have opted out of their system to reach Washtenaw County. While this may be a good long-term goal, I think we’ll see commuter rail first.

  2. Pingback: (Update on) Countywide transit — DOA? | Motown To Tree Town

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