Monday, May 5, 2014

Let's talk about the transit millage

Please vote on the Transit Improvement Millage tomorrow, May 6th. In fact, why not plan out when you will be voting tomorrow, right now. You can double check where your polling place is on the Secretary of State's website. Polls are open from 7:00 am until 8 pm tomorrow. If you're still trying to make up your mind about the proposal, the ballot language reads as follows:


To improve public bus, van, and paratransit services—including expanded service hours, routes, destinations, and services for seniors and people who have disabilities—shall the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority levy a new annual tax of 0.7 mills ($0.70 per $1000 of taxable value) on all taxable property within the City of Ann Arbor, the City of Ypsilanti, and the Charter Township of Ypsilanti for the years 2014-2018 inclusive? The estimate of revenue if this millage is approved is $ 4,368,847.00 for 2014. This revenue will be disbursed to the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority and, as required by law, a portion may be subject to capture by the downtown development authorities of the Cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, the Washtenaw County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, and the local development finance authority of the Charter Township of Ypsilanti.

The money will be used to fund the AAATA's 5 Year Transit Improvement Plan. Broadly speaking, the plan will increase the frequency and duration of some bus routes as well as add some new routes. You can see specifically which routes will see extended hours and the new routes by reading the plan. The millage covers the City of Ann Arbor, the City of Ypsilanti and the Charter Township of Ypsilanti. The millage would add 0.7 mills to the property taxes levied in these three municipalities. If a house has a market value of $200,000, the millage would add about $70 per year to the property tax bill(1). Currently, residents of Ann Arbor pay 2.0 mills towards the AAATA and residents of the City of Ypsilanti pay 1.0 mills. Ypsilanti Township does not currently have a millage for the AAATA, but the Township pays an annual contract for service amounting to about $330,000.

I support the millage. I think the AAATA is reasonably well run, efficient organization. They compare favorably to both national and state peers. As the population of the region grows and ages (pages 48-50), it makes sense to invest in public transportation within Washtenaw County's Urban Core. Increasing bus frequency and the duration of service hours will allow more trips to be made on the bus, instead of by car.

Some folks have wondered why the AAATA is having a vote on the millage in May, instead of August or November, at a cost of $100,000. If they were to wait, the funds from the millage would not be available until Summer 2015 property taxes were paid. With a May election, the millage will be included in the Summer 2014 property taxes. This means the AAATA would have funds available from the millage as early as August and could begin making improvements as early as this Fall.

Gentle readers, there is some talk in the community that suggests the AAATA is a poorly run organization, or that it has too much management, or that the transit expansion millage is a secret plot get money to build a monorail, or that the AAATA is trying to destroy our roads by driving empty buses all over them. I was going to take time and address all of these critiques. I decided against that. But I will say this: The AAATA is run by professionals who work hard to optimize the service they provide to us. They have done a good job, and they will continue to do so. If you have any questions about the millage, please let me know and I'll do what I can to answer them.

1. For the purposes of this calculation I am assuming market value is equal to appraised value and that the assessed value is 50% of the appraised value.


  1. Two questions.

    Have you ever tried to reach AATA with a compliant?

    Do you have a list of expected improvements that will make a difference for you personally to reflect on in 5 years?

  2. Brian,

    I've never had a complaint with the AAATA.

    In terms of how I'll evaluate the millage renewal when it comes up in 5 years here are my thoughts:

    1) did the AAATA implement the service improvements they said they would in their 5 year plan?
    2) have the changes the organization has implemented worked to better serve the community?
    3) have they continued to operate an organization that is efficient compared to national and state peers?