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

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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