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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Good News in Ann Arbor!

Beginning Sunday, all University of Michigan students, faculty and staff will have unlimited free rides on Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) buses. As a staff member, I have had the option (which I chose) of getting a free bus pass instead of buying a parking pass. But the University always made it an all-or-nothing deal--to get the free bus pass you had to give up the parking pass. This kept most people from even trying the bus. Under the new setup, anyone with a University ID can ride any AATA bus at any time, parking pass or not.

For as long as I can remember, and I grew up here, the University has operated its own campus bus system. The system connects the main and north campuses, as well as providing service to commuter parking lots and some far-flung housing areas. The buses run often, and they've always been free to everyone (my friends and I used to ride them downtown when we were kids). But while the U buses run close to where I work, they don't go anywhere near where I live. So they're really only of use to me when I need to go directly from work to downtown.

Hopefully, the new agreement between the University and AATA will greatly increase the ridership on the AATA buses. I don't expect too many more where I work, where the parking passes are relatively cheap and spaces easy to find. But main campus workers have to pay a lot for their parking passes, and still have to hunt and scramble for spaces. Many of them may opt for the bus now. And hopefully lots of students will find that keeping a car on campus isn't worth the cost and hassle when they can get anywhere in town for free on the bus. If this works out, increased ridership may lead to the buses running more frequently. Most routes run every half hour on weekdays and every hour nights and weekends now. That's way too long to wait if you don't know the bus schedule and just show up at a stop, especially in bad weather.

I was impressed last year when I went to Lansing-East Lansing last year for an anti-war march. Michigan State University's bus system merged with the Capitol Area Transportation Authority years ago, and the main lines in the merged system were running every ten minutes--on Saturday! That's the type of schedule which can convince people that riding the bus is an improvement over the hassle and expense of driving and parking. Hopefully this UM-AATA agreement will have a similar effect here.

Support mass transit--ride the bus!