COLUMN:: Ann Arbor residents footing bill for 'woefully inadequate' bus system
This week, I actually have to go to Canton due to it being the only place U-M could get me in soon for a particular medical appointment. Given this, I actually looked into the Canton ExpressRide service, as the U-M clinic is within walking distance of the Ford Road Meijer where the Canton bus stops. However, as I discovered through my contact with AATA, there is no way for Ann Arbor residents like me to ride to Canton in the morning and from Canton in the evening, even though they're sending the buses out there empty anyway. As such, I had to ask for rides to get to and from Canton — my only other option being a $50 each way cab ride.
My experience with the Canton Express is emblematic of the problems with AATA's plans to expand beyond the existing service area — they currently are oriented towards getting out-county residents (and out-of-county residents, in the case of Canton) to downtown or campus in the morning and back to their parked cars in the evening. This does very little for Ann Arbor residents — those who are paying the bulk of the costs — and seems quite inefficient given the fact that we're running empty buses out there. The transit master plan would call for even more of this in the future, and also would call for the creation of the WALLY commuter rail line to Livingston County to operate in much the same way. Meanwhile, Ann Arbor residents would be asked to foot most of the bill for these services.
At the same time as AATA pushes this expansion in commuter-oriented services, AATA bus service remains woefully inadequate in the core urban areas. There's no night or weekend service on many routes, no fixed-route service at all after 6pm on weekends, and no service on holidays. Counterintuitively, service on New Years Eve ends early, despite the obvious public safety benefits of running transit later on that night. While there is Night Ride/Holiday Ride, that service notoriously is unreliable and hardly substitutes for fixed-route service.
Next year, Ann Arbor will be hosting the NHL's Winter Classic — and for the first time ever, there will be no regularly-scheduled public transportation in the host city on the day of the game. While we may have the best transit system in the state of Michigan, that would be more a reflection of the sad state of affairs that is transit in Michigan than how good AATA is. When it is nearly impossible to do things like go out to dinner or a movie on a Saturday or Sunday night, one can hardly call AATA a great transit system — and it is laughable to think anyone would go carless in Ann Arbor by choice.
With that said, there are things that can be done to improve the current state of affairs. For one, Council should direct AATA to redirect all the funding for TMP consultants and marketing, commuter routes, and trains to nowhere to expand the hours of service in our core urbanized areas. Instead of spending all this time, money, and energy on creating a new Act 196 transit authority, we should just amend the articles of incorporation of the existing Act 55 authority to allow other municipalities to join. If Lansing can do that, why can't we? We certainly should continue to pursue expansion of transit beyond the city limits — including beyond Washtenaw County — though such transit should be paid for by all municipalities it serves and not solely transport commuters into A2.
Tim Hull of Ann Arbor delivered this message to Ann Arbor's City Council on July 23.