New bus routes encourage student ridership

[Part 1 of this series described EMU’s two major public transportation efforts: free shuttle bus service that EMU buys from the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), and subsidized monthly passes for AATA’s regular routes. This part provides more information about the current efforts and a look ahead to the future.]

EMU students use—at the rate of 90,000 trips in fall term—and appreciate the two shuttle buses that the University provides. One runs from main campus to the College of Business, the other from the free parking at the Rynearson lot to main campus. However, EMU only sold 304 subsidized, monthly bus passes in the fall.

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon this week about two-dozen students arrived at the College of Business on the bus, and several more got on for the ride back to campus. Shaneesa Taylor is a COB junior who lives on campus and relies on the shuttle to get her back-and-forth to class, even though she has a car. On a scale of one to ten, she rates the service at a 10.

Michael Davidson, also a COB junior who lives on campus, says he rides the bus “all the time.” He, too, gives the service a top rating, especially now that it is not as crowded as it was last year. He speculates that the addition of the West Campus shuttle has reduced crowding.

EMU pays AATA $280,000 a year for the two shuttles. The fall term ridership (above) totals almost 90,000. If winter term is similar, the annual total will be 180,000, or about $1.55 per ride.

The EMU- and AATA-subsidized bus passes are not nearly as popular, but they hold promise for the future, according to White. EMU faculty, staff and students can purchase a month-long pass to use on any AATA route for only $40. During the fall term, EMU students, faculty and staff purchased a total of 304 monthly passes, according to Mike Hague, Executive Director of Business Services at EMU.

White characterized the pass program as “a first step to encouraging more use of bus service to and from campus. We recognize that the current program is only valuable to students who use AATA quite a lot (enough to make the 30-day pass worthwhile). AATA and EMU are using this first step to determine demand by frequent users, with the intention of developing a more comprehensive pass program. EMU is interested, but it may be limited by funding.”

Deepthi Mutham, a graduate student working on an M.S. in Clinical Research Administration, uses the West Campus shuttle to get to her apartment near campus. She uses the bus all the time and utilizes one of the subsidized monthly AATA passes, which she uses to get everywhere. She said she has “never had a problem” with the “very convenient service,” and appreciates “saving all the money from not having to buy a car.”

THE FUTURE

Student use of the subsidized passes might increase when, on Jan. 30, AATA doubles the number of weekday trips that operate on Route 4, which runs primarily along Washtenaw Avenue between the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor and the Ypsilanti Transit Center. The new schedule will provide peak hour service of eight trips per hour in each direction (service every 5-10 minutes), and midday service of four trips per hour in each direction (service every 10-20 minutes).

According to the AATA website, Route 4 has the highest ridership of AATA’s routes, with over 800,000 trips each year and more than 3,000 trips on an average weekday.

The AATA has developed a countywide “smart growth” master plan that, if implemented, will increase the public transportation available to EMU students. While it is too early to know the exact improvements—the Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County governments have yet to sign on officially—the goals of the plan are clear. According to the plan’s website at www.movingyouforward.org, it should yield public transportation that will support the local economy and job growth as well as support independence for the aging population.

In addition, it will attract talented young professionals such as recent college grads; promote sound land use and prevent urban sprawl; relieve traffic congestion and improve the environment by reducing carbon emissions; and offer a safe and reliable transportation alternative to the car.

The AATA has asked Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County to sign a letter of agreement to support the plan. On Monday, the Ann Arbor City Council postponed a vote to allow time for public hearing on Jan. 23. After the hearing, the Council might vote on the document.

The Ypsilanti City Council put the matter on hold at a December meeting to wait to see what Ann Arbor does. The agreement is on the Council’s agenda for Jan. 10 but might again postpone a vote.

EMU’s Leigh Greden, Executive Director of Government and Community Relations, said “EMU supports efforts to expand transit options, particularly in the Ypsilanti area, because they will reduce congestion and provide new opportunities for students, faculty and staff. We do not, however, have a position on the possible funding mechanisms for a new system. We’ll evaluate whatever the County and AATA decide to pursue, but I expect we won’t take a position even when the County and AATA decide on a proposed funding mechanism.”


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