The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) board voted unanimously today to allow voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township to decide on May 6 whether to increase property taxes by 0.7-mills to pay for new and improved public transit services.
If approved, the millage for AAATA’s public transportation improvement plan would generate a total of $4.3 million for new and expanded services annually through 2019. The owner of a typical home with a market value of $100,000 in the millage area of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township would pay $35 per year; the owner of a typical home with a market value of $200,000 would pay approximately $70 annually under the proposal, according to AAATA estimates.
“Over the past year, USA Today, CNN and independent national transportation associations have published reports that included AAATA in Best-of-Class rankings based upon ridership, operational efficiency, financial stability and technological innovation,” said AAATA Board Chair Charles Griffith. “We believe this proven track record of success demonstrates a solid return on investment to taxpayers.”
“Our research shows demand for new and expanded services is overwhelming and that strong support exists from elected officials and residents in all three communities for a proposal that will pay for the additional service,” Griffith added.
Nearly 65 percent of voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township say they are likely to support a less than 1-mill property tax increase in 2014 that would pay for new and improved public transit services if the extra funding is tailored to meet the diverse and growing transportation needs of residents in the three communities, according to a survey released on February 7 that was conducted by CJI Research on behalf of the AAATA.
The AAATA, also known as TheRide, will use the additional funding to increase service by 44 percent per year, including about 57,000 more service hours for Ann Arbor, nearly 8,500 more hours of service for Ypsilanti, and at least 9,400 hours of new service for Ypsilanti Township citizens.
The proposal would fulfill residents’ requests for enhanced services in the three communities, including:
- Expanded Dial-A-Ride services for seniors and people with disabilities.
- More direct service through redesigned routes.
- Extended hours on weekdays and nights.
- Extended weekend service on fixed routes (earlier start times, much later end times).
- Improved bus stops.
- Increased service frequency on many routes.
The AAATA board approved the May 6 election date to ensure TheRide can fulfill its commitment to voters to begin implementation of the new and improved transportation service plan in August, 2014, if the ballot initiative is approved.
“Starting TheRide's new and expanded services in August will coincide with the start of classes for our local K-12 and college students, which would give families more options as they arrange their commutes and school schedules and also reduce traffic congestion,” said Gillian Ream Gainsley, who serves on the AAATA board’s planning and development committee.
“Including the millage election on either the August 5 primary election ballot or the November 4 general election ballot would delay assessment of the millage and prevent funding from becoming available until 2015, stalling AAATA’s commitment to provide the additional hours of service per-year outlined in the plan,” Gainsley noted. “Acquiring more buses and demand response vehicles for improved service requires about 18 months lead time and postponing the election from May until later this year would represent a significant logistical setback,” she said.
TheRide board members said their decision to call for the transportation millage election also reflected research that shows the improvement plan would help create jobs and boost local economies.
According to economic projection models developed by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) using AAATA data, the economic impact of improved public transit in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti urban core would increase from $62.5 million today to at least $96 million annually if voters approve the millage. MDOT-based projections and AAATA estimates also show the millage’s economic impact from improved public transit in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti urban core would create at least 250 additional jobs and free up as many as 1,000 parking spaces daily in downtown Ann Arbor alone, which is the equivalent of building a new parking structure at a cost of $40 million.
Two of Washtenaw County’s prominent community-based nonprofit advocacy organizations – Washtenaw Regional Organizing Coalition (WeROC) and Partners For Transit (P4T) – have launched grassroots campaigns to promote awareness about the benefits the new transit improvement plan; TheRide Your Way will produce. The coalitions’ members include business leaders, clergy, organized labor representatives, advocates for the elderly, local professionals, students and environmental activists.