Management & Operations

Finding a Bus Shelter that Fits Your Needs

Posted on September 13, 2006 by Alex Roman, Associate Editor

As agencies search for new ways to grow ridership, transit shelters have become more than just a place where passengers wait for the bus -- they have become a necessary amenity.

In their push to attract riders, agencies are seeking transit shelters with designs that give them a more modern look that matches their geographical location, will help protect riders from the elements and give customers a sense of security.

“There are tons of surveys that show that individuals who are hesitant to ride mass transit will maybe gravitate toward it if there are amenities and passenger information at the location,” says Patrick Merrick, sales manager for Tolar Manufacturing Co. in Corona, Calif.

Leaving the uniform behind, these new shelter designs feature Victorian, Colonial and post-modern architecture, or can be built site-specific to fit into an area’s renovation project.

“I think a big trend right now is that cities are really building up their downtown areas,” says Arthur Cohen, president of Columbia Equipment Inc. in Jamaica, N.Y. “They want to make it look like 50 or 100 years ago to give it a little style and differentiate it from the modern shopping centers, which have no style whatsoever.”

Along with the new leaps in architecture have come various styles of roofs that go beyond the classic flat, box-like, modular roofs of yore. Today, manufacturers create bubble skylights; vaulted, hipped, gabled and cantilevered roofs; or can customize a roof that fits the area’s existing architecture.

In addition, many transit agencies are moving toward solar lighting because they see it as a way to demonstrate that they are interested in using alternative forms of energy.

“Many agencies are also using [solar power] in their shelters or advertising kiosks because it is also much cheaper,” says Merrick. “We’ve made tremendous improvements in solar lighting over the past couple of years.”

The use of solar lighting can save an agency plenty of money in installation alone, since the cost to simply put a electrical meter at a site could run between $2,000 and $2,500, not to mention the often arduous task of securing permits and getting permission from the proper bureaucratic authorities.

Materials and resistance
Like the architectural style changes, the materials that shelters are now built from have changed to fit the concerns of today’s transit agencies, such as protection from vandals and reduction in time spent on maintaining the shelter.

For instance, many shelters are now built with aluminum, which is as strong as steel, but half the weight. It is also more versatile and can be easily extruded so that shelter architects can include custom grillwork and built-in grooves, fins and recesses with fewer seams, fasteners and places that it can leak.

Aluminum can be finished with powder-coat paint to create a more durable, abrasion-resistant finish in a color that fits the distinctive image of a transit agency. It can also be anodized — an electrolytic chemical finish that helps to prevent oxidation, abrasions and fading.

“Aluminum allows you to make a shelter with the least number of parts, and you can mechanically fasten them so that they are easy to repair,” Cohen says.

Window options include acrylic, polycarbonate plastic, mar-resistant polycarbonate, high-impact tempered glass or laminated shatter-resistant glass.

Windows are important to bus shelters because they enable a passenger to see if a bus is on its way and allow bus operators to see if somebody is waiting for a ride.

The problem with many of these windows is that they are scratchable, breakable and susceptible to damage caused by vandals or the sun. They are also costly to repair and replace.

To combat this problem, as well as graffiti, many agencies are moving away from glass to perforated steel and aluminum panels that give vandals less of a target to attack.

“Many think that it will solve their vandalism problems, but it doesn’t completely,” says Cohen. “Also, in cold climates, the wind goes right through because there are holes; it’s not a solid material.”

Design-build process
With all of the changes that transit shelters are going through, the most important change has been the ability of agencies and local officials to be part of the manufacturers’ design-build process.

“Sometimes we’re asked to meet with the agency and the community to work with them under a design-build process and develop a product that specifically fits that community’s needs,” says Jeff Sherman, president of Lacor/Streetscape in Phoenix.

Sherman adds that during the design-build process, he will go to a town and ride its transit system, talk to users and hang out at transit centers to ask customers what they want in a transit shelter.

Sherman will also take part in public informational meetings and meet with city planners and leaders to come up with an original and unique design for the area.

“We often find that the users’ needs are very congruent with what the agency’s needs are, because when it comes down to it, they essentially all want the same thing,” Sherman says.

Mountain Line Transit in Flagstaff, Ariz., is an agency just entering its fifth year of operation. It recently contracted Lacor to design and build 18 to 20 shelters a year along its bus routes.

“It’s a product that came mainly from our ridership, who decided what they wanted in a shelter, then gave us that feedback,” says Mike Kelly, transit operations manager for Mountain Line.

Prior to Lacor coming in on the project, Kelly explains that the agency was picking up transit shelters “here and there” through purchases and donations. The agency then received feedback from citizens that it could possibly be beneficial to get more local input on the type of shelter the city needed.

After Lacor offered up its own designconcept, it met with the transit staff and other officials until the design evolved into something unique.

“We thought it’d be over in a couple of months,” says Kelly. “But, because our ridership, drivers, staff and the city of Flagstaff all had a large interest in how the shelters should look, the process took almost a year.”

Flagstaff experiences cold and snow in the winter, wind in the spring and heat and monsoon conditions in the summer, so it was important to create a shelter that could protect passengers from all of those elements.

With prevailing southwest winds also a factor, Lacor designed a standard footprint for a shelter that had four different glass panel configurations, that, depending on which side of the street the shelter was located, would ideally deflect the southwest winds.

The shelters also feature a standing seam roof that has a feel for the local architecture and are ADA accessible, which Kelly says is not only required by law but is also a necessity for a growing part of Mountain Line’s ridership.

The project, though, had one more unique challenge to address.

“We have limited street lighting due to the fact that we have several observatories here within Coconino County, specifically within the Flagstaff vicinity,” says Kelly. “Because of that, we have an ordinance here that has real specific guidelines on lighting — the less the better.”

To address these problems, Lacor designed a clear glass shelter with solar lighting so that Mountain Line bus drivers could see passengers during extreme weather or low-light situations.

With a total of $200,000 a year to spend on shelter construction, Mountain Line feels that even though it is paying a bit more because of the design-build process, the investment is well worth it.

“Total site development, which includes construction costs, shelter delivery and installation, totals around $15,000 a shelter,” says Kelly. “That’s about $4,000 more per shelter than we were paying to buy something off the shelf, but the end value is the total acceptance of the community and the increase in riders by choice.”

Customizing off the shelf
Another way transit agencies can purchase shelters is by creating specifications and a list of features they are interested in before soliciting bids from shelter manufacturers.

“We had looked at a number of different designs and concepts before settling on one,” says Priscilla Ingle, vice president of public affairs for VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio. “We then asked for bids based on the concept we liked and eventually chose Tolar.”

VIA, which has contracted Tolar to install an additional 700 shelters over a three-year period, knew that it had to protect its passengers from San Antonio’s weather elements, since the agency noticed that ridership declined drastically on rainy days.

“The reason that we believe that happens is because people don’t want to get wet while they’re waiting for the bus,” says Ingle. “So we knew it was important for us to have a passenger amenity that would protect passengers from inclement weather and be a comfortable place for them to stand or sit and wait for the bus.”

Tolar’s end result for VIA is a dark green steel and aluminum transit shelter with wind breaks, built-in ADA-accessible seating and a slightly arched roof with solar- powered lighting.

“We’re pleased with the product,” Ingle says. “It’s working well for us and our passengers seem to be pleased, as well.”

Revenue generators
Metropolitan Tulsa (Okla.) Transit Authority (MTTA) chose a similar Tolar shelter to VIA’s, but uses advertising as a way to generate revenue for the system.

“Between our shelters, bus benches and advertising on the buses themselves, we are making in the range of $350,000 to $400,000 a year in revenue,” says Bill Cartwright, MTTA’s general manager. “For a system our size, that’s pretty substantial.

The advertising displays use solar lighting, which Cartwright says also serves as a safety feature for passengers waiting for the bus between dawn and dusk.

Currently, Tulsa is in the process of installing 15 Tolar shelters and will purchase an additional 40 next year. The agency feels that along with the advertising revenue shelters generate, they also provide free advertising for its system.

“In the Midwest, where the size of the transit systems isn’t quite as large as on the east or west coasts, it’s important to get your name out there,” Cartwright says about the shelters. “Any assets you can get out on the street really help that cause, because when people drive by those signs, shelters and benches, it reminds them that we have a transit system that they should consider.” Shelter manufacturers at a glance

Brasco International Inc. (800) 893-3665 Columbia Equipment Co. (800) 742-1297 Daytech Limited (877) 329-1907 Enseicom Inc. (800) 663-0673 Lacor/Streetscape (888) 371-3110 Tolar Manufacturing Co. Inc. (800) 339-6165

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