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Transit in Ann Arbor, MI: A Tale of Two Providers

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Transit in Ann Arbor, MI: A Tale of Two Providers

An Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA)(MI) bus picks up college students. Since the unlimited access program (M-Ride) was implemented, AATA buses have experienced a significant increase in ridership.

courtesy of Ann Arbor Transportation Authority

Transit In Ann Arbor, Michigan

Ann Arbor, MI is a charming college town with a metropolitan population of approximately 240,000 (including the 37,000 students of the University of Michigan) nestled in the hills of the Huron River about forty miles west of downtown Detroit. Ann Arbor residents are among the most affluent and educated in the state, and support a charming old-style downtown area filled with restaurants and microbreweries.

Ann Arbor is one of the last places in the United States with separately managed and operated city and university bus systems. The city bus system is known as the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), and operates seventy-eight buses on twenty-seven routes throughout Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, the town to the east. AATA carried about 6,000,000 passengers in FY08. The university bus system is operated by the University of Michigan's Parking and Transportation Services department and operates sixty buses on ten routes. In FY09, the university bus system also carried about 6,000,000 passengers.

Fare Structure

The AATA currently charges $1.50 per regular fare boarding, $4.50 for a day pass, and $58.00 for a monthly pass. In a refreshing contrast to the general trend, the AATA still offers transfers. They are free, but cannot be used for a round trip. Due to an unlimited access agreement (the MRide program) entered into between the AATA and the university, students, staff, and faculty of the University of Michigan may ride AATA buses for free upon swiping a valid ID card. Buses operated by the university bus system are free for all riders.

Service Structure

The AATA and university operate complementary bus services, and both are discussed on the university's transportation home page. In addition to the free fare offered to the university community, the MRide program also provided for a significant increase of AATA bus service serving the university. This increase is on top of one university bus route currently operated by the AATA under contract to the university. The majority of AATA passengers are associated with the university; since the university bus system only serves the university, almost all of the university bus system's passengers are associated with the university.

The AATA generally operates service on thirty minute frequencies during the day weekdays (although there are a couple of routes that run every ten to fifteen minutes), sixty minutes at night, and thirty-sixty minutes on weekends. The service span is approximately 6:00 AM - 11:30 PM weekdays and 8:00 AM - 7:00 PM weekends. In contrast, almost all of the university's bus routes operate every ten minutes or better all day weekdays, and every fifteen to twenty minutes nights and weekends. The university bus system operates from 5:00 AM - 3:00 AM weekdays and 8:30 AM - 3:20 AM weekends.

Projects

Since the city of Ann Arbor is fairly liberal, it strives to be a leader in the provision of alternate modes of transportation. The city, AATA, and the university are currently collaborating on several projects.

Fuller Road Station

Ann Arbor is the second busiest station on the AMTRAK line between Chicago and Detroit. Currently, trains stop in a fairly inaccessible location north of downtown and west of the university campus in a facility with limited parking. A $46 million relocation of the station is planned to take place: the station will move to what is now a parking lot only 800 feet from the main entrance to the University of Michigan hospital. This station will not only have greatly increased parking, but will also serve as a transit center for university and AATA buses, have significant bicycle amenities (including showers), and serve as a ZIP car location. In the future commuter rail service is planned for the station, and it may eventually become a station on a proposed high speed rail line between Detroit and Chicago.

Ann Arbor Connector Feasibility Study

The AATA, university, and representatives of the city are currently in the initial planning stage of developing a new rapid transit system that would link the important traffic generators of the city of Ann Arbor. Some of the modes being looked are personal rapid transit, like what is operated at the University of West Virginia, light rail, and bus rapid transit. It is unclear at this point as to whether any of the routes would have sufficient demand to warrant the construction of higher order transit, with the exception of the route between the university's Central Campus and North Campus, which is currently served by overcrowded university buses operating as often as every 2.5 minutes during peak periods.

Discussion

Although Ann Arbor is one of the few remaining college towns with a separately managed and operated city and university bus system, it is far from the only area with two bus systems that have a significantly overlapping service area. Although at one time the AATA desired to take over the university bus system, lately the agencies have enjoyed better cooperation. This change has especially been apparent since the MRide program was implemented. In today's era of declining transit funding two transit systems in overlapping service areas no longer have the luxury of competing against each other (for a good example of transit competition see AC Transit of Oakland, CA against BART). For the good of the passenger transit systems need to overcome feelings of territoriality and work together, choosing the single most appropriate operator for each unique corridor.

Transportation Research Institute

In addition to the above transit systems, the campus hosts the influential University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Although not directly related to transit, the institute's important research into ways to make streets and highways safer can directly affect how buses navigate their routes. Ann Arbor residents have been "fortunate" to experience experiments in different methods of traffic signal synchronization and other advances.

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