It’s hot or it’s raining and you’re waiting for a bus. The stop is on a barren sidewalk devoid of shade or any protection from the elements. You decide to whip out your phone to tweet @metrolosangeles and ask why exactly is there no bus shelter at your present location, which also happens to have been a bus stop for many, many, many years.
As much as we commiserate with you — I have been there, huddling under my UV blocking umbrella — the thing is, with few exceptions Metro doesn’t actually install bus stop shelters. The location of bus stops are selected exclusively by transit agencies while the placement of a bus shelter is decided by each municipality.
This division of labor, for lack of a better term, has been in place since the early 1980s because cities own the public right-of-ways and usually prefer to generate some local revenue through ads on bus benches or shelters. Each city has their own set of criteria to decide on the location and quantity of bus shelters, and that criteria might include number of boardings, requests from the community or elected officials, high corridor traffic volumes resulting in ability to sell advertising and/or special street enhancements projects.
Let’s look at the city of Los Angeles, which by far is the most populous and largest city that Metro serves. In L.A., the Bureau of Street Services (Streets LA) is responsible for overseeing and managing the L.A. bus shelter program with Outfront/Decaux, the advertising street furniture firm chosen by the L.A. to install outdoor advertising and bus shelters (the shelters are paid for with ad revenues). Outfront/Decaux also manages bus shelters in West Hollywood, Long Beach, Pasadena, Burbank, South Gate, Torrance, Alhambra, Lomita and Inglewood, to name a few.
When it comes to identifying future bus shelter locations, Outfront/Decaux looks at Metro’s ridership data, as well as traffic data from L.A. and the Bureau of Street Services. Outfront/Decaux’s goal is to ensure that bus shelters are placed citywide in all 15 City Council Districts, with geographic equity in mind.
Here’s the process that Outfront/Decaux must go through before a bus shelter can be installed:
Before proceeding with the permit process, Outfront/Decaux staff must first survey the site to check for ADA compliance, nearby utilities (vaults, utility boxes, fire hydrants, news racks, etc.), manholes, trees and/or other sidewalk elements. The minimum sidewalk width required to properly accommodate a bus shelter is eight feet. Less space is required for a bus bench.
Once the location is determined suitable for a shelter, a total of eight city departments and the local City Council office need to sign off on a permit. These include: the City Council office, Bureau of Street Services, Bureau of Engineering, the city’s Planning Department, LAPD, LA Department of Transportation, Bureau of Street Lighting, LA Department of Water and Power, and Contract Administration. Occasionally, a public hearing is required. This process is only for the city of L.A.: other cities may do it differently with less complexity. The process was designed to be at the discretion of each council office to allow council offices to hear from their constituents.
Once approved, actual bus shelter installation takes roughly two hours.
There are currently about 1,870 bus shelters throughout Los Angeles — click HERE to view an interactive map showing their locations. There are 17 different bus shelter designs. Because the process to install bus shelters is an arduous one, L.A. is also currently in the process of adding shade to 750 bus stops, using trees, shade sails or umbrellas. In addition, the city has recently hired its first forestry officer and announced a goal of planting 90,000 shade trees by 2021.
As part of the Metro Rapid Program, Metro received two federal grants to design and construct signal priority and stations along the Metro Rapid bus corridors. All Rapid stops were eligible and planned to have shelters, however, this involved working with the many individual jurisdictions as they own and manage the public right-of-way. Metro staff reached out to all cities with Metro Rapid corridors to try to get shelters at each Rapid stop within their jurisdiction. The cities that agreed to the installation of Rapid shelters also agreed to maintain them, while Metro maintains the actual poles/signs.
As a result, Metro funded the installation of shelters and amenities at approximately 102 locations. The design was developed in-house and are similar to the shelters installed along Slauson Avenue along Metro’s right-of-way.
Many cities also install their own shelters/have their own shelter designs. In a few cities that use unique shelters, Metro helped fund them with the grants as long as they agreed to the Rapid branding with at least the distinct Metro Rapid pylon/sign (approximately another 11 shelters). The grants are also funding Rapid shelters for Culver CityBus and Torrance Transit who also operate Rapid service. This will add approximately 37 more Rapid shelters.
Finally, a complaint we sometimes hear is that even after a shelter has been installed, people still get baked in the sun. The challenge is that the sun moves throughout the day and the seasons, and no bus shelter is going to be 100 percent effective at blocking the sun. At the same time, bus shelters are also designed for visibility so that patrons can see approaching buses and to avoid shelters becoming black holes to the surrounding public.
Another challenge is this: Metro alone has more than 15,000 bus stops in Los Angeles County and the fact is that some of them are very lightly used, which means they may not be anything more than a sign.
How can riders request a bus shelter? A good start is to write your representative on the City Council where you live — go to your city’s website, which will likely have a district finder tool. In smaller cities, it may also help to contact the city’s transportation department.