By Taylor Wizner, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 4, 2012
An Ann Arbor City Council vote today to change the city’s transit law and allow for the implementation of a countywide transit system could make transportation for students in the Ann Arbor area more expansive and accessible.
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Last fall, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority created a financial task force composed of business leaders, public officials, Ann Arbor residents and community groups. The group worked for 18 months to form the 30-year mass transit plan, according to an AATA press release.
The proposed plan will begin with a pilot five-year transit program with recommendations from the task force. Such improvements and accessibility enhancements include bus replacements, local transit hubs, park and ride intercept lots and vanpool services.
Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) said the group mastered most of what was needed to move forward with the mass transit system.
“The financial task force was asked what they recommend for the first five years and then turn around and say how we are going to get there,” Briere said. “They didn’t quite achieve the last part, but they did achieve the first part, how many dollars they need over the first five years with 6 million a year.”
According to Briere, there was significant pressure from within the community to expand AATA’s current services. In response to the input, AATA researched its legal scope of service and decided to make appropriate changes.
“The (mass transit system) better fit the long-term goal for AATA of bus rapid transit,” Briere said. “An unincorporated board was formed that hired a firm, using grant dollars, to do the research.”
The mass transit plan grew out of the research conducted by the firm, the board and from information gathered during 60 to 70 public meetings attended by more than 1,200 individuals, Briere said.
Briere said that while AATA already provides free transportation for students accessible, the changes include more frequent transportation that will allow more access around Ann Arbor and surrounding areas by increasing the number of buses.
She added that students and faculty will benefit from the new system as it is more commuter-friendly.
“(The system benefits) a graduate student doing an internship at a non-profit based in Ypsilanti who suddenly has faster service and more frequent service to that internship so they can actually get there without feeling that they must drive a car,” Briere said. “… A blue bus won’t take you to your home off campus, it will take you to some stop on North Campus and then you have to walk to your off campus residence. The goal is to make riding buses a lot easier.”
LSA freshman Bria Graham said she rides the AATA buses often, and the increased stops would be beneficial.
“I think it will be really helpful especially in the winter when I don’t want to walk a lot,” Graham said.
Councilmember Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5) said that while he agrees with the mass transit plan, he believes other measures should be implemented first.
“We have a great bus service now, but we need to make it so there are more stops,” Anglin said. “When we make it easier to use the buses here in town we will start to have the reputation of having a really good bus system and other jurisdictions will see the opportunity to get involved (in a mass transit system).”
Anglin said he also worries that the other members of the four-party agreement — Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and AATA — will not pay their dues, causing the city of Ann Arbor to pay more than their share.
Specifically, he said he fears that Ypsilanti residents will not approve the tax increases that would help pay for the mass transit system since other taxes have been implemented recently.
“The taxpayers of Ypsilanti are going to be asked to approve additional taxes upon themselves at a time when it is very difficult as a tax payer to approve taxes,” Anglin said. “I think it’s a good idea to have mass transit, but I don’t think the people are going to want to pay for it. People are very reliant on their automobiles here.”
Anglin added: “We have built a tremendous amount of infrastructure, we have put a lot into the system and now it is the time to get the returns from it.”