Meeting Minutes — DETROIT – April 21, 2018

Membership Meeting
MSU Detroit Center, 3408 Woodward Ave.
21 April 2018

 Members: Charley  Bonnell, Clark  Charnetski, Kay  Chase, Mary Jo Durivage, John  Langdon, Chuck Merckel, Jeanie Merckel, Mark  Miller, Diane  Patterson, Robert  Patterson, Dan  Platz, Yuri  Popov, David Roberts, Bob  Tischbein, Doug  Wilson

Guests:  Mason Herson-Hord (Motor City Freedom Riders), Megan Owens (Transportation Riders United), Sue Lonier (MSU Rail Program), Robert Troutman

Call to Order: 10:06 am

Safety Briefing & Attendee Introductions

Order of Business: A. Williams moves, Langdon seconds, approved s presented.

Financial Report:  Vagnozzi displays slide showing expenditures as of 31 December 2017. Expenses exceeded revenues by $1750. The current balance in the checking account is around $14,000. The current value of the Vanguard investment account (otherwise known as the Pratt Fund) was not available.

Executive Committee Reports

Adam Tauno Williams, Meetings Coordinator: The executive committee will meet 14 July at Durand Union Station. The Annual Michigan Rail Conference is scheduled for August 7-9. Two MARP-sponsored events are in the planning stages for September: one during Art Prize in Grand Rapids and the other a student event at Central Michigan University. The Annual Meeting is scheduled for November. All meetings will be posted on the website as well as on the Facebook page accessible from the webpage.

John Langdon. Governmental Affairs Coordinator: The FY2018-19 transportation budget has been approved by the appropriations subcommittees of both the House and Senate. Funding for Michigan train services appears to be in good shape. MDOT and Amtrak are partnering to provide an extra round trip between Chicago and Holland MI, with an extra stop in Hammond Whiting, to provide service to and from the Tulip Festival on May 5 and 12. A similar extra round trip will be provided on May 26 for visitors to the Senior PGA Tournament in Benton Harbor. Train #371 will make a special station stop at Hammond-Whiting on May 6, 13 and 27 to accommodate those wishing to stay overnight after these events.

Mark Miller, North Region Chair:  He, Langdon and Charles Shong recently worked train shows in Mount Pleasant and Grand Rapids. Charnetski will be working the Mayor’s Green Fair in Ann Arbor in June.

Robert Patterson, Detroit-Metro Region Chair: Provided two handouts outlining a framework for MARP advocacy in a political climate in which we need to depend less on Amtrak and more on ourselves to achieve the kind of service we want.

Robert Tischbein, Membership Coordnator: All members have been notified—by  email or snail mail—that 2018 dues are due.

Update of Status of Intercity Rail Projects provided by John Langdon:

  1. The feasibility study for the Ann Arbor to Traverse City project (A2TC) is about half completed. The consultant was astonished by the projected increase in recreational travel to northern Michigan in the next 20 years. The legislature is considering making $2 million available to upgrade the track between Kingsley and Traverse City to benefit current freight operations as well as to enable operation of excursion trains on the line.
  2. The feasibility study for the proposed Coast-to-Coast service connecting Detroit-Ann Arbor-Lansing-Grand Rapids-Holland was completed in 2016. Next steps will involve determining costs and a timetable for implementation.
  3. Made public recently is a proposal for a West Michigan Express route serving the communities of Grand Rapids, Grandville, Hudsonville, Zeeland and Holland. A study was initiated by Hudsonville City Manager Patrick Waterman and funded by entities along the route. Service would likely start with Bus Rapid Transit to assess viability before committing to commuter rail. MARP has been asked to join the steering committee guiding this process.

Program: What’s Next for Regional Transit in Southeast Michigan?

Introduction of Speakers: Megan Owens, Executive Director of Transit Riders United (TRU) and Mason Herson-Hord, organizer for Motor City Freedom Riders.

Transportation Riders United has worked for more than a decade to get more and better transportation options for the people of SE Michigan, a region that invests the least of any comparable metro region in the country. Although the 2016 millage vote to support a comprehensive regional plan was narrowly defeated, it “demonstrated that 800,000-plus people were willing to tax themselves to improve their transportation options.” Thus there is hope that a revised plan recently put forward by Wayne and Washtenaw county executives could succeed if agreement is reached with Oakland and Macomb counties to put the measure on the ballot this fall.

The Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail is an important element of the proposed plan. Other parts of the plan address concerns that arose with the previous proposal, primarily by giving flexibility to fund local needs in less urbanized parts of the four-county area. Major elements of the plan: 15 routes with 15-minute frequency, 24 hours a day; 4 express to the airport; 11 commuter routes along major corridors

If agreement cannot be reached with Oakland and Macomb counties, there is support for a “Plan B” in which Wayne and Washtenaw counties would seek voter approval to fund and implement parts of the plan.

Herson-Hord provided background on the Motor City Freedom Riders founded four years ago to empower bus riders and assure that the voices of those who use transit services have a say in decisions about those services. The organization seeks to build momentum towards a regional system, but also tackles more local issues such as adding bus shelters or restoring an abandoned route. A training program for riders who want to affect the political process provides monthly bus passes to those who have completed this training to enable them to do outreach on buses.

In response to a question about how Freedom Riders interfaces with the service providers, Herson-Hord said, “We’re their best friends, but also their worst enemy.”  It is gratifying that DDOT talks with the group and shares information, but the group strives to keep a certain “adversarial” distance. Canvassing in the transit center is a legally protected activity. Freedom Riders trainees engage informally with fellow riders on the bus. Owens mentions that service providers do value the advocacy work that helps the public understand the needs.

Some points made in the ensuing Q&A:

  • Some indication of a more cooperative management attitude toward public transit serving the airport
  • Consideration being given to complementing the proposed 8 daily Detroit-Ann Arbor trains with express bus service
  • August 14 is the deadline for getting the funding measure on the fall ballot
  • Michigan Constitutional limits on sales tax and on local government taxing authority handicap expansion of services
  • Anecdotal evidence of increased ridership with the introduction of FAST buses providing express service along Gratiot, Woodward and Michigan; SMART is starting to actively promote the service [NOTE: The Macomb Daily, on 20 April, reported that the 3 routes have seen overall increases of 20% on weekdays, 15% on Saturdays, 27% on Sundays. Riders are taking over 10,000 additional trips on these corridors every week.]

Discussion Time

Yuri Popov asked that MARP send a letter to the University of Michigan asking for reinstatement of a downtown Detroit stop for the Detroit Connector service between the Ann Arbor campus and the UM Detroit Center in Mid-town. The service has recently been opened to the general public but the lack of a downtown Detroit stop may fail to draw the general public and thus impact revenues adversely.

The meeting adjourned at 11:45 a.m.

Respectfully submitted,

______Kay Chase________________           _____Steve Vagnozzi_______________

Kay Chase, Acting Secretary                                           Steve Vagnozzi, Chair