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The AAATA Asks Voters To Renew Transportation Millage In Next Week's Primary Election

The August 7th primary elections are less than a week away, and some Washtenaw County voters will be asked to decide a familiar issue.  Back in 2014, voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township approved a 0.7 mill tax levy to support and expand services offered by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.  Next Tuesday, they’ll be asked to consider a similar millage request.  89.1 WEMU’s Jorge Avellan has the story.

Buses line-up at the Ypsilanti Transit Center on a Monday morning to pick-up passengers who will be traveling all over Washtenaw County.

That’s where I met Matthew Carpenter.  He’s the CEO of the AAATA, also known as “The Ride.”  We discussed the August 7th transportation millage.

"This millage is really a renewal and a maintaining of the services that we have been implementing during the last five years," said Carpenter.

Among the upgrades are later weekday service on most routes until 11PM and new Saturday and Sunday service.  Carpenter says approval of the initial millage allowed expansion of another essential service.

"While all that was going on we were expanding our paratransit A-Ride services for persons with disabilities.  So folks going door to door in a wheelchair.  We’re having more increased independence and access to things in the community," added Carpenter.

A bus at the Ypsilanti Transit Center lowers a wheelchair ramp for Robert Murray to get off.  The senior citizen says he rides the bus every day and supports the millage that would allow for continued service.

"I wouldn’t be able to get to appointments if it wasn’t for this bus, especially with the electric wheelchair.  I need services like the bus to pick-up the whole wheelchair with the ramp," said Murray.

But, not all voters are in favor of renewing the tax levy. Twenty-two year old Justin Powers uses the bus to get to the University of Michigan for his research work. He remains unconvinced.

"I feel like there is not much information provided to justify it.  If they can justify the expenses it would make sense to fund public transportation because that’s really important especially around kind of these downtown concentrated areas of Ypsi and Ann Arbor," said Powers.

The Ride’s CEO says the improvements made over the last five years provide the justification.  Matthew Carpenter says ridership is now at 6.8 million, a five percent increase from fiscal year 2016/2017.  Paratransit usage also increased by three percent during that time.  Beyond individual ridership, Carpenter notes that there is an added benefit to the area.

"We’re seeing really the economies, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor areas beginning to merge more and more.  And there is way more commuting and more traffic flow between them all the time.  Frequently, we will hear from folks in the hospitality sector in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, convention of visitor’s bureau, hoteliers, restaurateurs, basically saying we need employees, labor is really tight.  How can we get employees to our work sites?  We’ll hear from folks in Ypsilanti as well as folks from Ann Arbor and other places, we really need to get to jobs.  How can we do that?" said Carpenter.

If approved, the 0.7 mill would cost the average homeowner about $70 a year during the next five years. For some that doesn’t sound like too much, but what about those who aren’t working?  Senior citizen Michael Simmons understands the need to continue funding public transportation services at current levels, but living on a fixed income, he says his hands are tied.

"It’s very difficult because I’m still in the soup line, still looking for help.  Medicaid, so on, so on," said Simmons.

Overall, approval on August 7th would generate about $4.8 million in 2019 and more than $22 million over the five-year levy.  Omara Cox is a frequent rider that stands in favor of renewal. She says the additional funding has allowed “The Ride” to offer a greater number of direct routes.

"It is not taking up as much time as it used to.  It used to take more time, if I’m not mistaken it use to run every hour.  If I’m not mistaken, now it’s every 15 ,then half-an-hour," said Cox.

What would happen if voters reject the tax renewal next Tuesday?  CEO Mathew Carpenter says The Ride could opt to revisit the question on the May 2019 ballot.  If not, service cuts would have to be enacted next summer.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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