Is it time for a major expansion of Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti bus services?


ANN ARBOR, MI — Leaders of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority have laid out an ambitious vision for a future with dramatically expanded public transit.

This means more frequent and faster bus service, more hours of operation, a new Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti express line and more.

They are now waiting to see if voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township are willing to pay for it, and opinions are divided on whether the time is right.

The proposed $2.38 million tax on the Aug. 2 ballot is one of the biggest questions to ask local voters in years and would cost homeowners an additional $168 a year for every $100,000 of assessed value if it is approved.

This equates to a $1.68 million increase to a $0.7 million tax that the three communities are already paying, in addition to additional transit miles in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

How a big tax hike could reshape public transit in the Ann Arbor area

“While now is the time to vote on improving and expanding essential transit services, the new property taxes won’t come into effect until the summer of 2024,” said Matt Carpenter, CEO from AAATA, also known as TheRide.

“This delay will give the economy and inflation an opportunity to calm down, while allowing us to position ourselves to play an active role in supporting the community’s recovery,” he said. “The improvements and expansion of services are specifically designed to increase equity across the region and improve access to jobs, education, shopping and health care.”

With some residents and businesses still suffering from the pandemic, Ypsilanti Township leaders argued that now was not the time to ask people to pay more.

“I think you’re going to hurt people who are hurting now,” township supervisor Brenda Stumbo said.

Another area of ​​concern is that transit ridership has plummeted amid the pandemic, although it is gradually rising.

Post-pandemic ridership recovery for TheRide in June 2022 relative to industry average.Submitted by TheRide

June saw the highest ridership since the start of the pandemic for TheRide with 258,023 rides recorded, or 57% of June 2019 ridership. This exceeded a national average of 54%, which means the resumption of ridership in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area has outstripped most transit systems nationwide, agency officials said.

“We’re seeing signs of ridership picking up as the economy rebounds and businesses fill positions,” Carpenter said. “We are committed to meeting the increased demand as the community transitions to a new normal.”

TheRide expects ridership to continue to recover as more services are restored in August.

What bus users think

On a recent morning at Ypsilanti Transit Center, few of the passengers who spoke with MLive/The Ann Arbor News at the downtown bus depot said they owned a car.

For some, like Iris Helbling, Ypsilanti resident and mileage supporter, longer service hours and increased weekend frequency could mean getting ahead of the job at a Kroger supermarket in Ann Arbor.

“I get screwed over by the buses that have weird schedules all the time on weekends,” Helbling said. “It spoils my availability for work. In fact, I had to turn down a promotion because I just didn’t have the availability I needed.

The route improvements are 100% worth the cost, said Helbling, who rides the bus 10 times a week.

Helbling’s experience was not unique.

While waiting for a bus, Anthony Ferguson said he turned to ride-hailing service Lyft on the weekends to get home from work after the buses stopped.

No matter what happens with the mileage, Ferguson said he would take the bus.

“My work schedule does not change. I work open to close five days a week,” he said.

Blake Transit Center

The scene outside the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor on June 28, 2022.ryan stanton | Ann Arbor News

Even transit riders who say they are satisfied with existing services see positive benefits from higher taxes.

Ypsilanti resident Aaron Schacht, who relies on buses for work and leisure travel, said he would vote for the proposal, which would help him travel outside current opening hours.

“It would just give me a lot more freedom,” Schacht said.

Others, like Ann Arbor resident Jacqueline Downing, have not made a decision on mileage.

On the way home from a medical appointment in Ypsilanti, Downing, who does not have a car, wondered if the clientele was there for TheRide’s extended service plans.

“I just wonder if the proposals are a bit over the top – like do you need an express bus from Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor?” said Downing.

A demonstration that the new services will be used could influence it.

“I’m not sure the traffic is there,” she said. “If so, fine. I’m prepared to be inconvenienced if not.

The final throw

The mileage Partners for Transit campaign continues to push hard to get its message out to voters, highlighting the services the tax increase could help fund.

After the disruptions of the past two years, now is the time to build a fairer transit system that also supports sustainability goals, an if its shippers have said so, noting that the elderly, people with low income and disabilities, essential workers, students and others rely on affordable public transit.

public transportation sign

A yard sign in Ann Arbor in support of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s proposed transit mile, also known as TheRide, as seen July 21, 2022.ryan stanton | Ann Arbor News

“During a time of economic anxiety, TheRide is here for YOU to provide low-cost, reliable and environmentally friendly transit service,” said another dispatcher, saying TheRide insulates riders from volatile prices. gasoline and is a key equity generator by freeing users from being dependent on a car.

This appeared to be a response to a letter from Ypsilanti Township recently sent to its residents expressing concerns about the timing of the proposal and including statistics on rising gas prices. Township leaders have also argued that the tax increase could affect the cost of rental housing.

A Quick Look at the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Transit Tax Proposal

Partners for Transit cited an estimated 30% reduction in commute times along Washtenaw Avenue with the proposed expressway designed to support workers and students. Across the system, all stops that have hourly service would see their frequency increased to every 30 minutes, while night service to Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township would be expanded to help third-shift workers, a said the group.

There would also be longer hours of service in the evenings, weekends and weekdays, and earlier service on Saturdays, while some mileage funds should help pay for future zero-emission buses and centers new and improved transit systems.

“The mileage offered by TheRide is an opportunity to both move public transit into the future and achieve immediate benefits and benefits for our thriving communities,” said AAATA President Eric Mahler. , a head of the Partners for Transit campaign, who noted that TheRide raises an additional $1.40 in federal grants and state grants for every dollar of local tax investment.

The path

A bus travels down Liberty Street in Ann Arbor on July 9, 2022.ryan stanton | Ann Arbor News

State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, is among many local officials and groups endorsing the proposal, which is in part a response to Ann Arbor’s A2Zero Carbon Neutral Plan that aims to dramatically reduce car trips. car and emissions in the city.

“We’re blessed to live in a great place where a lot of people want to be, so we’ve seen tremendous growth,” Irwin said, noting that comes with challenges like traffic.

“Public transit can make it more affordable for people to live closer to where they work and be able to get to work without having to incur all those extra expenses of driving and parking and wearing down your vehicle,” did he declare. “It can reduce traffic, which is good for all users and good for the environment.”

He added: “I also think when you look at some of the facilities that AAATA currently inhabits, Ypsilanti Transit Center stands out as the one that should be better. We need a facility there that will better serve the residents. And it will be a long-term investment in the look and feel of downtown Ypsilanti, but also to meet the needs of the cyclists who pass through the YTC every day.

Learn more Election coverage in the Ann Arbor area.

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