Just imagine how awesome of a wall we’d have around Ann Arbor if, of the past 40 years, we’d invested in bricks instead of the AATA

I should know better than to try to make sense of the arguments being offered by the rag tag band anti-tax activists who have come together to fight the AAATA millage we’ll be voting on next month, but, when I heard that they’d launched a website, I thought that I’d check it out, and see if maybe they’d figured out a way, in the time since we last discussed this, to better articulate their concerns.

What I found, though, was an absolute mess… an intellectually inconsistent barrage of unsubstantiated nonsense.

Instead of focusing on facts, sharing the successful practices of other similarly-sized communities, and drawing on the recent findings of professionals who study mass transit, they’ve apparently decided, to tailor their campaign to the newly-literate. Between now and the vote on May 6, their plan is to share 26 meandering rants, each structured around a letter of the alphabet, beginning with “A”. Sadly, I don’t have time to go into depth on the first two entries in the series, which have already been posted, but I did want to share a small clip from “A is for Area,” along with four questions that occurred to me while reading it.

aaatajunk

Oh, and I know that I should have probably focused on their suggestion that the AAATA plan is some sort of scheme to take money from the upstanding tax-payers of Ann Arbor and hand it over to the evil “poor of Ypsilanti.” Every time I tried to write about it, though, I found myself coming dangerously close to suggesting a hint of racism, and I didn’t want to do that, even though it meant that I couldn’t use my “I can’t wait to see what word they use when the get to N” line, which I really, really liked.

Judging from this piece alone, I’d say that it’s pretty clear what their major concern is. Sure, they’ve worked in a mention of “luxury” buses in Canton, whatever that means, but the real issue here, which is plainly evident, is their concern that they’re subsidizing an undesirable element making its way into Ann Arbor from Ypsilanti. This, of course, is untrue, as Ypsilanti City and Township tax payers will be paying for any increases in service outside of Ann Arbor, but, as I noted above, these folks don’t tend to get bogged down with things like facts.

I’d been hopeful that in a town built around one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning that we could have a conversation based in reality. Apparently, though, that’s not the case. Apparently, it’s enough to hint at “the poor” who use the buses without acknowledging the reality of the situation, which is that many of these people have jobs in Ann Arbor which don’t pay enough to make an Ann Arbor address possible. These people they refer to collectively as the “poor of Ypsilanti,” are the people who prepare their food, watch their children, and clean their houses, among other things. They aren’t an army of drug dealers coming to corrupt the promising youth of Annarbour… Speaking of which, here’s another inconvenient fact that often gets ignored in conversations like this: Drug dealers can afford cars of their own.

I should point out that not everyone on the anti-millage side agrees when it comes to why they don’t want this to happen. While some people clearly don’t want “the poor” coming into their idyllic little city, others, it would seem, like the plan being put forward by the AAATA, but just don’t want to pay for it. And you can see that divide in the video of last week’s debate, in which anti-millage spokesman Ted Annis says, “We’re completely in support” of the proposed routes, as the woman beside him, clearly in agony, whimpers. “We want the AAATA to do it,” he says. He then goes on to say that he just doesn’t want to pay for it with a tax increase… My sense, reading their website, is that perhaps not everyone on his team agrees.

And you really should watch the video of the debate, if you haven’t already. It’s one of the stranger things I’ve seen in my life. It’s like something out of a Christopher Guest mocumentary.

Vote yes on Buses come May 6… Or face the realization that you’re one of these folks.

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21 Comments

  1. Eel
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    If they’re not nurses, who are all of the women getting on the bus at the hospital wearing scrubs?

  2. EOS
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Ward clerks, technicians, housekeeping, cafeteria workers (servers), etc.

  3. Mr. Y
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    The presidents of all our local universities and colleges are on board:

    The presidents of the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, and Washtenaw Community College, the higher education learning institutions in Washtenaw County, have personally endorsed the May 6 ballot proposal to improve public transportation in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

    U-M President Mary Sue Coleman expressed her support for the millage at a breakfast hosted by the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber today (April 16). “I formally personally endorse the May 6 transit millage,” Coleman said. “I value the transportation system and all it does for our community. I am happy to join with other major employers, institutions, and leaders in supporting this effort to expand transit options in the Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township communities, as I believe this effort will help reduce traffic congestion and improve the environment.”

  4. site admin
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Concentrate has picked up the baton.

    http://concentratemedia.com/inthenews/annarbortransit0279.aspx

  5. Posted April 16, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    “Ward clerks, technicians, housekeeping, cafeteria workers (servers), etc.”

    Yes, people working for low wages to take care of people with money who add insult to injury by refusing to help pay for public transportation.

  6. Lynne
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Whenever I hear the arguments about people in rural areas who go on and on about how inefficient it is to provide bus service to their area, I have to wonder how many other services are being provided to those in rural areas which are inefficient and which I must pay for. You know, things like utilities and roads and plowing and whatnot. Do we really want to go down this “I shouldn’t have to pay for what I don’t use” road? (and yes, people with cars use the roads way more than people without cars)

  7. Demetrius
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    @ Lynn

    I think a lot of people who who grew up/live in the suburbs (or exurbs), and who are neither elderly nor handicapped, and are fortunate to be able to afford to buy and maintain a private automobile, etc., are so used to jumping in their car to virtually everything — work, shop, appointments, leisure activities, etc. — that they can’t imagine there are other people who are not like them. I think this is especially true in Southeast Michigan, where the automobile has been idolized, and car ownership considered a birthright.

    I’m also guessing that many of these same people just take as a given the tremendous environmental destruction caused by dependence on fossil fuels, the tremendous cost of maintaining the military-industrial complex that is needed to protect America’s “interests” around the world, the obscene tax subsidies that oil companies receive to keep gasoline flowing to local stations, and the tens of billions of dollars it takes each year to build and maintain roads.

    Yet, let someone suggest that we all pay a few dollars more to help improve public transit options in our region, and (some) people in our community lose their minds … resulting in a really unfortunate kind of reverse class-warfare combined with thinly-veiled racism.

  8. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    I am absolutely voting for more busses.

    However, the insinuation that the Anti bus tax people are racist is weak.

  9. Taco Farts
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    I’ll point out that AAATA does provide service at night and on holidays:

    http://www.theride.org/Services/HolidayLateNightService

    It’s actually pretty amazing that anyone with such a comprehensive understanding of every bus-riding demographic wouldn’t know about this service. But I guess one can only hold so much knowledge within any given container.

  10. EOS
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    The Holiday/Late night service is rarely able to meet the demand. Not a reliable way to get to a job if you need to be on time. You can make an appointment 24 hours in advance and then when you call an hour in advance to confirm, you are told that it isn’t going to happen. You need to be prepared to pay for a full fare cab on a frequent basis.

    I think the large buses on the road throughout the day with just a few passengers are far more destructive to the roads and environment than a few small cars.

  11. Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    If I could vote, I would vote for more buses and expanded regional transportation options.

    I will tell everyone I know who can vote to vote for more buses.

  12. EOS
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    That’s great. Your endorsement will send votes to the side for making AAATA be better stewards of the monies they already receive.

    Why can’t you vote? Felon?

  13. EOS
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    AAATA can do a better job and should do some housekeeping before they ask for more money. They currently have 52 managers, 37 support staff, and 133 bus drivers. We pay for 2 CEO’s and 7 people in community relations. They spend $1.1 million dollars on PR each year and another $577,000 on community relations. The buses cost 35% more to operate than those that run in Grand Rapids. Kalamazoo has 18 managers where we have 52. The former treasurer of AATA is one of its biggest critics. He continually brought up great ideas for reducing expenditures without sacrificing service and was routinely ignored.

    A “No” vote will send a message to AATA that the trough is not bottomless. Make them spend current revenues on buses and eliminate the pork.

  14. EOS
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    $8.1 million dollars for a new transit center in AA that is essentially the same as the old one.

  15. Jeff Irwin
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Fortunately, the AADL has posted the entire transit forum on their website and it is well indexed: http://www.aadl.org/aadl_events_20140407-transportation_millage

    By watching this video, anybody can see and hear for themselves what kind of, “great ideas for reducing expenditures,” the anti-bus millage group has offered. You can even skip ahead to the juiciest parts, and try to find those specific ideas for reductions.

    Examples of easy reductions are hard to identify because the AAATA is a well run system with service that runs 17% above the average efficiency of similarly sized systems. For me, the most interesting part of the forum was that the anti bus millage group wanted to focus on how efficiently AAATA moves buses (that’s the statistic they keep comparing against the GR system). Proponents such as myself want to focus on how efficiently the system moves people. When judged that way, AAATA is quite efficient (because fuller buses take more time and money to operate).

    So, which is the proper metric? Do we want to judge AAATA on how efficiently they move buses or people?

  16. EOS
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Jeff,
    The numbers I cited came from the forum. That’s the forum where the former treasurer stated that he could provide all the proposed new routes without increasing the milage. His experience leaves him well qualified to evaluate the costs. Why won’t you consider these cost saving measures? Why can’t you even consider an option that doesn’t grow the bureaucracy more than necesaary?

  17. Posted April 17, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    “Why can’t you vote? Felon?”

    That’s very Christian of you.

    I don’t live in any of the localities voting on the measure, but I can encourage people to vote.

  18. Jeff Irwin
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Eos, my sense of the event was that, when pressed for details, Mr Annis could not produce meaningful examples of the profligate spending he alleges. You may come to another conclusion; but, as Murph points out above, we can’t fund these improvements even if we completely eliminate HR, finance, dispatch, customer service, route planning and the 10-12 people who might normally be called “managers.” The numbers don’t add up and that’s why you never hear Mr Annis make a detailed pitch about what to cut. So, I’d be happy to consider an alternate plan to fund the service enhancements. But, there isn’t a alternative plan to consider, just assertions that there’s plenty of money.

    Having said that, we all pay quite a bit of tax and I can see how people would react with the feeling that we’re taxed enough already. However, when I look at AAATA, I see an agency that is moving 17% more people per dollar than comparable transit agencies. Should we maintain vigilance to minimize overhead? Yes! Nonetheless, our communities have an opportunity to serve our growing transit needs through an agency that has demonstrated their efficient use of public funds. I think we should take this opportunity.

  19. Eel
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    EOS doesn’t need facts. He feels things in his heart.

  20. Meta
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    AAATA CEO Michael Ford responded to the lies of the anti-bus group last night.

    From The Ann Arbor News:

    But the AAATA continues to face sharp criticism from an opposition group calling itself Better Transit Now. The group argues the AAATA could improve local bus services simply by cutting staff and other costs and operating more efficiently.

    Ford fired back at Thursday night’s meeting, saying it’s unfortunate that opponents have chosen to misinterpret data and mislead the public.

    “I would like to address some of the myths that are being communicated,” he said. “One myth is that AAATA is inefficient, when in fact we have 17 percent lower costs per passenger and have 18 percent fewer employees per passenger than our peers.”

    Ford was citing figures from a recent comparison of the AAATA to 20 of its national peers, based on data taken from the National Transit Database.

    The same study showed the AAATA’s cost per service hour is 17.8 percent higher than the peer median, though it also carries 49.6 percent more passengers per hour.

    The opposition group criticizes the agency’s $115 cost per service hour, comparing it to an $84 cost per service hour for the Grand Rapids bus system. AAATA leaders say the group’s analysis is flawed because they’re not comparable transit systems.

    Ford said another myth is that the AAATA is top-heavy. Though the agency lists salaries for 52 employees under “management wages,” Ford said they’re not all managers, and it’s false for the opposition to claim there are 52 managers.

    “That’s just not true. It is just simply not true,” he said. “We have 52 employees who are nonunion — 11 are managers.”

    He added, “This includes administrative assistants, IT folks, customer service, human resources, safety and security personnel, dispatchers and others.”

    The AAATA also has more than 130 bus drivers, plus a few dozen support staff positions.

    Ford said the opposition’s assertion that the AAATA might turn around and use the millage money to fund train services also is untrue. He said the AAATA intentionally left train services out of the ballot language.

    The ballot language specifically states the funds will be used “to improve public bus, van, and paratransit services — including expanded service hours, routes, destinations, and services for seniors and people who have disabilities.”

    Kathy Griswold, one of the leaders of the opposition group, said she’s proud of the campaign her group is running and doesn’t think it’s misleading, and she still worries some of the money might be used to fund train services.

    Better Transit Now is being led by some of the same people, including Griswold, who have opposed other tax proposals in recent history, such as a 2012 proposal for a new downtown library and a 2009 school enhancement millage.

    Read more:
    http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/04/aaata_ceo_says_opposition_camp.html

  21. Posted May 1, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this detailed coverage.

    I just wanted to weigh in as a person who has lived and worked in AA/Ypsi area for about 35 years, using the buses much of that time as primary transportation to & from low-paid jobs. I think AAATA has gotten better and better through the years. Yesterday, I arrived at the downtown Ypsi transit center and it was the first time in MONTHS that I didn’t get off my original bus and walk directly onto the #4 — in other words, I had to WAIT. (OMG.) It made me realize how incredibly improved and efficient the buses are now, as opposed to when I used them as a single mother and waitress, or even when I lived here but worked at UM. The buses are a great example of a public service that improves our community for everyone, including non-riders.

    Everyone benefits from fewer cars on the road, more efficient use of energy, a more accessible and just community, less emissions, more options. I’m voting for it and I really look forward to more evening & weekend service! AND the bus to the Whitakker Road Library — we’ve waited so long for that service to be restored! VOTE YES.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] borders, mount campaigns to stop attempts at regional cooperation, as we recently saw play out in the battle over the AATA’s expanded role in providing bus service within Washtenaw County. Many people in Ann Arbor cried out that they didn’t want their tax dollars going to fund the […]

  2. […] however, my sense is that they’re an increasingly small and quite minority. Sure, the recent ballot initiative concerning the funding of a multi-district public transportation progra… went the right way, and more folks voted for the measure than against it, but it shouldn’t […]

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