Annually, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority provides about 6.6 million rides with its fleet of 92 buses. On May 1st of this year, major improvements were made to the system. It's the largest expansion The Ride has seen since 1979. So we decided to send WEMU's Jorge Avellan for a ride on a bus to see what people think about the changes.
It's 11 AM, and I take bus route number 4 at the Ypsilanti Transit Center. I'm joined by Don Kline, integrated marketing coordinator for the The Ride. The front of the bus is empty so we pass through several rows of bright blue seats before making it to the back where a small group of people are sitting. Don sits down while I remain standing to speak to Leandra Shea-Howell from Ypsilanti.
JORGE: "How many times a week do you ride the bus?
LEANDRA: "Every day, Monday through Sunday."
The mother of three tells me she relies on the bus to get to work in Ann Arbor. Leandra has been using the bus service for a decade and was thrilled when The Ride made changes to its system three months ago.
"My route has been shortened, but, like I said, it's a lot more convenient being able to ride every thirty minutes instead of every hour. The route was longer but I feel like there was no point…it's good that they split it into two buses instead of one."
Don, who is sitting not far from Leandra, gives details about the improvements.
"A lot of the route structure with the new names and numbers, that structure was to help people understand how the services are categorized. Whether they are cross town routes, inner city routes, express routes, all of those got numbers and they are grouped together so when you look at the ride guide all of those numbers and the way that they are grouped make sense. And it's easier for riders to comprehend the system and take multiple routes and multiple services within our service area."
As I continue to stand and balance myself in the back of the bus, I turn around to speak to Milton Shaw. A University of Michigan Hospital employee who sometimes works late at night.
"I like that they stretched the routes out longer, extended hours so that helps me a lot. Sometimes I do overtime and instead of catching a cab I can get to downtown Ypsi."
Milton's eyes get wide and he smiles as he continues to speak about the improvements. But he would like The Ride to offer weekly or bi-weekly passes for frequent riders. Right now, a daily and monthly pass are the only options.
"You got some people who can't afford to pay a monthly pass but they can pay for it bi-weekly. They get paid every two weeks. Bam…they take their check, get that bi-weekly as they can. Some people, we have bills."
It's now 11:42 AM. We made it on schedule to the Blake Transit Center. We briefly wait for another bus from route 4 to take us back to Ypsilanti Transit Center. This one is a lot fuller than the first one we took. On the way there, University of Michigan student Michaela Milillo, who lives in Ypsilanti, gets on the bus and sits toward the front. Michaela tells me she would like to see one specific improvement.
"They should probably post more accurate scheduled arrival times, especially during traffic hours because the buses do tend to fall behind during that and there is a repeated pattern of that. So I feel it would definitely be beneficial."
After talking to her, I walk over and sit next to Don who's near the back exit of the bus. I pass on the recommendation that Michaela made. He immediately tells me about a new software update The Ride has.
"With this new infrastructure, we are able to provide a Track My Bus tool that's very reliable. It uses predictive technology to actually tell you where your bus is and when it will arrive. There's also a text my stop feature that once riders learn their bus stop number, and they can do that through this Track My Bus tool, you can text AAATA and the bus stop number to a number, and it will tell you the next arrival stop. So it's another convenient way to find out where your bus is."
These were just a couple of bus rides out of the many riders take on a daily basis, but these were the situations I encountered. And if you're wondering if our bus back to the Ypsilanti Transit Center made it on time, we got there a minute early.
— Jorge Avellan is the Ann Arbor beat reporter and anchor for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him firstname.lastname@example.org