By 2009, the ability to hop a bus to Ypsilanti may be a thing of the past. Facing a crippling $1.6-million budget deficit, the city is working on a plan to cut its funding for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Two lines are at risk of immediate termination, and all lines between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti could be discontinued in the next three years. These cuts would adversely affect poorer residents of Washtenaw County, for whom driving isn’t always an option. Other cities in Washtenaw County use and benefit from the AATA system. If Ypsilanti can’t find a way to maintain its contribution, other communities should help meet the funding gap to keep the buses running.
Currently, Ypsilanti pays about $170,500 per year to the bus system to help cover the costs of the seven routes operating between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Next year, the city plans to halve its annual payment, which would result in the elimination of two routes this year. By 2009, all routes to Ypsilanti could be dropped.
The loss of these routes will leave a noticeable mark on the county as a whole. It will decrease access to other cities within the county and especially hurt commuters who live in Ypsilanti and work in Ann Arbor. As housing costs continue to rise, affordable housing in Ann Arbor has become increasingly scarce. For many, Ypsilanti has become an accessible and practical alternative. Thanks to bus services, workers and students who spend their days in Ann Arbor have been able to commute and keep down their costs of living. This is not just Ypsilanti’s problem – the bus system benefits all of Washtenaw County and its residents, and the loss of these routes will hurt the entire area.
Excepting the few brave bikers, power-walkers or cross-country skiers, driving between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti may be the only remaining option for commuters three years from now. In addition to further exacerbating Ann Arbor’s traffic and parking problems, this cut would disproportionately harm poorer residents of Washtenaw County, especially Ypsilanti residents.
When Ann Arbor’s old YMCA closed down, its low-income residents were relocated to Ypsilanti, and they depend on buses to commute to work in Ann Arbor. Many of those who rely on buses do not even have the option of taking their chances with parking; the buses are vital for the livelihood of many of this county’s residents.
In theory, rates might be raised to increase revenue and keep the buses running. However, this is not a desirable option in this situation because increased rates could affect poorer residents and decrease ridership overall. Instead, other cites in the county should help finance the bus system and keep it from crumbling. A reliable and affordable bus system provides a needed link within Washtenaw County and makes Ann Arbor more accessible. Although just miles down the road, in three years’ time, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor could be two entirely separate, traffic-congested worlds. Regional cooperation is vital on this issue; all cities benefit from the buses, and they should all help maintain the system.