Facilitating an urban transit strategy in Washtenaw County, Mich. 

Issue: Expanding county-wide transit options

Client: The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA)

Background. 

Ann Arbor, Mich. is a growing community.  With The University of Michigan serving as the anchor, the city has seen an increase in jobs centered-around R&D, manufacturing, start-ups and technology. The growth in the job market has led to an increase in new construction, not just in the city but also in the communities surrounding Ann Arbor.

With a strong transit system in Ann Arbor, expanding transportation options beyond the city has been an issue community leaders have been talking about for years. For the past three years (since 2010), since the creation of a 30-year Transit Master Plan for Washtenaw County, there has been an organized effort to reach out and engage the public, community leaders, and elected officials on the future of transit in Washtenaw County, culminating in an attempt to establish a countywide transit effort, which finally unraveled in the fall of 2012, after the City of Ann Arbor opted out of the countywide authority.

At the same time, the Ann Arbor City Council urged the AAATA to focus its planning efforts on the ‘urban coreof Washtenaw County, that is, those communities where population density is highest and transit needs are the greatest. In response, the AAATA has developed a Five Year Transit Improvement Program for the Urban Core group of communities - City of Ann Arbor, City of Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township, and the City of Saline – and again gained a general consensus among those communities on the level and nature of services to be provided.

To facilitate the planning process, an Urban Core Working Group was formed, composed of local elected officials from the involved jurisdictions along with other interested communities leaders from the Village of Dexter, Ann Arbor Township, Superior Township and Scio Township. The group met in March, April and June of 2013 and January of 2014 to help develop the Service Plan, Governance Structure and Funding Proposal, respectively. Each meeting was preceded by the preparation of briefing documents describing options for the Working Group to consider.

Facilitation

The AATA engaged attorneys Daniel Cherrin and Brian Pappas to preside over the meetings and make sure all participants had a chance to be heard. Cherrin and Pappas also helped drive the discussion to a closure, so that each meeting ended with a rough consensus on the topic being discussed.

Discussions first centered on the transit needs and expectations of the involved communities.  The process was designed to ensure the AATA board and local elected officials worked together around a common vision for transportation in the county.

Once consensus was reached on the transportation needs of the community, Cherrin and Pappas began to focus the groups attention to more contentious issues involving funding, governance and service.

A model was agreed upon and The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) placed a millage referendum on the ballot to enable the funding of services described in the Five-Year Transit Improvement Program (FYTIP), as passed by the AAATA Board on January 16, 2014, which was approved in May 2014.  

 Voters overwhelmingly approved a new 0.7-mill transit tax approved by 71.4 percent of those voting.  Not only did the proposal have overwhelming overall approval, it had widespread support. The measure won in 54 of 56 precincts.  Tuesday's election marked the first time in the AAATA's history that voters were asked to approve extra funding for public transit services beyond the annual financial support provided through the city charters in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

 As a result of the facilitated discussions, listening to public input and analyzing specific suggestions, the AATA:

Developed a 5-Year Transit Improvement Program (5YTIP) for the Urban Core of Washtenaw County.

The City of Ypsilanti (August 15, 2013) and Ypsilanti Township (December 17, 2013) joined the AATA, creating The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA)

The ride board adopted a five-year transit improvement program that was based on a proposed program presented to the working group in March 2013 and refined through community feedback on Jan 16 2014.

A new funding model for expanded service and hours for a new urban core transit plan was approved by the voters in May 2014.

Changes to TheRide Governance Structure – MGF or Board member

A 5-Year Transit Improvement Program was adopted by TheRide Board.

QUOTES

“This plan really was a culmination of four and a half years of going out and talking to people, hearing what they wanted," Michael Ford, AATA CEO said. "We took a lot of time going through many areas that we had never been before, just talking to people about their needs and what their vision was for the future. I think this plan really starts to address that."

 "I think it's a game-changer," Ypsilanti Township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo said, noting a lot of people commute from the Ypsilanti area to work in Ann Arbor, especially at the University of Michigan. "It's going to provide access," she said of the service expansion. "And it'll probably continue to grow and expand in the future."

"This was probably the single most important action we could take to further the interests of our region," Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said. "I'm hoping the AAATA will continue to grow and Pittsfield Township would naturally be the next group to come in."

“The process allowed each mayor, township supervisor and city council member to come to the table from their own vantage point and participate in a discussion that is productive, leading to solutions in an area that this community has been talking about for decades without resolution.” – Mandy Grewal, Pittsfield Township Supervisor, January 2014

“The meetings were facilitated by Daniel Cherrin and Brian Pappus, who were working as dispute resolution volunteers (an odd note, since this was not exactly a dispute). They brought a fresh approach to the process, as they had no particular knowledge of transit and had not been associated with the long earlier process.” Ann Arbor, blogger, @localinannarborhttp://localinannarbor.com/2013/10/19/once-again-aaata-exceeds-its-reach/

“Had they been able to get to this point without our help?  Honestly, I don't think so. As much as these meetings ran themself, we provided an independent voice to help steer the discussion. But behind the scenes we also served as couches or counselors to the AATA to help move them forward with the process,” Brian Pappas. 

TESTIMONIALS

Thank you for making a very important contribution to the whole process.  Your steady facilitation of those Urban Core Working Group meetings moved us positively through a very sensitive time.  Outcomes could have been quite different without your involvement. – Michael Benham, AAATA, May 8, 2014

Dear Daniel and Brian:

Please accept our sincere thanks for the facilitation services you have provided to our Urban Core Transit Working Group.  The work you did with staff in preparation for those meetings, including review of prepared materials, was extremely helpful in setting the stage for each meeting.  Your facilitation of the meetings themselves, helped ensure that we got through the materials, and that everyone was heard.

As you know, gaining consensus on the Urban Core Transit Plan has been a complex and painstaking process.  We believe that your help was invaluable in achieving this consensus and setting the stage for our next steps toward achieving improved regional transit. 

As you consider future opportunities to provide your alternative dispute resolution services to other organizations, please know that we will be happy to speak highly of the value of your work. 

Sincerely,
Michael Ford, AATA, CEO
8/15/2013

Timeline

Voters reject county wide transit plan – 2012

Ann Arbor directs AATA to come up with a better plan – 2012

AATA announces Urban Core initiative, November 2012

}Discussions begin about facilitation – December 2012

First session convening government stakeholders – March 28, 2013 with additional meetings held on: April 23, 2013; June 27, 2013; November 2013.

Final session to discuss results and gain feedback for taking the issue before the voters – January 2014

Issue to be put on May 2014 ballot for voters to decide.

Voters approve millage. May 2014

 

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