How Ann Arbor boosted its bus system, as other Michigan cities struggle

courtesy photo

In Ann Arbor and neighboring Ypsilanti, transit officials took a meat-and-potatoes approach in 2014 to improved public transportation.

There would be no expensive light rail or fancy bus rapid transit routes. Just plain old bus service – but more of it, and better, with extended routes, more frequent trips and added hours on weekdays and especially weekends.

Four years after voters in the region approved a 0.7-mill transit tax, the results are impressive.

For fiscal 2016-17, ridership was up by nearly 5 percent, from 6.6 million the year before to nearly 6.9 million – an all-time high. That’s at a time when bus ridership is down around the country and in other Michigan cities.

A survey of transit riders in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township found a:

  • 29 percent increase in ridership after 8 p.m.
  • 31 percent increase on weekends
  • 26 percent of riders were new to the service

“It was a comprehensive overhaul of the entire route network,” said Matt Carpenter, CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

That overhaul added a dozen buses to its fleet of about 90 buses; extended lines into neighborhoods that never seen a bus; and on some routes, added three to five hours of service on Saturdays to accommodate movie-goers, restaurant customers and workers.

The transit system is asking voters in August for a renewal of the millage - which would cost the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 $70 a year. Carpenter said he is optimistic.

“I think the cost-benefit has been very good here,” he said. “There’s no real question about the results – those were pretty demonstrable. With a system-wide overhaul, everyone benefits a little bit.”

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Fri, 06/29/2018 - 6:23pm

You make it sound like our AAATA millage is 0.7 mills only, when in fact it is 2 mills (city) + 0.7 mills (recent addition to expand out) = 2.7 mills. We are paying quite a bit to support AAATA.

Mark Grebner
Sun, 07/01/2018 - 1:31am

Interesting. In Lansing, the corresponding numbers are 3.00 mills (city) plus 0.6 mills (county-wide). One other interesting number is that even though our population is somewhat smaller than Washtenaw's, ridership runs just over 10 million per year - about half again as many. A final interesting number is that our county-wide taxable value is just under $8 billion, or half Washtenaw's, so our tax levies bring in fewer total dollars, even at the higher rates.

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 7:43pm

The numbers are affected by the way the university students to some degree.
The University of Michigan runs its own bus service. MSU has bus service provided by CATA. Hence the ridership variations.

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 8:55am

It's interesting to note that Ann Arbor is just about the only transit system in Michigan that has increased ridership. Just about everyone else has seen declines since 2014. Good for Ann Arbor for ignoring the fads of light rail and BRT in favor of actually serving its end-users.

You can see the stats across Michigan transit agencies here: