With the GetDowntown
Commuter Challenge coming to an end, what would the quality of life in Washtenaw County be like if it embraced mass transit every month, not just in May?
One significant impact of residents embracing the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority's (AATA) vision for mass transit in Washtenaw County would mean that everyone in the county could get around, sans car. The AATA
has just concluded a final series of meetings to acquaint the public with its five-year transit program, the first stage of the county's 30-year transit master plan completed last year.
The most significant aspect of the proposed program, says Michael Benham, AATA's special assistant for strategic planning, "is that every single person in the county has access to the transit system, without a car."
The program calls for extended service on the current core Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor network of bus service that would be fed by a series of fixed routes consisting of express bus services in the outlying communities, and also community circulators, small bus networks to transport people within Chelsea, Dexter, and Saline, and link them to express bus routes. The final component is a system of would-be demand responsive services that can bring people from their doors to fixed-route bus stops.
Seniors and the disabled would get the added option of door-to-door service anywhere in the county. "Over the next 20 or 30 years there's going to be a more than doubling of the senior population," Benham notes, adding, "We're really trying to focus on either giving people mobility or letting them keep their mobility as they age."
Plan execution is contingent on creation of a countywide transit authority. "Over the years, one community after another has come to us and they are basically asking us to sell them transportation on an annual basis," Benham says.
The city of Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and Pittsfield Township have purchase-of-service agreements, subject to the vagaries of municipal funding. "It's not a particularly stable arrangement, and that's why we'd like to go with a countywide authority. A countywide transit authority would have its own funding base so these townships wouldn't have to come to us and buy the service anymore."
Funding would also need to be in place. Possibilities include increased fares, a .5-mill countywide transit tax, and bills pending in the state legislature, such as a motor vehicle registration fee applicable to counties with a regional transit authority.
When, exactly, the clock could start ticking on the five-year program is the question. "If the funding comes into being within the next six months and if we can get our countywide board pulled together in, say, the next six months, then the service could be operating in a year and a half. But those two ifs are big ifs. I can't stress that enough," Benham says.
Source: Michael Benham, special assistant for strategic planning, AATA
Writer: Tanya Muzumdar