These days, bus shelters do more than just keep raindrops from falling on your head. With the use of such solar power and high-tech amenities as real-time passenger information displays, bus shelters are helping attract new riders for transit authorities.
Shelter design once followed the cookie-cutter philosophy of uniformity. Now, transit agencies are craving shelter designs that are more distinctive to give their system a characteristic look.
“The most popular shelter design for years was the bubble-skylight roof, which shed the rain and snow and was translucent so it let in filtered light from above,” says Arthur Cohen, president of Columbia Equipment Inc. in Jamaica, N.Y. “People are getting away from that [design]. Now they are looking for something different.”
Architectural styles have played a major role in influencing the overall look of bus shelters. “We found that our customers are looking for traditional architectural styles — Victorian or post-modern,” says Cohen.
Transit authorities are not only focused on the design aspect of the shelter from an aesthetic point of view, but also its ability to promote a certain image. “[Cities] want to do something that you’ll remember that gives a positive image of the city,” Cohen says. “I find that to be a major trend today.”
Adding to this proliferation of new bus shelter styles is the emergence of downtown improvement projects. “For these streetscape projects, the downtown areas are being spruced up to attract people back, away from the shopping malls,” Cohen says. “They want the shelters to blend in with the lamppost, planters and the tree grates.”
Shelter manufacturers adapted to these improved styles by using shelters with barrel-vault, gabled and hipped roofs. Ornate scrollwork and grillwork are other embellishments being used to fit within these newer style parameters.
Shelters that blend in with existing architectural styles have also become popular. To match the architectural style influences in Miramar, Fla., Columbia Equipment used real Spanish tiles on a hipped roof (where the slope of the roof is pitched like an inverted letter-V), with beige aluminum members and terra cotta colored scrollwork.
The use of cantilevered roofs, tempered glass walls and glass corners in place of columns have also figured prominently in designs wanting to achieve a futuristic and modern look.
Responding to this new stylistic approach, Enseicom Inc. in Quebec engineered a two-post cantilevered shelter that is supported by two columns and enclosed by tempered glass panels, creating the look of an all-glass shelter, says John Klisouras, Enseicom’s manager of new business development.
Despite these new styles in shelter design, transit authorities still place price far ahead of all other considerations when shopping for a shelter. “It always comes down to cost,” says Kevin Chown, sales manager for Brasco International Inc. in Detroit. “[Agencies] would rather put up more shelters for less money than fewer that are more costly.” Costs for a basic shelter can range from $3,000 to $3,500, while a more elaborate shelter with all the bells and whistles can cost $10,000 or more.
To defray the costs of bus shelters, some transit authorities are putting up advertising shelters. Chown says this approach will continue to grow. “It allows transit agencies that don’t have the capital costs for a shelter program to install them for free,” he says.
Materials used in shelter construction have also changed. More shelters are being built with aluminum for its versatility, resistance to rust and ability to be extruded. The extrusion process is used to create fancier grillwork and seamless designs.
Surfaces of shelters have also changed. With more and more manufacturers moving away from the anodized surfaces that limit shelter colors to bronze, silver and black, to a powder-coat paint process that allows for custom colors, says Chown.
The powder-coat paint process involves painting a metal surface that was given an electrostatic charge and baked in a 450-degree oven. Less porous than conventional liquid paint, powder-coat painting results in a durable, more abrasion-resistant finish.
The use of color schemes in bus shelters is a high consideration for transit agencies that want to create a distinctive look consistent with the transit system image. “Transit agencies usually have a color scheme they want to match,” Chown says. “Charlotte, N.C., has a deep blue, so of course they want their shelters to match that blue.”
Durability of the product is also important to transit agencies to help them fight the war against vandalism. Shelter manufacturers are using less glass or poly-carbonate plastics, like Lexan, in lieu of perforated steel or aluminum panels to help deter vandalism.
“It’s just not as much fun to paint on or work with because the [graffiti] doesn’t show up as well on the [perforated] surface,” says Jackie Branham, vice president of sales and marketing for shelter manufacturer Lacor Streetscape. “[Transit agencies] are finding that glass or plastic can be scratched or broken, which is very costly to repair,” Branham says of the switch to the more vandal-resistant designs.
If synthetic glass or plastic panel materials are used instead of a perforated metal panel, some manufacturers offer a deeper window frame construction to prevent damage. “We developed a deeper window frame so the material being used is less apt to be popped out of the window,” says Columbia’s Cohen.
Powered by the sun
Although not a new trend, solar power is quickly becoming a regular specification for shelters. Advances in solar panel technology and lower costs associated with the systems have helped bring the use of renewable energy to the forefront. “We’ve done approximately 300 shelters with solar lighting,” says Brasco’s Chown. “That’s been driven by the advances in solar technology.”
Patrick Merrick, sales manager for Tolar Manufacturing Co. in Corona, Calif., says he has seen an increasing amount of requests from agencies to use renewable energy systems. “Customers are also asking for more pronounced placement of solar panels to make a public statement that agencies are using renewable energy,” he says.
Solar powered systems consist of a solar panel and a charged controller that charges batteries, which operate the lights. Costs for a basic solar kit range from $1,200 to $1,500.
Normally, solar panels are roof-mounted, or designed in such a way that they are incorporated into the shelter design, says Matt Hollister, account manager for Solar Outdoor Lighting Inc. in Palm City, Fla. Pole-mounted systems are better if the location of the shelter does not allow solar panels to face 45-degrees due south.
Traditionally, grid power is used to illuminate shelters. But connecting power to shelters has become more challenging, especially in states where power is in great demand, like California, says Hollister. “Just dropping a meter alone can be $2,000 to $2,500,” he says.
Brasco’s Chown agrees that solar power is a more desirable option when compared to the costs associated with grid power, especially when the location of a shelter is an issue. “A shelter may be located 1,000 feet away from power, so you’d never be able to justify the cost of trenching and bringing power to that location,” he says.
Stand-alone systems like Solar Outdoors’ solar kit do not require trenching or wiring. “There is very little that the end-user has to do,” Hollister says.
Despite the popular belief that solar powered systems can only work in the southernmost states, this technology has been proven to work in all parts of the country, says Hollister. “You have to change the way you engineer the system to accommodate for the northern climates.”
In addition to using renewable energy, bus shelters are also jumping on the high-tech bandwagon with the use of real-time information displays. Bus shelter manufacturers are seeing more specifications that include wiring for the future installation of real-time information displays.
“Our shelters are designed to allow for the future or current installation of those information displays,” says Tolar’s Merrick.
This new high-tech passenger amenity will go a long way toward eliminating the fear people have of using the transit system, says NextBus Founder and CEO Ken Schmier. “NextBus gets rid of virtually all that insecurity, making it a lot more popular.”
The NextBus system displays actual updated vehicle arrival information at regular intervals using satellite technology and advanced computer modeling to track vehicles on their routes.
Currently, 25 cities within the United States are being served by the NextBus system. “The provision of NextBus information is so important,” Schmier says. “Every transit agency everywhere will implement it in the next five years.”
A sample of the NextBus system cost is estimated at $530,000 for a five-year contract comprising a 50-bus system, 10 signs, five routes and 200 stops, with maintenance included. If transit authorities have an automatic vehicle locator system already in place, the cost of using the NextBus system would be roughly half of the cost listed in the sample.
DART First State, operated by the Delaware Transit Corp., reported a 13.5% increase in ridership on its Beach Bus service when it used the NextBus system over a four-month period in 2001. Raymond Miller, executive director for Delaware Transit, says use of the NextBus passenger information system contributed to that increase.
Daytech Manufacturing Inc., with its Smart Shelter technology, is also bringing bus shelters into the 21st century. “The features in our Smart Shelter address the safety and security of the people in the shelters as well as ... telling them in minutes and seconds when the approaching bus will arrive,” says Daytech President Pat Amlinger.
In addition to its real-time information features, Daytech’s Smart Shelter also offers an occupancy flashing beacon to alert approaching buses to passengers occupying the shelter. Video surveillance cameras for inside and outside the shelter, emergency buttons and one- and two-way voice communication with a monitoring station are other available options.
Attracting new riders
While some transit agencies are replacing older shelters with more updated designs offering more amenities, others installing shelters for the first time are also seeing an increase in ridership numbers. Annapolis (Md.) Transit, with ridership numbers for 2002 reaching 1.2 million, is one agency that attributes increases in passengers to the installation of bus shelters.
Danielle Matland, transportation director of Annapolis Transit, anticipated a decrease in ridership for the past year due to the economic downturn, but was surprised to find an estimated 8% increase instead. “We came to the conclusion that the bus shelters, aside from providing an amenity to existing riders, make it much more obvious to other people where the bus service is located,” Matland says. “The shelter promotes the system.”