The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) has reinstated fares as of Aug. 2 and will introduce a new, limited set of bus routes on Aug. 30.
The reorganized routes are temporary and prioritize essential destinations. Routes 3, 4, 5, 6, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 62, and 65 have been revised.
Complete details, which in some cases involve changes in trip frequency, added weekend service, and the renaming of routes, can be found on AAATA's website.
"The biggest thing we'd like to communicate right now is our thanks to everyone in the community for their patience with us," says Matt Carpenter, CEO of AAATA.
Over the last several days, Carpenter has answered over 40 emails from people concerned about how AAATA will operate. One recurring misconception is that the changes represent a reduction in services.
"It's actually an increase in services from 20% to 60%," Carpenter says. "At the start of the pandemic we were offering the equivalent of Sunday service. The new changes are the first phase of restoring services incrementally over the next 12 to 18 months."
The decision of which routes to reinstate first was based on strengthening services to medical facilities and also considered where there was the highest ridership pre-pandemic.
A notable exception is Route 47, which services Ypsilanti's Southside neighborhood. The route was deemed a "lower-performing" route and was not initially going to be restored. However, AAATA quickly reversed that decision after public outcry, acknowledging the high concentration of residents who rely on public transit in the area.
"There were things that the numbers didn't tell us right away as we made decisions quickly in a chaotic time and with no pandemic playbook," Carpenter says.
He explains that one of the challenges AAATA faced earlier in the year was how to do public engagement during the pandemic. The result was that the initial decision pertaining to Route 47 was made without the usual amount of public engagement during a time of great financial uncertainty.
The cost of running Route 47 will be approximately $400,000 a year, but it's "the right thing to do," Carpenter says. "It means that we'll burn through our funds faster, but it's something that we can deal with over the next 18 months."
After eliminating fares for several months and absorbing costs related to rider and driver safety, AAATA is facing huge revenue shortfalls. While the public transportation sector received a relief package through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Emergency Security (CARES) Act, there is still concern for the future.
"Hard decisions will be made in Lansing in the next few months before the state budget is signed," Carpenter says. "We know we're going to lose something. We just don't know how bad it will be."
He adds that many people aren't aware that a significant portion of AAATA's budget comes from state funding.
"If public transportation is important to someone, they should definitely reach out to their elected state official and let them know," Carpenter says.
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.