Minutes – November 17, 2007 – Howell



General Membership Meeting

Howell Carnegie District Library, Howell

November 17, 2007


Those Signing In:  Hugh Gurney, Kay Chase, Bob Tischbein, Dick Pekarek, Don Montieth, John Delora, Reynolds Farley, Clark Charnetski, Kaz Fujita, John Langdon, Dwight Phillips, Jim Hinkins, Jim Wallington, Andrew Kent, Richard Vavra-Musser, Mike Whims

Also Present:  Gordon MacKay, Indian Trails, Mary Ann Peters, Denise Tyler

1) Call to Order:  Chairman Delora called the meeting to order at 10:10 a.m.  He thanked Hugh Gurney for making arrangements for the meeting.

2) Indian Trails:  John Delora welcomed Gordon MacKay, President of Indian Trails, Michigan’s oldest motor coach company and an early collaborator with Amtrak.  MacKay passed out a map of the communities currently served by Indian Trails, which began serving Shiawassee County in 1910.  MacKay stated that he was a proponent of mass transportation, including Amtrak.  His issue with Amtrak has been that he thought the way subsidies were handled with Amtrak and the motor coach industry were disproportionate.  However, he does feel that we need to work together for the future of mass transportation.

When asked by Delora about connections between Indian Trails and Amtrak, MacKay explained that he first must work with Greyhound, which controls many of the terminals.  Approximately 50% of Indian Trails passengers connect with Greyhound, so it is critical that he work with Greyhound.  For example, MacKay would prefer a common hub in Chicago between the various bus companies and Amtrak, but Greyhound holds the key.  Flint is another problem area, as Greyhound refuses to hold one of their busses for a connecting Indian Trails coach that is running late.  However, Amtrak connections are important, as approximately 1,200 passengers monthly connect between Indian Trails and Amtrak.

MacKay expressed his desire for a nationwide transportation vision for mass transit, an intermodal vision that includes both train and motor coach.

At Clark Charnetski’s suggestion, MacKay agreed to look at trying to make a connection in Milwaukee between Indian Trail’s Upper Peninsula service and Amtrak’s Hiawatha service.

In response to another question, MacKay expressed concern that Megabus could take traffic away from Greyhound on the Detroit-Chicago route, forcing Greyhound to cut back or drop service.  MacKay pointed out that between Battle Creek and Chicago, there are nine bus and train frequencies, more than the market requires.  At a minimum, these frequencies need to operate at more desirable intervals.  MacKay suggested only bus service between Battle Creek, Lansing and Flint.

More discussion about connections ensued, particularly at Milwaukee, Kalamazoo, Detroit, and with Indian Trails new U.S. 127 service.   As to the Amtrak Thruway connection to Toledo, MacKay stated that Indian Trails had bid on the route, but lost out to MetroCoach.  Pekarek noted that 25%-30% of passengers boarding at Flint come from further north in the state.  When the issue of the California transportation system came up, where so many busses connect with trains, MacKay responded that MDOT would have to be involved.  Langdon stated that it would help if the motor coach people at MDOT and the passenger rail people were better connected.  He urged attendance at the upcoming Legislative Commission on Tourism meeting at Crystal Mountain on November 30.  Transportation coordination is a major concern of this committee.

MacKay concluded by saying he would welcome a working meeting with members of MARP to discuss specific proposals.

3) Milford Transit Issues: Mary Ann Peters and Denise Tyler from Milford discussed the total lack of any public transportation at all from Milford to other points in the Detroit Metropolitan area.  At the suggestion of the Michigan Municipal League, they brought this issue to MARP.  Whims and Gurney responded that MARP is working to implement commuter rail service in the Detroit metro area.  Milford is on a CSX line that could be utilized, although bus service might be the first step.

4) Minutes of the October 13 and July 14 meetings and the September 8 Annual Meeting were reviewed and approved.

5) Treasurer’s Report:  Dave Randall reported that, as of October 31, 2007, there was $3,977.74 in the checking account and the Pratt Fund was valued at $16,192.30.  The Treasurer’s Report was approved.  In response to questions about reformatting The Michigan Passenger to save on postage, Randall responded that smaller format would cost less in postage but far more in printing costs.

6) Chairman’s Report:  Chairman Delora reported that Michigan Central and Amtrak had reached agreement on the transfer of the NorfolkSouthern Ypsilanti-Kalamazoo to Michigan Central.  Amtrak does not insist on its dispatching trains on this route.  Michigan Central will dispatch from Kalamazoo. The letter of credit which Amtrak can draw on for repairs on the line is smaller than first discussed, only around $3 million a year for four years.  However, there seems to be some concern among FRA personnel and STB has postponed its final ruling until December.

7) Chapter Reports:

     Metro Detroit:  Whims reported that passengers can now purchase Amtrak tickets at a Quicktrak machine in Royal Oak.  However, the machine is not at the station and not currently listed on Amtrak’s Royal Oak page.  More coordination is needed.  With Royal Oak under discussion,  Charnetski brought up the lack of wheelchair lifts at either Royal Oak or Birmingham and urged that they be installed.  Langdon confirmed that wheelchair lifts are currently in place at Grand Rapids, Holland and Bangor, all unmanned stations. 

     Western:  Someone at Amtrak is listening, according to Langdon, because the Pere Marquette was running with up to five coaches during the Thanksgiving holiday period.   There is still some confusion over the state appropriation and what it can be used for.  For example, where does the Blue Water promotion grant come from.   As a partial response to Langdon, Delora responded that railway coaches can be repaired/rehabbed for around $100,000 each and would pay for themselves in four months.

     East-Central: Wallington discussed the miserable on time performance of the Blue Water, due partly to dispatching practices.   Pekarek urged that Blue Water problems be highlighted at each quarterly meeting with MDOT and Amtrak.  A lot of the problem is the attitude of the old Grand Trunk people, not CN headquarters in Montreal.  Charnetski confirmed Wallington’s view that some of the problems originate with the dispatcher in Battle Creek.

     Northern: Kent bemoaned Amtrak on time performance problems during a recent trip to the West.  He then confirmed that the October opening of the Standish depot as a Sunrise Side Welcome Center was a howling success.  Thousands came out to see the passenger train pulled by Engine #1225 and stacks of Michigan Passenger newsletters were distributed.  Several small city tours with the Algonquoin dome car are now planned such as Bay City-Grayling and Standish-Grayling.  Monteith added that there may be three Northern Arrow trips to Northwest Lower Michigan in 2008.  He is suggesting an outing to Beaver Island and a visit to a castle in Charlevoix as part of these excursions.  Monteith also informed the group of a meeting in Traverse City with a turnout of 600 people to discuss a Vision for 2025 that included light rail and commuter rail.  This study was done by the same people who did the study in New Mexico that got commuter rail going there.  Monteith reported that he had contacted all the Thruway bus stations/stops to obtain correct phone numbers and learn where the bus actually stops.

8) Executive Director’s Report: Whims reported on upcoming meeting dates:

            January 12, 2008          Lansing

            February 23, 2008       Durand

            March ?                       Toledo (with NARP)

            April 19, 2008              Standish

            May 10, 2008              Holland

            June ?                           Owosso

            July 12, 2008               Lapeer

            August 16, 2008           St. Joseph

The issue of Directors and Officers Liability Insurance then came to the floor, as Delora discussed how NARP was reducing the size of its Board to 14-15 to reduce the cost of

D & O insurance.  Whims agreed to contact the Michigan League of Non-Profits for advice on whether MARP would need such insurance, even though it has no paid employees.  Randall also agreed to look into the issue.  Delora would like quotes for coverage both with and without employees.

The Michigan legislature has asked MDOT for a study of the feasibility of more equipment and a second frequency on the Pere Marquette line.  MDOT is asking Amtrak for cost estimates.

The state appropriation for 2007-2008 contains a number of interesting directives.  There is no cap based on revenue collected this year as there was in 2006-2007.  MDOT is directed to work with intercity motor coach carriers.  The Birmingham-Troy Intermodal Center is endorsed.  MDOT is asked to report on the costs up upgrading the state owned line from Ann Arbor to Northwest Lower Michigan to support speeds of 59 mph.

9) Committee Reports:

     Newsletter:  Whims reported that galley proofs of the nest issue are complete and the paper will be out soon.

     Outreach: A discussion about the value of certain exhibit venues took place as Langdon passed out an updated schedule.  The general sentiment of the group was that, when those staffing the table are proactive, the shows build both awareness of MARP and new memberships, usually 2-3 per show.  Vavra-Musser recommended that we develop a way to identify the show that a new membership came from.  Delora expressed his view that the best source of new memberships is on the train solicitation.  Kent concurred.

Delora reported that his Power Point presentation at the Michigan Railroad History Conference was very well received.  He will be giving the same presentation to the Legislative Transit Caucus in the near future.  He plans to line up more opportunities to present it by contacting libraries in the area.  There was discussion of recording the entire presentation and putting it on a DVD so it can be shown widely by many MARP members.

     Route Enhancement:  There was an extended discussion of issues related to the Vision Statement, including the proposed schedule for a second Pere Marquette.  An early morning departure from Chicago would bring more people from Chicago, but a later morning departure would connect with more Amtrak trains and boost ridership numbers.  Whims recommended that we ask MDOT to study the most feasible schedule.  Delora indicated a study of all Michigan schedules might be in order..

Wallington urged that the second Pere Marquette connect with Indian Trails busses going north.  He also felt it is time that MDOT revisit its policy of not subsidizing motor coach operations south of Saginaw-Flint.  MacKay indicated he would like to see more intermodal ticket sales.  Pekarek recommended that any new bus or train frequencies from Saginaw connect with the Blue Water. Langdon reminded all that the proposed Michigan Vision Statement mirrors the NARP’s National Vision Statement.

Whims moved to approve the Vision Statement.  Vavra-Musser seconded and the motion was approved.

10) New Business:

      Phone Banking:  Unfortunately, Andrew Bremer from All Aboard Ohio could not be present to discuss this issue in detail.  As Delora explained, both NARP and All Aboard Ohio have used this tactic with success when critical issues come up.  Recorded phone messages go to members, not only informing them of a critical issue, but automatically connecting with that member’s legislators.  The system doesn’t create massive calls to legislators, but enough to bring an issue to a legislator’s attention.  Langdon moved that we explore the feasibility of phone banking.  Randall responded that a similar resolution had been approved at an earlier meeting, but never implemented.  Vavra-Musser recommended that we look at a complete package, including what should go in our membership renewal letter that would further our ability to implement a phone alert system efficiently.   It was agreed that no motion was necessary at this time and that Delora would try to have Bremer make a presentation in the near future.

     Executive Committee Organization:  Montieth informed the group that Rich Vavra-Musser has agreed to serve as the proposed Membership Coordinator and Kay Chase has indicated her willingness to serve as Communications Coordinator.  The Government Affairs Coordinator and the Meeting/Speaker Coordinator have yet to be selected.  Montieth would have the newly selected Coordinators write their own position descriptions.  Whims expressed concern about a conflict between the Government Affairs Coordinator and the Communications Coordinator.  Langdon responded that he sees the Government Affairs Coordinator doing one on one meetings while the Communications Coordinator works at getting our general message out the the general public.  Delora said he saw the Government Affairs Coordinator as working closely with the Chair and Executive Director on issues.  Randall recommended that the Government Relations Coordinator be redesignated as Public Affairs Coordinator in light of our non-profit status.  Montieth agreed to send a revised proposal out for review at the next meeting.

      Station Surveys:  Delora would like to update station surveys done in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  These surveys included data on every Amtrak station including parking,  rest rooms, platform height.   At McKay’s suggestion, it was agreed include Indian Trails bus stations and intercity public transportation facilities.  Langdon suggested that lighting standards also be included.  At Delora’s request, Gurney agreed to develop a questionnaire form to be completed by volunteers under the direction of one of the Coordinators.  Delora will provide Gurney with copies of sample past surveys as a guide to developing the new form.  When he has come up with a draft, Gurney will share with other members of the Executive Committee for input.

11) Other Business: 

      MacKay reported that Indian Trails would need more formal stations to effectively implement a package express service.  The Michigan Flyer just celebrated its first anniversary and carries 185-200 passengers a day.  The newly implemented Ann Arbor service, is still weak.  Detroit Metro Airport has not been cooperative as they think Indian Trails is competing with their approved limousine service on the Ann Arbor segment.  The American Bus Association had to intervene to gain access.  Detroit Metro has removed signs indicating Indian Trails pickup points.  This is something legislators need to look at.  MacKay also confirmed that Indian Trails is operating the bus service on the Western Michigan campus.

Fujita reported that some remodeling is planned at the East Lansing station connected with improved security.  Langdon indicated that staffing of the Grand Rapids station is under study in light of the possibility of a second daily train.  Grand Rapids has the second largest load for a single train in the state.

Monteith informed the group that Michigan Technological University in Houghton has a course of study in railroad engineering.

Wallington expressed concern that public transit took a hit in the latest state budget.  Most transit systems won millage renewals in the November election, but renewal of the millage for CATA was defeated.

12) Adjournment:  At 1:14 p.m., Chase moved adjournment.   Seconded by Whims

Respectfully submitted,

Hugh D. Gurney, Secretary


John Delora, Chair